By Bryan Dietzler
The Chicago Bears are coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the Green Bay Packers that saw them keep pace with the Pack for two and a half quarters. In that game, Chicago seemed to “give up” and Green Bay took charge beating the Bears 26-10. That dropped the Bears to 1-6 on the season. Things just keep getting worse for the Bears and there appears to be no end to their ongoing woes.
Now, Chicago will play the Minnesota Vikings, at home on Monday night football. The Vikings came down to earth last week as they lost, for the first time this season, to the Philadelphia Eagles 21-10. Their defense was exposed and their offense struggled. They may be thinking that they can get the ship righted against the Bears but hopefully Chicago will put up enough of a fight to at least make it interesting or even get an upset.
The Bears will welcome back quarterback Jay Cutler back. He has been out of the lineup since the second game of the season. The previous starter, Brian Hoyer, left their last game with a broken arm and is on injured reserve now. Somehow, Cutler was “ready” to come back this week. It was quite the coincidence. Can Cutler bring a spark to the Bears offense, a spark that has been missing all season? Or will Chicago continue to struggle moving the ball and scoring points (as they have done in the last few games).
The addition of Cutler certainly makes this game more interesting.
The wide receivers should benefit from having Cutler back. He not only has the stronger arm but he is also more likely to throw the ball and take risks than Hoyer would. That can either equal a lot of yards plus points or a lot of mistakes. In Cutler’s career it has been a little bit of both.
In the past, Cutler has had a penchant for throwing to Alshon Jeffery and Jeffery has been suffering without Cutler starting at quarterback. This could easily be the game where Cutler and Jeffery connect on some huge passes. Granted, it’s going to be tough to keep Cutler upright against this tough Vikings defense (more on that later) but if Cutler can get things going down the field, Jeffery (and some other receivers) could have a big day.
The Vikings are currently ranked fourth in the NFL against the pass allowing 197.8 yards per game. Not being able to throw the ball is going to hurt Chicago a lot if the Vikings are able to stop the Bear’s passing attack. Part of what the Vikings have been able to do to teams is put enormous amounts of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Seeing this, it’s more than possible that Cutler is going to have a hard time staying upright against the Vikings defense Monday night.
Throw out the passing statistics for the Bears in this game. All but one and a half games worth of those statistics belong to Hoyer. It’s time to wipe the slate clean and being all over again with Cutler. The question is, just how well will Cutler do? We will soon find out as he goes up against one of the NFL’s toughest pass defenses.
You would hope that Chicago would find relief with the running game but against the Vikings that may be difficult for several reasons. One important reason is that it appears the Bears could be missing a couple key components of their offensive line for this game. Kyle Long, who hurt his arm against the Packers, may not play on Monday night. Josh Sitton is questionable and may or may not participate.
Without Long or Sitton (or both) the Bear’s rushing offense is going to struggle (and it already has in the last two games). The Bears are averaging 87.9 yards per game on the ground (good for 25th in the NFL) so they aren’t putting up a ton of yards against opponents. Offensive line problems have contributed to this but the lack of running plays called by offensive coordinator Dowell Loggins is another reason why the rushing attack has suffered.
Minnesota is allowing opponents to gain an average of 81.7 yards per game on the ground which is good for third in the league. If the Bears had problems rushing the football before they will be compounded in this game. Running the football should be attempted but they probably not see much success against the Vikings.
You could see the cracks in the Vikings defense in their game against the Eagles last week. The Bears have surely watched the film and have some idea of what they can do. Can they exploit these cracks? Do they have the ability to? The story will be told Monday night.
The Bears defense has struggled quite a bit this season, giving up leads in games (see Jacksonville) and allowing teams to grab ahold of the game and win when it’s been close for a long time in games (see Green Bay).
The defense is led by Vic Fangio and he calls pretty decent plays but the execution, by the defensive players themselves, is lacking. They have the talent but injuries and some weak links have caused issues this season.
Maybe the Bears can find their defensive “groove” against the Vikings this Monday night. This is a Vikings team without its star rusher Adrian Peterson and while their quarterback, Sam Bradford, is statistically sound, he’s not a big time quarterback. His is not going to do a lot of damage to a team through the air. He is beatable.
In the passing game, the Bears defense is allowing 107 yards of rushing per game which is good for 17th in the league. Middle of the pack for sure and they could be better. The Vikings are gaining and average of 74.3 yards per game which is 30th in the NFL. That’s not great and the Bears should be able to shut the Vikings running game down on Monday night.
That leaves the passing game as the Vikings number one threat. This is where the Bears are weak (defending against the pass). Minnesota’s offense, with Bradford at the helm, is averaging 224.8 yards per game which is ranked 27th in the NFL. Not much better than the running game is it? But the Vikings have managed to win games. Granted, it’s not been by much (they average 21.5 points a game which is 19th in the NFL) but they win.
Chicago’s passing defense is allowing teams an average of 243.4 yards per game which stands 15th in the NFL.
This appears like it could be a pretty low scoring game when you look at the statistics. It is this writer’s opinion that will easily be the case.
The Bears defensive line will have to get pressure on Bradford and they can to it. They should also be able to corral the Vikings rushing attack. But can they stop the Vikings offense cold? They would almost have to in order to win this game.
The linebackers for the Bears are having a solid season and should play well in this game. Rookie Leonard Floyd is starting to come on and the rest of the group is the true backbone of this defense. They can’t do it all but they can do enough to keep things close for the Bears Monday night.
If there is a weakness on the Bear’s defense it is their secondary. They have had some injury problems which hasn’t helped but it’s been compounded by poor play by some of the replacements. The Bears need to find ways to make this group better. They have a lot of talent and some depth in there but it isn’t working out.
If the Bear lose this game, it will be because their secondary is giving up big passing plays. This has cost the Bears in other games this season and could come up Monday night and cost them again.
Special teams are always a toss-up with the Bears. Punter Pat O’Donnell is not having a strong season and the Bears are not winning any field position battles with him. Kicker Connor Barth is as unpredictable as the weather. He can win or lose games just like any kicker can. Coverage and return units aren’t bad and have been about middle of the road this season.
The coaching staff has been calling the right plays on defense but the execution has been poor. The play calling on offense hasn’t been that great and is nowhere near where it was last year (even though the Bears had a poor record last year, their offense was better in 2015). There may be some changes coming this offseason at the offensive coordinator position but for now, the Bears offense is not getting the right play in for the situation they are in and it’s costing them victories.
This is going to be a close game but still a struggle for Chicago. The real x-factor will be Cutler. Just how well will he play after missing the last few games coupled with having a shoddy offensive line? If he can succeed then the Bears have a chance. If he struggles, Chicago will surely lose.
The Vikings offense isn’t a “light it up” group but it manages to help the whole team win games. Chicago’s defense needs to lock them down for four quarters to give themselves a chance of winning. If the defense does what it usually does and gives in after two or three quarters, Chicago will lose once again.
This will be close but the Vikings have the edge. Look for Minnesota to win this game thanks to strong defensive play and those same old mistakes by the Bears.
Prediction: Minnesota 17 Chicago 13