CHICAGO -- Good for the Chicago Bears.
It's nice to see a team be rewarded for putting forward their best effort of the season. It's intriguing to see Jay Cutler look patient and poised in the pocket, making high-level passes all over the field.
But the Bears' performance isn't the story of Monday night's 20-10 Chicago win -- no, we need to focus on the dramatically regressing Minnesota Vikings.
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Three weeks ago, the Vikings looked like one of the best teams in football -- the team had flaws, of course, but they were executing on offense and dominating on defense.
The Vikings were the last undefeated team in the league and the toast of the NFL -- but after moving to 5-0 with a 31-13 domination of the Texans, guard Alex Boone issued a warning about the team's offensive line:
"If we lose one more [lineman], it's going to be a problem. It's going to be a real problem," Boone told USA TODAY. "We have no more spots to give."
That comment will prove prophetic in the story of the Vikings' season.
Since the Vikings returned from the bye week, they have been massacred up front. The Philadelphia Eagles consistently brought pressure with blitzes and stunts and hit quarterback Sam Bradford 19 times in the Vikings' first loss of the year last week.
The Bears pass rushers didn't need tricks to secure a meeting with the quarterback on Halloween night.
Chicago's four-man pass rush found itself in Bradford's lap the entire game. When it was a five-man rush, the Vikings quarterback stood no chance.
You could almost hear large portions of the Vikings' playbook being torn out of the binders in the Minnesota coaching box -- Bradford didn't have time, so there was no chance he could throw the ball more than five yards down the field. Those throws were challenging enough with a 300-pound lineman, or two, draped on him.
It's clear now that the Vikings' offense was built like a house of cards, and the foundation of it was the offensive line. Both tackles are out for the season and the replacements have been lackluster at best -- Jake Long, who was the starting left tackle Monday night, was washed up two contracts ago. Add in the notion that the interior guys have seemingly been cursed by an injury shaman (or the universe's karmic sacrifice for the birds) and it's next to impossible to see the Vikings reversing this downward trend up front.
It took a few weeks, both because defenses were slow to adapt (what was Houston's excuse?) and the Vikings were doing things to mitigate the team's weakness, but the Minnesota offensive line has completely collapsed, and with it probably went any chance that the Vikings could go deep in the playoffs.
In fact, despite a 5-2 record, the playoffs are now in question.
Bradford performed admirably in the first five weeks of the season, particularly under the near-constant pressure he faced -- Bradford was being sacked an average of 2.8 seconds after the snap this season, fastest in the NFL, but he had the third-highest quarterback rating facing pressure (90.1) heading into Monday night's game, per Pro Football Focus.
But Bradford doesn't have the ability to make plays with his feet the way other quarterbacks with poor offensive lines -- Russell Wilson is the most obvious example -- can. Add in Minnesota's lackluster run game, which was last in the NFL in average yards per rush heading into Monday and had 3.2 yards per carry against the Bears, and the problem is widely apparent.
It doesn't matter how good the Vikings' defense is -- and there are signs that dominance is diminishing, too -- Minnesota is going to have a hard time scoring points the remainder of the season behind this offensive line.
It should take 10 wins to reach the playoffs in the NFC this year. (Operative word: should.) With nine games remaining on the schedule and an arrow clearly pointing down, will the Vikings be able to win the majority of those games?