Vikings Defense Leading the Way at CHI a Good Sign Heading into 49ers Game
While the Vikings offense without Justin Jefferson struggled mightily in the 19-13 win over the Bears, it’s a positive for the team that the defense rose in a critical NFC North road win.
Vikings Defense Leading the Way at CHI a Good Sign Heading into 49ers Game
Danielle Hunter and Jordan Hicks led the D that produced three turnovers that led to 13 points (to win the turnover battle for the first time this season) and five sacks. Hunter was dominant with two sacks (he is now tied with T.J. Watt for the league lead with 8) plus two QB hits, two tackles-for-loss, and seven tackles.
I thought the Vikings would release Hicks as a cap casualty in the offseason (instead, his fellow inside linebacker Eric Kendricks was cut). Hicks is having a very good season with 53 tackles and was outstanding in Chicago with a team-leading 10 tackles, an interception (set up by a Hunter pressure of Justin Fields), and the game-changing scoop-and-score (after Josh Metellus forced the fumble by Bears backup QB Tyson Bagent who was in the game following Hunter knocking Fields out with a thumb injury on his third quarter sack).
The defense held on in the second half as the offense was non-productive. After a decent first half with 162 total yards and three scoring drives, including an 8-play, 77-yard march that resulted in the 10-yard TD pass from Kirk Cousins to Jordan Addison, the offense went dormant in the second half with only two first downs on six second-half drives, 58 yards of offense and 0 of 6 on third downs (2 of 13 for the game).
It’s good that the defense is coming off an excellent game, but they have a much tougher task to stop San Francisco’s offense next Monday night although two 49ers stars—running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Deebo Samuel–left their game in Cleveland with injuries as the 5-1 Niners suffered their first 2023 defeat. The Vikings offense will have to play much better to generate yards, points, and time of possession against the 49ers’ third-ranked defense (the Vikings had only 25 minutes in time of possession against the Bears, which put more pressure on the defense).
It will be a great atmosphere at U.S. Bank Stadium as the Vikings seek their first home victory this season after losses to three 2022 playoff teams—the Buccaneers, Chargers, and Chiefs—and the 49ers were a Final Four team last season.
Here are my other reactions to the Vikings-Bears game:
1. The Vikings defense has been up and down this season, but it’s interesting to see the Vikings ranked 15th in yards allowed after their No. 31 ranking last season. That’s significant improvement, and with the three takeaways in Chicago, they look more like the unit that finished 8th with 25 takeaways last season while being much better in the yards allowed area so far this season. If the defense can continue to play reasonably well and the offense weathers the storm until Jefferson’s return, it could bode well for a run to the playoffs.
2. I thought Byron Murphy had his best game as a Viking and played to his expected level as a $9 million, No. 1 corner in limiting Bears top receiver D.J. Moore to five catches for 51 yards and no TDs. Murphy also made the game-sealing interception, but he should’ve protected the ball better as he was fortunate to recover his fumble on the play (which would have been potentially disastrous if the Bears had gotten the ball back at the Minnesota 45-yard line with 2:05 remaining).
3. Another player contributing more than expected is Metellus, who was considered only a special teams ace going into the season. He’s becoming an effective blitzer as a regular in the three-safety scheme of DC Brian Flores (who called his best game so far). Metellus hasn’t been great in coverage, but he showed his tenacity as a blitzer on his strip sack of Bagent) and finished the game with 7 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, the strip sack, and 3 QB hits.
Metellus was one of four defenders to receive a game ball from Coach Kevin O’Connell, along with Hunter, Hicks and Murphy.
4. The Vikings skill position players have to do a better job catching the football. After six drops in the Chiefs loss, several more in the Bears game bogged down the offense and contributed to the poor third down conversion rate (15%). T. J. Hockenson had another drop and a big holding penalty that nullified a first down run by Alexander Mattison and killed a third quarter drive. Addison got open deep but couldn’t haul in a perfect throw from Cousins in the second quarter. Mattison also had a drop, which has been a problem for him this season.
Cousins ranks sixth in the league with a 100.6 passer rating that would be higher if the nine drops from the last two games had been completed passes. This area must improve for the Vikings to make a jump to playoff contenders and possibly challenge the Lions in the division race. Crazy as it sounds, however, the Vikings are only one game out of a wild card spot through Week 6.
5. O’Connell talked post-game of the need for the Vikings run game to be more productive than it was in Chicago (46 rushing yards, 2.1 yards per carry). That followed the Chiefs game when the Vikings had only 70 yards rushing compared to the Week 4 win in Carolina with 135 rushing yards.
The 49ers stout defense is 10th in run D vs. 3rd in pass defense, so this would be a good week to step up the rushing offense. Part of the problem on Sunday was the Bears putting an extra defender in the box to stop the run, as they did not fear the Vikings passing game as much without Jefferson. Which means Hockenson, Addison, Osborn, and Brandon Powell must get open more and catch the ball so defenses don’t load up as much against the run.
6. Greg Joseph made two great long field goals of 53 and 51 yards in the second quarter in windy Soldier Field that ultimately provided the six-point margin of victory. He had an extra point blocked due to a protection breakdown, and I didn’t agree with O’Connell’s decision to have Joseph attempt a 57-yard field goal late in the third quarter as the team held a 13-point lead and the Bears were playing with their backup QB. It would’ve been better to punt and make the Bears start from inside their 10 rather than getting the ball at their 47-yard line after Joseph’s first missed field goal this season.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. No more unbeaten teams: Week 6 continued the trend for top teams to get upset as the 49ers and Eagles fell on the road to the Browns and Jets strong defenses. The 49ers had an opportunity to win at the end, but rookie kicker Jake Moody missed a 41-yard field goal after having an earlier miss from 54. This was QB Brock Purdy’s first regular season loss after 10 straight wins to start his career. The No. 1 Browns defense held the 49ers under 30 points for the first time this season.
Jalen Hurts threw three interceptions as the Eagles lost to the Jets, and Philly’s secondary is banged up as they prepare to face Miami’s potent passing attack this coming Sunday night.
2. Lions rolling: Detroit made it look easier than expected in knocking off the Bucs in Tampa to move to 5-1. Jared Goff threw for 353 yards and 2 TDs, and the Lions much-improved defense held the Bucs to 251 yards and two field goals. The Lions have a tough game at 4-2 Baltimore on Sunday in a matchup of division leaders.
3. Quarterback injuries: Besides Fields’ thumb injury, several other QBs were injured on Sunday, including Josh Allen (shoulder, remained in the Sunday night win at the Giants), Trevor Lawrence (knee, stayed in the win over the Colts), Jimmy Garoppolo (back injury not considered too serious after he had to go the hospital when he was knocked out of the game against the Patriots) plus Daniel Jones (neck) and Deshaun Watson (shoulder) missed their Week 6 games.
The difficulty of QBs to stay on the field should make Vikings fans appreciate the durability of Kirk Cousins, who has never missed a start due to injury in his 12-year career.
I’m back with my Vikings-49ers prediction on Friday in a challenging matchup for the Purple.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl