Durkin’s Rapid Reaction: Bears 31, Vikings 30
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By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Just like they planned it, right?
It seems fitting that such an odd, back-and-forth, punch-counter punch, roller coaster ride of a game went down to the wire and was decided by one point. The good, bad, and ugly of all three phases of the 2013 Bears were on display.
Here’s my rapid reaction to the Bears anything but ordinary 31-30 win over the Vikings.
While he was far from perfect, Jay Cutler (28/39, 290, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 97.2 quarterback rating) came through when the Bears needed him most. For the second straight week, he delivered a clutch, fourth-quarter game-winning drive. Can you hear the cash register sounds in the background? If not, Cutler and his agent certainly can.
For being only two weeks into the season, Cutler looks to be in command of Marc Trestman’s offense, which is an encouraging sign. Trestman’s use of different personnel groupings and formations has kept defenses on their heels.
For example, on the Bears second touchdown of the game, they came out in ’12’ personnel (1 Running Back, 2 Tight Ends) in a 3×1 alignment with Brandon Marshall (7 receptions, 113 yards, 1 touchdown) in the slot and Michael Bush as the lone setback. The Vikings were expecting run and responded with an eight-man box in Cover-1 man free look. The Bears threw the ball out of this formation, freezing the single-high safety just long enough with a corner route to spring Marshall free on a sideline vertical route. Excellent play design, even better throw by Cutler.
Martellus Bennett (7 receptions, 76 yards, 2 touchdowns) has quickly made an impact and is making Phil Emery’s quick strike in free agency look like a genius move. Bennett has deftly worked the flats and has become a staple in the red zone offense. Bennett’s size and catching radius makes him a difficult matchup for defensive coordinators. He can outrun linebackers and safeties, and overpower cornerbacks. Trestman is keenly aware of this.
On the game-winning touchdown, the Bears ran a classic Cover-2 beater: two verticals. Earl Bennett was split wide and Martellus Bennett was in the slot. Earl’s vertical route carried the cornerback just long enough to allow Martellus to slide underneath him, and a perfect back-shoulder throw from Cutler sealed the deal.
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With only one new skill position player (Martellus Bennett) from last season, Trestman’s ability to put players in the best positions to succeed has been on display. Matt Forte (161 total yards) has been properly utilized in the passing game, taking advantage of the underneath areas created by the Bears vertical route combinations. Trestman is attacking the field horizontally and vertically, which puts stress on a defense to cover every area of the field. Intelligent, modern football. In Chicago, nonetheless.
Ball security was an issue for the Bears offense. Cutler lost a fumble while being sacked, and Forte had the ball stripped from his arms late in the game. Additionally, Cutler threw an interception into a crowded area at the 1-yard line, and forced a ball to Marshall that he shouldn’t have late. But, the Bears were able to shake off the mistakes and put together a ten play, 66-yard drive for the win.
For the second straight week, I have to ask: where is the pass rush?
It’s troubling to see that yet again, the Bears were only able to create pressure with their blitz packages. Against better quarterbacks – which they’ll see plenty of over the next eight games – this will get you beat. For the second straight week, Julius Peppers has yet to hit or sack the quarterback. As the second-highest paid 4-3 defensive end in the league and the Bears highest paid player, this is simply unacceptable.
Early on, the Bears were able to bottle up Adrian Peterson, holding him to nine rushing yards in the first quarter. As the game went on, Peterson was more effective, but they kept him out of the endzone and held him to a 3.8 yard-per-carry average. Quite an improvement from his 5.0 career average against the Bears.
For the second straight week, the defense bailed the offense out after a turnover, when Tim Jennings took a Christian Ponder pass to the house. For the Vikings, this sort of play from Ponder has become all too familiar. Ponder stared down his receiver, then threw the ball late with little velocity on a sideline route.
Lance Briggs was his usual, dominant self. Briggs was effective on his blitzes, particularly against the run, quickly reading his keys and filling the hole on multiple occasions.
Free agent acquisition James Anderson continues to make flash plays in coverage. Anderson always seems to be in the right place at the right time, taking away the underneath hook zones.
After giving up a 105-yard touchdown to open the game, the Bears special teams units played a crucial role in today’s game, particularly Devin Hester. Hester showed shades of what’s made him the best kick returner in NFL history, accumulating an eye-popping 249 kickoff return yards. Hester set the Bears offense up with short fields, and quickly negated any momentum Minnesota created.
The Bears dominated the first half of the game, yet held only a three point lead at halftime. Proving just how difficult it is to get a win in the NFL.
The Bears must shore up some areas – particularly clock management and situational football – this week in practice. They were unable to get a play off before the final two-minute warning, and Martellus Bennett not getting out of bounds on his 23-yard gain cost them 14 seconds.
However, in the end, a win is a win. The Bears are 2-0 and may have delivered a knockout blow to a divisional opponent.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin