After the Eagles embarrassed the Vikings’ offensive line and protection schemes last week, harassing quarterback Sam Bradford into a dreadful performance in a 21-10 loss — six sacks, 19 hits, two fumbles and an interception —Bradford knows what’s coming next.
“Obviously, it’s a concern,” said Bradford, whose 71.6 passer rating in that game was well below his season average of 109.7. “Every team you play is going to look at the previous film and look for weaknesses and things they can take advantage of. It’s something we deal with every week. We just have to realize that until we go out there and solve it and put it to rest, it’s probably going to be something that continues to get brought up.”
But as weekly issues go in the NFL, poor pass protection is particularly acute. A Vikings offense missing running back Adrian Peterson also lost left tackle Ryan Kalil in Week 3 and right tackle Andre Smith in Week 5. T.J. Clemmings, who replaced Kalil, was replaced by Jake Long — the former No. 1 overall pick who was just signed the previous week — against the Eagles and neither were effective. Jeremiah Sirles struggled as well at right tackle.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is well aware of the problem, calling the offensive line play “embarrassing” in a blunt post-game critique. “We didn’t block anybody,” Zimmer said. “We were soft. We got overpowered.”
Did Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz expose a weakness that other teams can exploit? Or was it just a bad matchup against an Eagles defense that ranks fifth in the NFL in total yards and second in points allowed? Or maybe a flaw the Vikings can easily fix with a week’s preparation.
The Bears’ defense will be a great litmus test to answer those questions Monday night at Soldier Field. While not quite the level of the Eagles’ defense, the Bears are making progress and — from a front-seven standpoint — definitely gearedtoward being able to wreak that kind of havoc eventually.
With Pernell McPhee in his second game back from knee surgery and rookie Leonard Floyd coming off a two-sack, fumble-recovery-touchdown game against the Packers, the Bears are an Eddie Goldman away from having the front seven they envisioned this season. And in Vic Fangio, they have a coordinator with a history of putting the hammer down when he has one.
“The biggest thing for us is winning our one-on-one match-ups,” Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho said. “That’s what Philly did — they had a bunch of one-on-one match-ups and the won.”
Fangio also noted that “Philly played them straight a lot, too” but Schwartz did throw a few wrinkles that turned up the heat. Though the Eagles came into the game with one of the lowest blitz-rates in the league, they blitzed Bradford 15 times and got four sacks and seven incompletions out of it.
Fangio is aware of the opportunity, but knows it’s not as simple as doing what the Eagles did.
“You have to walk a fine line there,” Fangio said. “You have to be careful not to get outside of what you do well and what your players are accustomed to doing. If you start trying to do a bunc of new stuff becasue you saw it work for somebody else, that invariably leads to problems.”
Zimmer also knows what’s coming. But he’s counting on his own defensive expertise to help his offense prepare for the onslaught.
“There were a number or things we didn’t do well in that ballgame. I’m sure they’re going to do a lot of similar things,” Zimmer said. “Vic’s a great coach. He does a great job. So does Jim Schwartz. But I think we understand a lot of things defensively, too, where we can try to help the guys offensively —things that have hurt us in the past. Things that people try to do to us. [There are] different ways to combat the things that happened to us last week.”
Either way, it’ll be an interesting coaching facet to the Bears-Vikings game. The Vikings know the Bears know where their weakness is.
“The NFL is a copy-cat league,” Acho said. “You see someone else do something that works and you say, ‘Let me do the same thing.’ But it doesn’t always work out that way.
“But our coaching staff understands that, so we pick and choose things that do work, and [complement] that with our personnel and what we like to do and what we’re good at, and then we make the game plan.”