Defense: The key to this game starts and ends with Bears running back Matt Forte. He is the one constant on this Bears team. He can bring it on the ground and he can bring it as a receiver.
The Vikings need to shut him down in the running game and then contain him as best they can in pass defense.
The Vikings have proven themselves capable of shutting down an opponent’s running game but they’ll need to do so for four quarters against the Bears.
Ideally, they shut down Forte early, force Jay Cutler to face a lot of second- and third-and-longs, and loose the Dawgs of War.
Those would be Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Everson Griffen, and Brian Robison. Have I said how awesome that defensive line is with that particular lineup?
That’s just way too much to reasonably ask for any offensive line to handle. Allen and Robison are probably the best defensive end duo in the league right now, Kevin Williams looks like he’s returning to his old form, and whenever they put Everson Griffen in, he makes plays, whether it’s dropping into coverage as a linebacker, bull rushing a guard up the middle of putting a swim move on a tackle.
The pressure we can bring with those four is pretty intense.
And given how truly awful the Bears offensive line looks right now–Cutler has taken 18 sacks this year–they are set up nicely for a huge night Sunday before a national audience.
I have no doubt the Vikings will be able to mount a fearsome rush against Cutler, but after watching him escape the rush against the Lions, a fierce rush is not the only thing we’ll need.
The pocket collapsed regularly on Cutler but just as often, Cutler extended the play with his feet, buying time to find a receiver and since Cutler has such a strong arm, he can get the ball to them quickly once he finds them.
Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is not a big fan of quick passes so that likely will not provide Cutler any relief but the Vikings secondary will need to cover closely and maintain that coverage when Cutler breaks the pocket.
Where the Vikings defense could be vulnerable is, as has been the case all season, on the underneath routes.
Matt Forte is deadly as a receiver so the Vikings must be sure tacklers and swarm to him when he gets passes in flat and those dump off passes in the middle. And they will need to sniff out those screens because there will likely be a lot of them.
Offense: The Bears defense has been nothing to brag about, either. They’ve given up a lot of yards on the ground and are pretty miserable against the pass.
The Bears will probably be starting rookie Chris Conte and second-year guy Major Wright at safeties, a position that has been a weakness all season.
The Vikings happen to have the best running back in the universe in Adrian Peterson, talented change of pace backs in Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker, and a receiver who runs like a running back in Percy Harvin.
It will be no surprise at all if the Vikings continue to force feed the running game but if there ever was a time to take plenty of shots downfield, this would probably be it against those inexperienced safeties.
This could be another audition for Bernard Berrian to show he deserves all the snaps he’s been getting and keep Devin Aromashodu at bay, but if they give Berrian more chances and he doesn’t deliver, well, c’mon, how much faith can Leslie Frazier have left in the guy?
Special Teams: Devin Hester is always a threat in the return game and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has promised to change things up in coverage this week. The best you can do with Hester is prepare, prepare, prepare, maintain your discipline in coverage, and hope he doesn’t burn you.
Intangibles: The intangible here is that the Bears have lost three to NFC opponents, two of whom are within their own division, so another loss to a division foe would be pretty devastating to their playoff hopes.
Still, this is a good chance for the Vikings to steal a win.
The Vikings travel to Soldier Field on Sunday to take on the Chicago Bears. Kickoff is at 7:20 PM CST and the game will be broadcast nationally on NBC.
Your play-by-play guy will be Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be your analyst with Twin Citizen Michelle Tafoya serving as the sideline “reporter.”
The radio broadcast is on KFAN-AM 1130/KTLK 100.3-FM locally with your usual crew of play-by-play guy Paul Allen, analyst Pete Bercich and sideline reporter Greg Coleman. Pre-game show starts at 5 PM CST.
Happy Birthday today to offensive tackle Scott Kooistra (31)!