Chicago Bears’ red zone defense comes up big in victory over Vikings

Chicago Bears’ red zone defense comes up big in victory over Vikings
John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Bears won in dramatic fashion on Sunday, with Jay Cutler throwing a touchdown to Martellus Bennett to cap off a 76-yard drive in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. The win put the Bears in first place in the NFC North and moved the Minnesota Vikings into a 0-2 hole.

The win, once again, put the Bears’ offense in the spotlight, and deservingly so. Cutler is putting up numbers he hasn’t put up in years, and the offensive line showed up in back-to-back weeks. It’s a step in the right direction.

While the offense deserves a lot of credit for staying composed enough to win a tightly contested game, I want to take a look at the defense and one part in particular: The red zone defense.

The Vikings had long drives in the second half, converting on third downs and getting large chunk plays. And Christian Ponder made some throws when he had to. But the Bears’ defense, as they have in the past, locked in near the goal line.

The Vikings had three long drives halt inside the 20-yard line leading to Blair Walsh field goals in the second half. One of those drives came in the fourth quarter with about five minutes remaining in the ballgame. A touchdown at that point would have put the game away and never given Cutler a chance to win the game on offense.

The success of the Bears’ red zone defense came from their ability to limit Peterson at the line of scrimmage and the play of the linebackers. The Vikings love giving the ball to Peterson in those situations as many times as they can, pounding the middle of the field and imposing their will upfront.

But the Bears’ gap discipline was excellent, not allowing Peterson to find a seam, making him work for every yard. Peterson by all accounts had an average day (100 yards on 26 carries), and the Bears managed to keep him out of the end zone completely.

The play of the secondary, and the linebackers’ ability to cover, made it extremely difficult for Ponder in the red zone. For the most part, Vikings’ receivers were covered — even in man-to-man situations when the Bears expected runs.

James Anderson shut down one of Ponder’s favorite targets in short yardage and goal line situations, Kyle Rudolph. Last year, Rudolph owned that match up, but Anderson’s ability to cover this season has allowed the Bears to focus much more on what’s happening up front.

“My respect level has gone up tremendously for [Christian] Ponder,” Bears’ cornerback Charles Tillman said after the game. “He did some great things out there. I just think that we showed [we can respond to] adversity today. It was one of the hardest games I’ve played in.”

The Bears’ defense didn’t play great. They forced turnovers and held in the red zone, but gave up long drives in the second half to give the Vikings a lead. The defensive line, outside McClellin and Wootton, were useless in the pass rush.

But when they needed to make a stop, they did, and because of that the Bears sit at 2-0.

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