Devin Hester (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
Devin Hester has been doing damage to the Vikings for eight years and he’s still going strong. He could be the X-factor for the Bears. Plus, we examine in-depth the rankings and numbers for both teams.
When it comes to winning and losing games, most fans see the game in terms of offense and defense. Coaches talk about the “three phases” of the game – offense, defense and special teams.
As the Vikings meet the Chicago Bears today, one of the players who may have the biggest impact on who wins or who loses won’t be an offensive player or defensive player. It might be a special teamer.
Devin Hester has been in the NFL since 2006. He was drafted as a return specialist who brought a skill set to the game that has been rarely seen. When the Bears drafted him, they essentially admitted he likely wouldn’t have a prolific career as a receiver. In college he was a defensive back, but that wasn’t going to happen in the NFL. Since then, he’s put together a résumé that may eventually get him Hall of Fame consideration (even as a part-time player) because few, if any, have done it better for a longer period of time than Hester and the Vikings have been one of his favorite victims.
In 2006, he returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 7-0 lead en route to a 23-13 Chicago win – which was helped by a 25-yard punt return later in the game.
In 2007, he caught an 81-yard touchdown pass and had an 89-yard punt return TD in a game eventually won 34-31 by the Vikings.
In 2008, he caught a 65-yard touchdown pass.
In two games in 2010, he caught six passes for 61 yards and two touchdowns, returned three kickoffs for 179 yards and returned four punts for 114 yards and a touchdown. The Bears won both of those games.
In a 2011 win over the Vikings, he caught five passes for 91 yards and a touchdown and had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Relegated strictly to return duties, in the Week 2 last-minute win by the Bears in the first meeting between the teams this season, Hester didn’t score a touchdown, but had five kickoff returns for 249 yards – 50 yards a pop – and played a critical role in the Bears winning the battle of field position and, eventually, winning the game.
There will be a lot of talk prior to today’s game about how the Bears can win and how the Vikings can win. Almost all of the discussion will be on players like Adrian Peterson, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, etc. But, in the end, if history tells us anything, the guy who makes the biggest difference may be a specialist. Vikings fans can only hope that is Cordarrelle Patterson. They’ve seen enough damage from Hester over the years.
VIKINGS-BEARS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 20th-ranked offense (11th rushing, 25th passing) and the 30th-ranked defense (25th rushing, 29th passing).
The Bears have the eighth-ranked offense (21st rushing, 7th passing) and the 25th-ranked defense (32nd rushing, 13th passing).
The Vikings are averaging 330 yards a game (207 passing, 123 rushing). The Bears are averaging 373 yards a game (265 passing, 108 rushing).
Defensively, the Vikings are allowing 401 yards a game (282 passing, 119 rushing). The Bears are allowing 376 yards a game (231 passing, 145 rushing).
The Bears are eighth in the league in giveaway/takeaway ratio at plus-7 (15 giveaways, 22 takeaways). The Vikings are 28th at minus-9 (23 giveaways, 14 takeaways).
Chicago is tied for ninth in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 24 of 42 possessions (57.1 percent). Minnesota is 19th at 51.5 percent (17 of 33).
Defensively, the Bears are 13th in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 20 of 37 possessions (54.1). The Vikings are 27th at 60.4 percent (29 of 48).
The Vikings are tied with Jacksonville for last place in red zone possessions allowed (48).
Minnesota is 11th in third-down conversion percentage at 39.5 percent (58 of 147). Chicago is 12th at 39.4 percent (54 of 137). Both teams are ahead of the league average of 38.0 percent.
Defensively, both teams are pretty hideous on third down. The Bears are 28th at 41.6 percent (57 of 137). The Vikings are 31st at 46 percent (74 of 161).
Prior to last week when the Vikings allowed just 3 of 13 third down conversions to Seattle, they had been in last place in third-down conversion percentage for seven weeks. Now Atlanta holds the dubious distinction of being in last place (46.6 percent).
The Vikings and Bears are first and second in average starting position after kickoffs. The league average is the 21.5-yard line. The Vikings start from the 26.4-yard line on average. Chicago is second at the 23.4-yard line – three full yards behind Minnesota.
Chicago is 27th in average opponent starting position at the 22.6-yard line. The Vikings are 30th, allowing an average start at the 23.5-yard line.
The Bears have three 300-yard passing games – two from Jay Cutler and one from Josh McCown. The Vikings have no 300-yard passing games this season.
Chicago has allowed one 300-yard passer. The Vikings have allowed four.
The Bears have seven 100-yard receiving games – four from Brandon Marshall and three from Alshon Jeffery. The Vikings have two – both from Jerome Simpson.
The Vikings have allowed eight 100-yard receivers. The Bears have allowed four.
Adrian Peterson has four 100-yard rushing games. Matt Forte has Chicago’s only 100-yard rushing game.
Chicago has allowed seven 100-yard rushing games – the most of any team in the NFL. Minnesota has allowed two 100-yard rushers.
Due to injuries to both starting quarterbacks, both Cutler and Christian Ponder are in the 20s in most statistical categories.
Peterson is second in the league in rushing with 997 yards – 12 yards behind LeSean McCoy for the lead. Forte is sixth with 851 yards.
Marshall is tied for third in receptions with 74. Jeffery is tied for 19th with 58. Simpson and Greg Jennings are tied with 36 receptions, which ties them both for 71st place.
Marshall is 10th in receiving yards with 945. Jeffery is 13th with 860 yards. Simpson leads the Vikings with 546 yards – good enough for 48th place.
Peterson entered this week’s action tied for first in scoring among non-kickers with 66 points (11 touchdowns). Marshall is ninth with 56 points (nine touchdowns and a two-point conversion).
Robbie Gould is 13th in scoring among kickers with 87 points. Blair Walsh is tied for 14th with 86 points.
There have only been three missed extra points in the NFL this season. Gould and Walsh have accounted for two of them. But they have combined to miss only 3 of 41 field goal attempts.
Forte is third in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 1,198 (851 rushing, 414 receiving). Peterson is sixth with 1,162 yards (997 rushing, 165 receiving).
Jeff Locke is 19th in punting average at 45.0 yards per punt. Chicago’s Adam Podlesh is tied for 30th at 42.5 yards.
Locke is 23rd in net punt average at 39.3 yards. Podlesh is 24th at a slightly worse 39.3-yard average when the extra decimals are attached.
Marcus Sherels is tied for second in punt return average at 14.0 yards per return. The Bears haven’t had anyone return enough punts to qualify for the league leadership rankings.
Patterson leads the league with a 34.0-yard kickoff return average. Hester is sixth with a 27.6-yard average.
Tim Jennings and Peanut Tillman are tied for 12th place in the league in interceptions with four. Three Vikings – Harrison Smith, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson – are tied for 31st with two picks apiece.
Jared Allen is tied for 41st in sacks with 5.0. He will need five sacks in his final five games to continue his streak of six straight seasons with double-digit sacks.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.