Friday, October 17, 2008

Needing Some Big Plays

The Vikings' game against da Bears looks eerily similar to their game against the Titans. It's on the road, against a team with a very good defense, an above average offense and solid special teams (punt. the ball. out of bounds). And just like against the Titans, I'm not optimistic about the Vikings' chances, especially if injured cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman are able to play (both sat out against the Falcons).

One of the problems is that I don't think Brad Childress can come up with a game plan that will be successful against an above average defense, especially one that's as opportunistic as da Bears'. It hasn't helped that Adrian Peterson has three fumbles in his last three games and Gus Frerotte has thrown three interceptions in his four games as a starter. The good thing is that da Bears have not been able to apply consistent pressure this year, although their 5.8% adjusted sack rate isn't much different than the Lions' 5.6% ASR. They're still shutting down the run, however, and trail only the Ravens and Vikings in DVOA against the run.

Offensively, Chicago seems to have found a quarterback, but I refuse to be afraid of a passing game lead by Kyle Orton, especially behind a line as average at protecting the quarterback as da Bears and with receivers like Brandon Lloyd and whatever's left of Marty Booker. Where Orton has been successful is with short passes, particularly to his tight ends and Matt Forte. 82 of his 198 attempts have gone to either Greg Olsen, Desmond Clark or Forte. And while the Vikings are missing their best linebacker, they've still been successful at shutting down tight ends and running backs in the passing game, with a -6.8% DVOA against tight ends and a -10.2% DVOA against running backs. That success is directly attributable to Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, both of whom have been amazing in coverage this year (like, for example, when Leber was blanketing Devrey Henderson).

Chicago won't be able to run the ball either, both because they're playing the Vikings and because Forte has already started to hit the rookie wall (which will go by Jared, Kevin, Pat, Ray, Ben and Chad this week). He's averaged less than 4 yards a carry the last five weeks and da Bears haven't cracked 3.5 yards per carry as a team since Week 3.

So once again, it looks like it should be a close game, with one or two big plays determining the eventual outcome. Can Bernard Berrian or Adrian Peterson break long touchdown? Will the Vikings' punt "coverage" let Devin Hester score multiple touchdowns? Which defense will convert a turnover into a score? The Vikings have made 21 "big plays" to Chicago's 18, but da Bears have been much better at preventing the big play, only allowing 15, while the Vikings have allowed 25.

On paper, the Vikings look like they have a chance against a decent offense and a good defense. That chance, however, rests on plays that are not easy to predict and can't be expected. I'm probably just being pessimistic, but without a huge game from the defense, Adrian Peterson or Bernard Berrian (think 2 TDs, 150 yards type big game), I just don't see the Vikings winning.