A year ago, the Minnesota Vikings were the toast of the NFL, boasting a 5-0 record that included wins over the Packers, Giants and Panthers, and QB Sam Bradford was looking like the steal of the free agent class. They would go on to lose eight of their last 11 games and miss the playoffs. Now they’re 2-2 and Bradford, who has missed the last three games with a bruised knee, is listed as “questionable” for tonight though he is expected to play. Case Keenum has done a decent job filling in, but has a 1-2 record and has been sacked more times (four) than he’s thrown touchdowns (three). He was pretty helpless last week in a 14-7 loss to the Lions, hitting on 16 of 30 for 219 yards, on a day when the Lions offense played keep away, having possession for 36:27.
Fortunately, rookie running back Dalvin Cook has stepped up, carrying the ball 74 times for 354 yards and two touchdowns. Then there’s Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, who ranking first and fourth in the league in receiving yards at 391 and 358 respectively, but for all their ground they cover, the Vikings weirdly are seventh in yards per game and sixth in yards per play, but just 19th in scoring – why? They don’t get called for a ton of penalties, they don’t make a lot of turnovers or kick a lot of field goals or kick a lot of punts. They do have the third worst starting field position in the league at 25.3, but that’s just three yards worse than the average – can that make such a difference? It’s a puzzle.
The Vikings brought back five Pro Bowlers on defense, and they’re allowing .2 fewer ppg, but scoring is down league-wide by .7 ppg, so if anything, they’re slipping. The Vikings’ fortunes started to shift last year when they stopped dominating the turnover game. During their 5-0 start last season, they enjoyed a 12-to-1 advantage, but broke even the rest of the way (15-to-15) and this year their losing the takeaway battle three-to-four. This defense was supposed to be the cornerstone of this team going back to last season, and right now isn’t doing enough — namely, forcing turnovers — to carry a team missing its starting QB. But, hey, things could be worse, they could be the Bears.
Bears fans can be forgiven for assuming that the end of the Jay Cutler era would bring sweet relief. Instead it brought about the Mike Glennon Era. Glennon has more sacks (eight) than fumbles or interceptions (five apiece), and more interceptions or fumbles than touchdowns (four), which adds up to the fourth-worst passer rating in the NFL (76.9). Last week saw the Bears endure their worst loss of the young season, as they fell 35-14 to the Green Bay Packers, bringing their season point differential to -43, worst in the NFC. And so the Mike Glennon era comes to an end as rookie QB Mitch Trubisky will get the start this week. The Bears took Trubisky with the second overall pick in the June draft, a head-scratching move given they’d just weeks before signed Glennon to a three year deal. Trubisky is the X factor tonight, having never taking a snap in the NFL, and even at the college level, he was a starter for just one season. But he’s big and strong and mobile, and has a strong accurate arm. The Bears gave up three draft picks to move up one spot to get Trubisky, why not take him for a spin?
Jordan Howard, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year, is the lone bright spot on offense, with 302 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. He’s been joined in the backfield by five-foot-six rookie running back Tarik Cohen, whose 331 apy lead the team, though he’s made into the end zone just once. The Bears’ 10 turnovers lead the NFL, as more than one-in-five of their possessions end with them coughing up the ball.
And the defense ain’t much better, allowing 26 ppg, despite holding opposing offenses to just 1,225 yards. The Bears defense offers so little resistance that opponents gain just 11.8 yards per point scored, while the league average is 15.3. That’s what happens when you allow teams to score on 42.9% of their drives (third worst), and force turnovers on only 4.8% (fourth lowest).
The Vikings are in the enviable position of being a struggling team going on the road to face a division rival and still be overdogs. The Bears are just terrible, they’re lone win coming against the Steelers on a day when Pittsburgh was so out of sorts, they botched their show of unity. Maybe someday they’ll be hoisting statues of Trubisky outside of Soldier Field, but today they’ll likely be hoisting flags of surrender.
Watch the Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears Monday at 8:30pm on ESPN by subscribing to Sling Orange.
All stats courtesy ESPN and Pro Football Reference