Under Jay Cutler, the Bears have gone 5-1 against the Minnesota Vikings since 2009, and have outscored them 169-116. Lovie Smith’s crew has simply dominated inferior Vikings teams. So this will be the first time since 2009 that both teams will meet with winning records in a game that has lasting implications for the rest of the season.
The Vikings are the surprise of the NFC with a 6-4 record and are on track to make a run at a wildcard spot. The team’s recent success has been due to the basic control their running game has been able to establish from week to week. They currently have the most feared running back in the League with Adrian Peterson, and an offensive-line that creates opportunities for Peterson to make plays.
The Vikings are essentially one-dimensional, considering they rank 30th overall in the pass and third overall in the running game. It comes down to the lack of consistent receiving threats and a mediocre quarterback in Christian Ponder. This team has lived off the big play from Percy Harvin and the control and stability from Adrian Peterson.
But it's time for this Vikings team to answer some questions. They have some impressive wins on their resume, but also some embarrassing losses. As a serious playoff contender, they have still yet to show me a reason to believe they are, but a win against this reeling Bears team might turn things around.
How the Bears match-up on offense
The Vikings have an average defense, ranking 15th in both pass and run defense. Under Leslie Frazier, this team has improved from last season, and they still have room to grow. The defense starts with one of the most dominant pass rushers in the last decade in Jared Allen. Allen is paired with Brian Robinson, who as the right end has had a successful year rushing the passer with 5.5 sacks. It is a defensive line that can get a solid push and cause trouble especially against the Bears’ moving parts on the offensive line.
This week, the Bears moved starting right tackle Gabe Carimi and starting left guard Chris Spencer off the line in favor of tackle Jonathon Scott and guard Chris Spencer. The Vikings should have a major advantage, especially coming off a week where Aldon Smith had 5.5 sacks in a single-game against the Bears’ line.
The Vikings will have the task of shutting down Brandon Marshall, and with the loss of Alshon Jeffrey, it should be an easier task. The 49ers used tons of bracket coverage against Marshall, which in the end was irrelevant because Jason Campbell could never manage to make it through progressions without the pocket collapsing.
Marshall has a wear-down effect where, even if he's not initially successful against the coverage, he will find a way to make an impact. He will be up against one of the best sound tacklers in the NFL in Antoine Winfield.
The Vikings have a number of guys who can make plays in press coverage, and also against the tight ends in coverage in their secondary. Harrison Smith has been a nice surprise for this team and has excelled in his role. Smith has consistently been one of the more efficient players in that secondary, and has been a great help against the run.
The Bears will have to be willing to protect under any circumstance, especially with a banged up Cutler. It is on the external pieces of the offense to deliver extra time for Cutler to make plays. Simple blocking schemes and max-protection will have to be a prevalent part of the game plan, because is Cutler can get any extended amount of time he has been proven to be a deadly playmaker.
Cutler, time and time again, has had tremendous success beating this Vikings team down the field on long throws. Expect a heavy dose of Marshall and Hester running long, down the field routes.
How the Bears match-up on defense
The Vikings’ style of play and personnel plays right into what the Bears do best, which is stop the run and turn the ball over. The Vikings have struggled against the Bears recently because of their inability to run the ball. A standard Vikings game will be decided within the first quarter based on their ability to establish the run. When Peterson is on his game, he opens so many avenues for that team to explore and abuse the weakest parts of a team's defense.
It all starts with the push generated from the defensive line. If the Bears can get constant pressure early on, the Bears can force the Vikings into passing situations and avoid the threat of a long run from Adrian Peterson. The Bears, luckily, do not have to deal with one of the most explosive players in the League in Percy Harvin due to an ankle injury.
The Vikings hit a homerun in this past Draft with rookie left tackle Matt Kalil, who might already be considered the top left tackle in the League. Kalil is 6'6”, 308 pounds with amazing foot speed for a man that large. He has been a huge factor in the success of the Vikings’ run game.
The Bears need to make a more valiant effort to contain that side of the run, as both San Francisco and Houston have done a fantastic job getting to the linebackers and making a block on that left side. The Vikings don't do as much stuff with their running schemes as the 49ers do, but they can be just as effective.
With a good running team comes the threat of an efficient play action attack. Bears have been exposed against play action, especially in nickel and dime packages. The Bears need to stay committed to their zone, and the safeties need to do a better job reading the tackles. Gap control has also come into question, as teams have been able to make gaping holes with key blocks pushing the linebackers toward the edge.
The Bears have the superior talent, but scheme and positional advantages might be their undoing in this match up. It's up to the line to protect Cutler (or Campbell), and for the defensive line to create pressure.