With a likely letdown following an unexpected victory at Lambeau Field last week, significant injuries to their secondary, and a date with a Vikings' team looking for red-zone redemption, the Bears are ripe for a loss on Sunday. And, although we have not been able to count on the Purple for much the past three seasons, one near automatic has been the Vikings' ability to put away bad teams (even good teams) at home, particularly after a shoddy road loss. Sunday should prove no different.
What the Vikings Will Do
Look for the Vikings to feature Moe Williams in the offense--always a good idea, but one that is only employed by Tice and Co. when there are no alternatives. Fortunately, with Kleinsasser and Bennett out, Williams must and will play a key role for the Vikings. That's great news for Vikings' fans and maybe it will get Moe removed from his playmakers-style forced backup role (one that Vikesgeek finds entirely irrational given Williams' consistently strong performances when he is given an opportunity to play).
With Mike Rosenthal out for the remainder of the season, the Vikings spent the past week weighing their options at the right tackle position. Adam Haayer will start against Chicago and be spelled by rookie Nat Dorsey. But if Haayer and Dorsey are unable to provide Daunte sufficient time to pass and are unable to run block--both shortcomings for Haayer in his debut last week against Philly--Tice appears willing to move Birk to right tackle and to use Cory Withrow at center. Tice's pedigree working with the offensive line suggests that he will work out the offensive line problems sooner rather than later (if only he understood defensive lines as well).
If the Vikings' offensive line gives Daunte time to pass, the Vikings will look for Moss, Burleson, and Campbell deep and may even try to spring Robinson. Wracked by injuries, Chicago's secondary appears to be in disarray and should be vulnerable to every type of pass play. The Vikings love to heave it deep in front of the home crowd and should not disappoint local talk radio fans with their approach Sunday. Look for at least two deep touchdowns.
On defense, the Vikings will try to force Chicago to pass. That sounds odd for a team that has demonstrated virtually no ability to stop the passing game, but Chicago has yet to show it can throw the ball consistently. The Bears' appear to have a revuvenated running game and love to swing the ball wide, run quick slants, and screens (i.e., everything they never tried to do under Shoop), but much of the short feeds off the running game. Without a successful running game, the Bears have trouble doing anything right on offense. Chicago's offense is much improved over last year, but its loss of Marty Booker in the Ogunleye trade and the inexperience at QB--despite Minnesota's weak defense--should allow Minnesota an opportunity to keep Chicago at bay.
To bolster the defense, Tice has removed Dontarrious Thomas from the starting unit--moving him to third string behind Mike Nattiel--and will move Claiborne to the strong side and put the veteran, Keith Newman, at weak side linebacker. That still leaves the inexperienced E.J. Henderson at middle linebacker, and leaves the Vikings even more lean at linebacker than last season. It also makes one wonder how good Minnesota's corp of young linebackers really is. The bet here is that they are nowhere near as good as Tice had advertised all summer, but they should be good enough to slow the slowness that already is the Bears' QB.
Tice has also promised a shake-up on special teams, vowing that every starter except Daunte and Randy will play special teams and that rookies will sit. While this again raises the question of whether the Vikings are anywhere near as deep as Tice has claimed, at least the mystery should be gone as to whether players will stay in their lanes on kicks.
The major concern that Tice has left unaddressed in any fashion--sensible or otherwise--is that of the kicking game. Bennet's punting has been brutal, but shines like a beacon from the football heavens in contrast with the Vikings' placekicking escapades. Elling remains unable to kick at an NFL level, i.e., high and deep, sometimes kicking high, sometimes kicking deep, never kicking both, but sometimes kicking neither. And the Vikings appear to have zero confidence in Elling's ability to kick long field goals, as witnessed by Tice's decision to have Morten Andersen attempt a 44-yard field goal that was approximately 20 yards outside Andersen's current range. This is quickly becoming one of Tice's classic borne-out-of-stubborness blunders as Tice appears unwilling to admit that the Vikings simply erred in drafting Elling (and Nattiel, and Offord, and Rogers, and.....).
Despite the team's increasingly apparent and numerous shortcomings, the Vikings have fewer shortcomings than the Bears this week and play at home where the Vikings usually win. Although the Bears may score more--I still have post Shoop Bear-score-prediction-concussion syndrome that causes me to underestimate a vastly improved Bears' offense--I suspect the Vikings will take this game easily. Though that's what Green Bay thought last week.
Vikings 34, Bears 14.
Setting the Record Straight on '98
One lost reader has already forgotten his Vikings' non-championship history. Perhaps he has simply pushed the Atlanta game to the far recesses of his memory, but, alas, he must be set straight.
This reader is under the impression that former Vikings' head coach Denny Green ran out the clock in the first half of the 1998 Championship Game and went for it in the second half en route to a shanked field goal loss to the Atlanta Falcons. No no, my friend. Just the reverse.
In a moment of hubris, Denny had Randall Cunningham sling another pass near the end of the first half with the Vikings holding a comfortable lead and with momentum clearly in the Vikings' favor. The result, as all but one of us knows, was that Chuck Smith beat Todd Steussie, hit Cunningham, and force a fumble. Atlanta recovered at the 14 and, on the next play, Chandler hit a wide open Mathis for a TD, stealing the momentum going into halftime. Minnesota did get the ball back just before halftime--at which time Denny decided it was wise to run out the clock--but the damage had been done.
At the end of the second half, with the number one offense of all time in reasonable field position and with time on the clock, Denny suddenly went cold and decided to run out the clock and play for overtime. At home. As no other coach in a similar situation would have done.
To the one fan that does not recall this horror, welcome back.
Up Next: Post game.