By Bryan Dietzler
The Chicago Bears, fresh off of a bye week which couldn’t come at a better time will face the 4-2 Minnesota Vikings who are coming off of a 28-19 win over the Detroit Lions (who previously beat the Bears 37-34). The Bears currently sit 2-4 in the division and are just ahead of the Lions who sit at the bottom of the NFC North while the Vikings are just behind the Green Bay Packers who lead the division.
The Vikings have been playing pretty well so far this season under the leadership of second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. They have been getting better on defense as the season has progressed and they are playing teams tough. This isn’t the same Vikings team as we have seen in years past and they have quietly become one of the better teams in the NFC. The Bears, on the other hand, have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball. With an extra week to think about things and prepare will the Bears come out hot and play better than they have in the past few games or will they fall flat again and play poorly?
The following is a look at some of the keys to the Bears gaining a victory in their game against the Vikings this coming Sunday. There is a snapshot of how a few of the players should perform in the game as well as how the Bears should perform in all phases. Finally there is a quick review of some of the players and aspects of the game that would be important to the Bears going up against the Vikings.
The Bears offensive struggles in the red zone are well noted. In their game against the Lions, they made several trips to the red zone only to come away with field goals and an interception. The Bears need to be scoring touchdowns and they just aren’t doing that. Minnesota’s defense is improving each week and it may be tough for the Bears to score on this defense. Another thing that has been hurting them in the red zone has been penalties. Penalties have been coming at inopportune times for the Bears this season and they need to find a way to stop these and clean things up.
One remedy for the Bear’s woes in the red zone is better play calling. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has to call better plays in the shorter area of the field. Giving the ball to Matt Forte is always an option and with Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal back in the lineup, quarterback Jay Cutler has reliable receiving weapons to catch the ball and score six instead of three. Curbing the penalties would also be a good idea and the team can do that by playing smarter and thinking when they are in the heat of the moment.
As mentioned, using Forte more may be a way for the Bears to cure their ills. The Vikings are allowing teams to rush for around 106 yards per game right now and while that isn’t that much it would be a good time for the Bears to test the Vikings rushing defense and see what they can get. That means seeing a lot of Forte running the ball. They should also use him on screens to catch the ball against a defense for the Vikings that over pursues on plays at times. If they can get Forte the ball and control that and the clock then they have an excellent chance of winning this game.
The offensive line may be getting offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod back this week and while his replacement, Charles Leno Jr., has been filling in nicely it’s good to get that veteran experience back. The offensive line has been the center of controversy a little bit especially after their game against the Lions because of their inability to block well for the run so they need to clean these things up against the Vikings and spring Forte and Jeremy Langford for some decent runs. Perhaps getting Bushrod back will help them in the run game.
Cutler has been having a pretty decent season for the Bears but still makes the occasional mistake. He is going up against a Vikings defense that is allowing a total of 232 yards of passing per game. Cutler may be able to have some advantages with that and throw the ball effectively. He will have Jeffery and Royal in the mix as well as Marques Wilson and Martellus Bennett so look for him to complete a few passes against the Vikings this Sunday.
On defense the Bears will be going up against one of the best, if not the best, running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson. Peterson is averaging 4.4 yards per rush this season and is one of the top rushers in the league at this time. The Bears are allowing teams to rush for an average of 124.8 yards a game which isn’t good by any standards. The Bears need to tighten that up against the Vikings because Peterson is going to give them fits if they let him loose. Chicago needs to get as many men to Peterson as possible and gang tackle him as soon as he breaks the line of scrimmage to keep him from running roughshod over them. They also need to make sure they get him down on the ground quickly or else he is going to tear the defense apart.
The Vikings passing game has slowly been getting better as the season has gone on and Bridgewater, while not putting up big numbers (he has 1339 yards and five touchdowns) is effective at times (this was seen last week against the Lions) and has some nice weapons. He is getting the ball more to rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs who has come on recently and tight end Kyle Rudolph has caught more than half of Bridgewater’s touchdowns (three) so the Bears will have to watch him. Getting safety Antrel Rolle back (if indeed he does get back) will help.
The Bears are allowing a total of 220 yards passing per game so defenders aren’t going to put up a bunch of number against them but that could break in any game. The Bears need to get pressure on Bridgewater and force him to either take a sack or throw an interception. They need to cover the Vikings receivers better than they did the Lion’s receivers and it can be assured that this was looked at and worked on during the bye week. If the Bears can cover well and get pressure on the quarterback then they have an excellent chance of winning this game.
The formula for a Bear’s win is a complex one. On offense, they have to improve in the red zone, run the football and get good production out of their passing game. On defense they need to put the brakes on Peterson, get to Bridgewater and lock down the Vikings receivers. If they can do this they should be able to win the game. The Vikings have been playing well but they haven’t been playing “lights out football” so this is a winnable game for the Bears. They just have to play improved football, overcome mistakes and concerns that have plagued them in the past.
The home team has won the Vikings/Bears game over the past several years so if history holds true the Bears just might win this one. Look for this to be a good close game with the Bears finally getting things right on offense and defense coming out just ahead of the Vikings in this game.
Score Prediction: Chicago 24 Minnesota 21