The Vikings' defense flexed their muscles with another strong performance during a 23-10 win over Chicago. Daniel House provides his observations as Minnesota earned a first-round bye.
Updated: December 31, 2017, 5:30 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings have debilitated opponents with their ability to stop opposing offenses in every possible way. Sunday wasn’t any different as Minnesota used 111 yards on the ground from Latavius Murray to propel them to a 23-10 victory and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Vikings reached a 13-3 record for just the second time in team history.
It wasn’t perfect for the Minnesota offense, but they managed to grind out three scoring drives. Quarterback Case Keenum completed 21 of his 29 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. He found wide receiver Stefon Diggs off a post, absorbing a hit and firing the pass into a tight window for a 15-yard score. Keenum was taking hits throughout the day, including two sacks and numerous quarterback hits. The Vikings’ offensive line was leaky, specifically on the right side. Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill lost a few reps and Hill was called for a holding penalty. Riley Reiff allowed pressure twice and forced Keenum to deliver the pass early.
With Remmers playing right guard, the Vikings’ offensive line looked to be out of sync. It’s easy to see how Pat Elflein impacts the entire unit with his presence. The ideal lineup is to have Elflein at center, Berger at right guard and Mike Remmers back at tackle. Minnesota’s interior must get a better push inside and Keenum needs more time to find his options up the field. Chicago had a top-ten passing defense, but the offensive line didn’t do the team any favors. Keenum also missed an open target and slightly underthrew a deep pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen. However, he again completed a high volume of his throws and didn’t make mistakes, which has been this team’s recipe for success.
The Vikings also used a 111-yard, two touchdown effort from Latavius Murray to control the time of possession. Murray started popping off long runs down the stretch, including a 22-yard scamper in the fourth quarter. He was picking up additional yards after contact and grinding out yards throughout the game. Jerick McKinnon added another 44 yards as the Vikings piled up 147 rushing yards, averaging just over four yards per carry. The running game helped fuel two scoring drives of 70+ yards and a late third quarter score. During the bye week, Minnesota will need improve up front and find more balance with the passing game.
Defensively, the Vikings continued to show why they are the top defense in football. Minnesota held their opponent to ten points or less for the third consecutive game. Until the 3:50 mark of the third quarter, the Bears had yet to cross their own 33. They had just one first down, zero third down conversions and 53 total yards (-1 rushing) in the first half. After holding the Bears to just one third down conversion, the Vikings defense finished the season allowing third down conversions at a 25.2 percent clip (51-for-202), which is the highest mark since the league began tracking the statistic, according to Walt Scher with the Minnesota Vikings.
In the first half, Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter pressured Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, forcing a safety as Chicago struggled to get anything going. Trubisky couldn’t handle the pressure, tossing for just 178 yards. The Vikings stopped the Bears offense twice in four down sequences during goal-to-go situations. Chicago would develop a glimmer of rhythm, but the Vikings defense clamped down and cause more headaches than Mitchell Trubisky could handle.
The Bears had just 30 rushing yards as the Vikings clamped down on Jordan Howard, who has been a thorn in their side in the past. Linebacker Anthony Barr was flying all over the field making plays and finished with the second-most tackles. He came off delayed blitzes and was creating pressure as well. Barr’s effort has allowed the Vikings to use his athleticism in different ways. They also have benefited from the growth of cornerback Trae Waynes, who had two excellent tackles in space and two notable coverage plays. The past month of play for Waynes has been encouraging and this elevation can give the Vikings a major boost in the playoffs.
The only touchdown the Bears scored was via a 59-yard punt return by Bryce Callahan. Minnesota was confused by a misdirection punt stunt as Tarik Cohen faked the catch. Punter Ryan Quigley kicked to the other side of the field and Callahan broke free for an easy score. The coverage units showed a little vulnerability and Kai Forbath missed a kick. Nonetheless, punter Ryan Quigley was sensational. He had five punts inside the 20-yard-line, backing the Bears deep into their own territory throughout the day. Quigley became the first punter in Vikings history to go an entire season without recording a touchback. He has quietly performed well, but the special teams units certainly have areas to tighten up. The Vikings will need to play complementary football in the playoffs and can’t afford errors like they had Sunday.
With the Vikings earning a bye week, they’ll have plenty of time to evaluate ways to improve their offense and special teams units. If the team can patch a few small holes, they certainly could be a massive threat. Their defense can threaten any opponent they will face in the playoffs, which is a major key.