The Bears host their division-rival-Vikings for the first of two meetings this season, Sunday, at noon. The 5-3 Bears enter the game, technically, a one point underdog to the 3-5 Vikings, and they will certainly use that as motivation.
It's fair to say that this game is a must-win for both teams. The Vikings, while not mathematically out of the discussion, need to go on a run now if they intend to make the playoffs.
The Bears, on the other hand, would likely need to win five of their next seven if they drop one to the Vikings on Sunday. On top of that, the Chicago Bears have never, in their 90 year history, made the playoffs when they drop from 5-3 to 5-4 to start the season.
So, having set the stage, let me give you the top 5 keys to a Chicago Bears' victory over the Minnesota Vikings:
5. Defend the no-huddle
We all know Brett Favre loves the hurry-up offense. And why wouldn't he? He's been very successful in it. "To me, the key to the whole thing is (a) less volume of plays, so in your mind you're thinking there are less mistakes," Favre said. "I think that's why over the years I've been successful in that type of offense. I have a pretty good idea of what we're doing and there's just (a) comfort level."
The Vikings ran the no-huddle in their fourth quarter win over the Arizona Cardinals last week, and coach Childress says the team may revisit the system against the Bears.
The issue is, the Bears have struggled against the no-huddle the few times they've seen it this season. In Lovie Smith's 'bend but don't break' style of Cover 2, it's fairly simple for teams to quickly move the chains and control the clock by throwing out to the sidelines. The Bears must have a plan to take the wind out of the Vikings' sails.
4. Take advantage on special teams
Don't get me wrong, the Vikings have done a good job on special teams coverage this season, but their punter has been playing with fire. It's simple really, football players - yes, even kickers - are competitors.
Men, pay attention, I'm talking to you here: If some guy starts hitting on your girlfriend right in front of you, what's your first reaction? "I'm gonna kill this guy," right? And when words start to get heated and your girlfriend tells you to just walk away, deep down inside, you know she's probably right that it's the smarter thing to do. But, there's no way in hell you're doing it.
Same basic principle applies to the football field. When Vikings coach Brad Childress told punter Chris Kluwe to kick the ball out of bounds against New Orleans, he didn't want to. Instead, he tried to ride the line, which ultimately resulted in two returns, for 93 yards and one touchdown by Reggie Bush.
Childress and Kluwe exchanged words on the sideline: "You're a professional kicker, I expect it to be out of bounds," he told the kicker. Kluwe essentially admitted that he was trying to ride the line because it was hard to see giving up excellent field position.
Kluwe said it's "a fairly safe assumption to make" that he will be asked to kick out of bounds this Sunday against the Bears' Devin Hester. But, keep in mind that if Hester does get a chance, he'll be looking to make history, going for his 14th career return for touchdown (Currently: nine punt returns, four kickoff returns for TD).
3. Run the football
All season long, I, like many of you, have been screaming for the Bears to run the football. And, for the most part, you seem to agree. But, every now and then I get a fan who tells me, "There's no point in running the ball, just to run it." While I understand the sentiment, you're absolutely wrong.
The Bears are the most blitzed team in the NFL. Why? Because, their offensive line is ranked dead last statistically, and they are 28th in the league in rushing attempts. You must force the defense to respect the run. Let's face it, if you want to air the ball out 70% of the time, the very first thing you need to shore-up is pass-protection. The Bears have not done that.
Consider this: In each of the Bears' wins this season, their average number of rushing attempts is 23.6. In each of the Bears' losses this season their average number of rushing attempts is only 13.3. Why did I use rushing 'attempts' and not rushing yards? Because it makes my point. The rushing yardage was not necessarily a factor in each of the Bears' wins, but the number of attempts clearly is.
2. Stop Adrian Peterson
Oh, do we know Adrian Peterson here in Chicago. AP has quite a history of sticking it to the Bears. Through just 3 seasons with the Vikings, Adrian Peterson averages over 122 rushing yards per game against the Bears. He averages 99.5 yards per game against the rest of the league.
In his fourth season now, not only has Peterson had a resurgence in his rushing attack, he's figured out how the hang on to the football. Peterson hasn't fumbled the ball once this season after averaging nearly seven fumbles per season in each of his three previous seasons.
But, in past years, the Bears did not have Julius Peppers to stuff up the gap. Known for his prowess as dominant pass-rusher, Peppers seems to be suited to stopping the run and wreaking penalty-inducing havoc on opposing offenses, here in Chicago. And that's just fine. He's creating opportunities for guys like Israel Idonije, who leads the Bears in sacks, to get pressure on the quarterback and force mistakes. Which brings me to my final key...
1. Win the turnover battle
It's a commonly known statistic: Win the turnover battle, win the game. Sure, it doesn't always work that way, but more often than not it does.
If the Izzy Idonije can continue to come up big for the Bears' offense and pressure Favre, the old man will throw an interception. I promise. Brett Favre currently leads the league with 13 interceptions. Jay Cutler on the other hand has just seven INTs, while playing behind the worst offensive line in the league, and while being sacked more than any other QB in the league. Just saying...
The Vikings' defense is ranked 22nd in the league in defensive turnovers, with just 6. The Bears are ranked 6th, with 11. If the Bears' defense can create pressure and their offense can limit its mistakes, the Bears will win the turnover battle - and if they do - they WILL win the game.