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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Notebook: Bears’ ‘excellent’ running back duo gives Vikings more to fret than Forte

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A hit by safety Harrison Smith split Matt Forte into two running backs.

Well, not literally.

The Chicago Bears (5-8) have taken their workhorse load for Forte and split the carries between he and rookie Jeremy Langford, who didn’t get his first extended action until Smith knocked Forte out of the game with a clean, low tackle in the Vikings’ Nov. 1 win at Soldier Field.

Since Forte’s return three weeks ago, the Bears have given at least 10 carries to both Langford and Forte as one of the NFL offenses most committed to the run. Not even the Vikings (28.5 att/game) and the league’s leading rusher in Adrian Peterson run as often as the Bears (29.6 att/game), the Vikings’ next test for an injury-riddled defense on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.

“I think they have similar games, similar plays they run,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “They both fit with that scheme really well. They’re both good out of the backfield, both good at catching the football. They’re obviously pretty potent, both of those guys, and they keep each other fresh as the game wears on.”

The Vikings’ rushing defense was peaking the last time they faced the Bears. After the win at Soldier Field, coach Mike Zimmer’s defense hadn’t allowed a team to rush for 100 yards in three consecutive weeks. Nose tackle Linval Joseph was healthy and disruptive. Linebacker Anthony Barr hadn’t broken his hand or injured his groin at that point. Safety Harrison Smith was also healthy, and knocking opponents out of games just as he did with a clean, open-field tackle on Forte that caused his MCL sprain.

About six weeks later, the Vikings (8-5) remain on stable ground, but are reeling with injuries as Barr, Joseph and defensive end Everson Griffen were held out of practice on Wednesday. Joseph hasn’t played in two weeks with a foot injury, and the Vikings’ run defense has suffered for it.

They surrendered 4.8 yards per carry on 19 attempts to Cardinals rookie David Johnson Thursday night, and had previously surrendered three consecutive 100-yard rushers to the Packers, Falcons and Seahawks. Now they host a two-headed rushing attack that has helped the Bears keep the 30-year-old Forte fresh, while not skipping much of a beat as Langford has averaged 4.1 yards per carry since Forte’s return.

A main emphasis for the Vikings will be to keep an eye on both Forte and Langford as receivers, something the Bears have done for years with Forte, the NFL’s record holder for catches in a single season by a running back.

“They’re both really excellent backs,” Zimmer said. “They both catch the ball good out of the backfield, they both spread them out wide, so both of them are, I think, really good backs. The offense is similar when both of them are in there. It’s a little different styles, but similar offense.”

‘Much more comfortable’

Teddy Bridgewater estimated he spent about 20 or 30 minutes after the fateful final play in Arizona simmering in his pads about how his most comfortable game of the season ended in a loss.

Bridgewater threw for a career-high 335 yards, found 11 different receivers and put the Vikings in a position to win even though the Cardinals held Peterson in check after halftime. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner called a game that leaned more on quickly getting the ball out of Bridgewater’s hands against a blitz-happy Cardinals defense, including on a 22-yard outlet to Matt Asiata and a 17-yard flat route to Kyle Rudolph.

The Vikings also made big gains out of Turner staples, such as a deep play-action pass from under center to tight end MyCole Pruitt for 32 yards.

Bridgewater wouldn’t discuss changes made in the game plan, but said he felt good about that page of an offense that has long struggled to get much from the passing game.

“We put together a game plan that we were all comfortable with heading into that game,” Bridgewater said Wednesday. “Just playing pitch and catch with my guys, guys were spaced up. The offensive line did a good job for us that night and we were also able to run the football. It was a pretty balanced attack, it just made the game much more comfortable.”

Green contributions

The Vikings set a franchise record last week by starting six rookies, including three in their first-ever start.

Linebacker Edmond Robinson, safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Trae Waynes made their NFL starting debuts for a Vikings team that was already starting rookies in tackle T.J. Clemmings, receiver Stefon Diggs and linebacker Eric Kendricks. The Vikings also get contributions from rookie defensive end Danielle Hunter.

“Yeah, we’re getting a lot from those guys,” Zimmer said. “Again, I don’t really look at them as rookies, I look at them as football players. They’re young guys, whether it’s first year, second year, whatever. But I think we’ve done a good job of expediting the process of them understanding what we’re trying to get done and not try to overload them too, that’s another big thing.”

Starting six rookies broke the Vikings’ previous record of five, set in 2012 by Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Rhett Ellison, Jarius Wright and Josh Robinson.

‘Been a good year’

Should this be linebacker Chad Greenway’s final NFL season, he says it’s been an enjoyable ride.

After an injury-plagued 2014 season under coach Mike Zimmer, Greenway has been healthy, effective and contributing to one of the league’s best defenses on what should be a playoff-bound team.

“It’s been a good year to this point,” Greenway said. “None of this stuff matters now, it’s critical for us to get wins. But yeah, obviously I’ve enjoyed being around this team. It’s a good, young football team that is fun to be around and fun to be at work with. It’s been enjoyable.”

Greenway effectively took a demotion this summer when the Vikings removed him from the nickel package, effectively making him a two-down linebacker, in favor of their younger players. But since injuries, and a midseason trade of Gerald Hodges, have thinned the group, they’ve turned back to Greenway, who has played 133 of 138 snaps in the last two games.

And at age 32, he’s getting it done without the laundry list of injuries he played through the last two seasons, including broken bones in his hand, wrist, ribs as well as a MCL sprain in his knee.

“That makes things a lot more fun,” Greenway said.

Good to go?

Safety Andrew Sendejo took part in practice Wednesday as the Vikings fielded a full secondary for the first time in weeks.

Sendejo, who has started 10 games this season, said he expects to play Sunday against the Bears after a knee injury suffered in the Nov. 29 win at Atlanta has kept him sidelined for two weeks.

“I’ll be ready,” Sendejo said.

Safety Harrison Smith practiced on Wednesday, but said he’s still easing back in as he recovers from knee and hamstring injuries suffered in two separate games.

The post Notebook: Bears’ ‘excellent’ running back duo gives Vikings more to fret than Forte appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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