A Week 4 road game against the defending division champs presented a giant test for the Vikings. They failed that test resoundingly, falling 16-6 to the Bears in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score makes it seem.
I already talked at length about the struggles of Kirk Cousins in my game recap, but here are a few extra takeaways from the disappointing showing by the Vikings.
1. Frustrations are running high
The Vikings' inability to do virtually anything on offense had numerous causes, chief among them Cousins' poor play and the Bears' domination of the line of scrimmage. It also has several effects. The main effect is that frustrations and tensions are starting to boil among some of the team's offensive stars.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, both off to slow starts to the season by their lofty standards, could be seen expressing frustration on the field and on the sidelines throughout the course of Sunday's loss. Their outings looked all too familiar. Elite route runners, Diggs and Thielen have never had issues with getting open. But against Chicago, as has often been the case this season, their routes frequently ended with a Cousins checkdown, a sack, or an inaccurate throw.
Diggs has a strong statistical day thanks to mostly garbage time, but there were a few more times where he was open and Cousins didn't look his way, whether for a lack of time to throw or a lack of confidence. Thielen had an even worse time, with his 6 targets leading to 6 receiving yards. Cousins overthrew him on a potential early touchdown. After the game, Thielen expressed a lot of frustration.
"We put everything we have into the offseason," Thielen said. "We grind every single day, and then to put a performance like that — it’s so frustrating, it’s unbelievable.”
The Vikings' run-first approach and the struggles of Cousins led to a Twitter rumor popping up last week that Diggs wanted a trade. There was never any validity to that rumor, but it's not hard to see why he and Thielen aren't thrilled with the way things are going so far this season.
CJ Ham shouldn't be seeing 4 targets in a game.
2. The defense was solid, but not good enough to win on its own
If you hold an NFL offense to 269 yards on 4 yards per play and a sub-33 percent third down conversion rate, chances are you're going to be in good shape. That's what the Vikings defense did against the Bears, limiting them to three field goals after their first-drive touchdown. Without any help from their offense, though, it wasn't enough.
The prideful Vikings defense would be the first to admit that they have things they can improve upon. Anthony Barr was a step behind the shifty Tarik Cohen on the Bears' only touchdown and Chase Daniel was able to hook up Allen Robinson a bunch of times without a ton of difficulty. The Vikings didn't do a good enough job getting off the field in certain situations.
It was another strong game for the Vikings' defensive line, which got plenty of pressure on Daniel, but the secondary didn't hold up long enough for the unit to record more than one sack. Danielle Hunter appeared to have made an an incredible diving strip-sack on the Bears' first possession, but a holding penalty on Anthony Harris negated the big play.
Most importantly, the Vikings didn't force a single turnover. They'll look to get back in that column against the Giants.
3. It's probably time to stop talking about this team as a contender
Some may have already done this after the way last season ended or after the Green Bay loss, but the near-shutout against the Bears made it extremely clear that this team – with the way it's playing right now – has a very limited ceiling. It's a team that could win most of its home games and challenge for a playoff spot, but it doesn't seem like anything beyond that is possible unless things change dramatically.
That reality is due to a variety of factors centering around Cousins and the offensive line. It's tough because Cook, Thielen and Diggs with an elite defense should be enough for reaching the 2017 ceiling to remain feasible. Regardless of how much talent the Vikings may have, the contending window seems pretty shut right now.