Last week, Vikings' head coach Mike Tice commented that the Vikings were not going to Chicago this week intent on playing any one way. "Our plan is to take what they give us," the coach stated.
Tice made his statement in response to the question of whether the Vikings intended to play "smash mouth football." And that question was nearly obligatory following Tice's decision last season to keep the ball on the ground against Chicago--because Chicago is a "tough guy town with tough guy football" (and apparently tough guy football requires linear thinking)--costing the Vikings an eminently winnable game against the Bears. But the question became absolutely obligatory when, in the aftermath of last season's loss at Chicago, Tice stated that, if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't change a thing!
Well, coach, in a manner of speaking, you do have it to do over again. Except, unlike last season, your primary wide receiving target is playing at about 60%. So the question is, will you change things this time or will you take what the Bears give you? Are the two notions incompatible?
How this question is answered depends on Tice's view of what it is that the Bears are giving them. Last season, despite all numbers and gametime evidence to the contrary, Tice perceived that the Bears were susceptible to the run but not the pass. Or, as Tice saw it, there may have been substantial opportunities to pass the ball but quick strikes would have forced the woeful Vikings' defense back onto the field. And that, in Tice's mind, inevitably would have led to a loss.
So the Vikings ground it out, scored seldom, kept the game tight, and lost anyway.
Tice contends that he has learned his lesson this season, but, as we often find out after the fact, when Tice claims "lesson learned" the lesson is not always the same lesson that we believe he should have learned. So the question remains whether Tice actually learned that the Vikings can and should succeed against a team such as Chicago by having a healthy blend of running and passing--maybe even favoring the pass.
We shall see how Tice views all this very shortly. And, suffice it to say, if Tice enters with one offensive game plan, he is highly unlikely (able?) to change that game plan much in the course of the game. That's just a Tice forte.
But, notwithstanding Tice's predilection, what should the Vikings do against the Bears today?
If Brian Urlacher is healthy, the Bears will be able to create problems for both the Vikings' rushing game and the Vikings' passing game. Against the run, Urlacher is everywhere. He can shut down the rush up the middle and can beat the back to the edge. Given the state of the Vikings' offensive line and the Vikings' meager running attack the past few weeks, the Vikings are unlikely to find much room to run against Chicago even in Urlacher's absence. If Urlacher is in the game, the task is nearly insurmountable.
The Bears also welcome back Charles Tillman to their secondary this week. Tillman's return should help fortify what was becoming an overworked secondary. Though the Bears are still without two of their opening day secondary members, they are instantly better with the return of Tillman and should challenge the Vikings more than would have been possible without Tillman's presence.
And Tillman's presence will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense. With Tillman in the lineup, the Bears have credible dime and nickle packages. They also have the ability to blitz the corners and linebackers more often than they could have without Tillman in the lineup.
So the question remains, what does Tice deem to be the Vikings' opportunities against Chicago?
If and when Urlacher is out of the game, the Vikings should be able to run plenty of screens against the otherwise slow Bears' linebacking corps. That should mean plenty of screens to the right to SOD. Last week, one national commentator noted with disdain that the Vikings have run this screen play "about a thousand times." The commentator suggested that it was time for a change. But, of course, there is no reason to change something that continues to work, and that play (unlike the dreadful reverse plays) continues to work.
With Urlacher in the mix, the screen is nearly impossible to run unless properly staged. To have success on the screen against Urlacher, the Vikings will need to use the tight end pass, play action passes, and Daunte's running ability. All three of these designs will force the Bears' middle linebacker to remain honest. That will open up the corners a bit and allow the screen plays on the edges. And that could make for an interesting offensive day against a still banged up Bears' defensive group.
On defense, the Vikings simply need to continue to improve. It appears that Brian Russell is out in favor of Willie Offord this week so maybe we will see a bit of improvement at the safety position, such as interceptions when thrown in the bread basket and tackles in the backfield (or anywhere else).
The Vikings also have a distinct luxury facing the returning Chad Hutchinson and, should that experiment fail, a rusty (we hope) Jeff George. Even if George is at his best, however, there is certain to be a fumble or two at that position. And if Spencer Johnson et. al. can simply fall on the ball, the Vikings may even be able to one-up last week's defense performance.
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