First thing’s first: the injury report. Will Jay Cutler play? Well, according to the Bears, he’s questionable with a 50/50 shot at taking the field at home on Sunday. But I’ll say this: if Cutler’s cleared, he’s going to play. And I think he’ll probably be cleared on Saturday.
With backup quarterback Jason Campbell showing up on the injury report all week and having received very limited reps, I think it’s likely Cutler is ready and the Bears will play his status close to the vest for tactical reasons, if not only common sense, heading into Sunday.
Regardless, the Vikings will prepare for Cutler—they have to. He’s the guy who can beat them down the field, which, given the Vikings’ moderate ability to stop the run, is their primary concerns vs. the Bears.
With the NFC North so closely contested, divisional and wildcard implications are on the line in Soldier Field this week. It’s crucial that Cutler starts for the Bears. Assuming he will, let’s move on to an injury of note on the opponent’s roster.
Vikings’ WR Percy Harvin is likely out against the Bears (his status is doubtful with an ankle injury, which means there is a 75% probability he will not play). Harvin is Ponder’s go-to guy, so this is a big blow to the Vikings, but Ponder showed last week against the Detroit Lions that he can spread the ball around, getting it out to nine different Vikings’ receivers. The Lions’ secondary, however, is worlds away from the Bears’.
But, while it appears Harvin is out, Vikings’ RB Adrian Peterson has been playing lights-out as of late and will have to be the conduit by which Minnesota will have success. Everything they do is set up off what No. 28 does.
Peterson has rushed for 629 yards (157.3 per game) and five TDs in his last four games. He currently leads the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards. In his last four against the Bears, however, Peterson hasn’t surpassed the 100-yard mark once, rushing for a grand total of 269 yards (67.3 per game).
I don’t expect the Bears to keep the numbers so low—wouldn’t surprise me if they did—but they can limit him and have been known to force a fumble or two along the way.
The Vikings run a pretty simplified offense, centered around the best back in the League and a stripped down, high-completion-based route-tree. Christian Ponder leads the NFL with a 75.8 completion percentage. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave uses Peterson to set up the play-action, and Ponder has thrived off play-action.
It’s not surprising. QBs around the League thrive off play-action in general. They key is you have to sell the run first. The Vikings can obviously do that. Of the 32 quarterbacks to take at least half of their team’s snaps, more than 60 percent have a higher completion percentage on play-action passes than normal dropbacks, and more than 70 percent have a higher passer rating.
Combine that general propensity with Ponder’s game-management and smart decision-making, and you have what makes him an often mistake-free, if unexciting, passer.
The Bears have to take away Adrian Peterson and get after Ponder. Chicago was dominated at the line of scrimmage against probably the League’s most physical offensive line against the 49ers last week, and it crippled the second and third levels of their defense.
I’m expecting a bounce-back performance from a veteran Bears’ defense that knows how to respond.
On offense, I’d say the Bears need to get off the bus running, but what good would it do? I’ve had my fill of arguing with folks who are so quick to pull the trigger against a struggling run game when your quarterback can’t even stay upright on a three-step drop. And, really, the reality is that the run game hasn’t even been all that bad.
Matt Forte is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, which is at the high end of his career average. Unfortunately for Forte, the Vikings rank second in the NFL in first-down rushing defense, allowing only 3.63 yards per rush. They are 14th overall against the run.
Now, I’m going to get all wishy-washy on you here and charge Mike Tice with calling a timid yet bold offense in his first year as offensive coordinator. Really, which one it is (timid or bold) depends on what’s going on in his head, and I certainly don’t have a window into Tice’s noggin.
But what I see is a coordinator struggling to find a rhythm and afraid to develop a run game for fear that it never will. It’s not smart football. Tice knows the game better than I, and I don’t intend to make play calling sound easy; it’s not. And—going back to something I touched on earlier—when your guys can’t block on a quick three-step drop, you are pretty well crippled as a play caller.
But Tice has to help his QB by committing to the run and trying to get the ball out as quickly as possible. He has no choice. A continued failure to do that leaves no room for excuses.
Oh yeah . . . Jared Allen . . .
Allen hasn’t been great of late, but he is great, and he has been great against the Bears. Allen has 13 sacks in eight meetings against Chicago. But his relative slump this season (seven sacks through 10 games) will make him even more hungry against a slumping tackle in J’Marcus Webb, and one fresh off the bench in Jonathan Scott.
Scott, for the casual fan, replaces first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi, who’s going to get some bench time in response to his recent struggles.
Here’s a little Jonathan Scott analysis for ya: signed by the Bears back in September, a veteran with 29-career starts under his belt. He spent some time with the Lions, Steelers and Bills. He checks in at about 6’6”, 318-ish (although, after Thanksgiving it’s probably more like 320). He’s a former fifth-round pick, who’s been barely clinging to a job since 2009. He’s not a starter, and is at best a second swing tackle.
I’m not saying I disagree with the Bears’ decision to move Scott up into this position, given the way Carimi has played this season, but don’t expect a major improvement. I wouldn’t be surprised is things got worse. The fact is the Bears had to do something besides sit back and watch their QB get killed. So, on that premise, I’m all for the Scott experiment.
Scott and Webb have their work cut out for them, but if these guys can’t respond to getting embarrassed on national television, they shouldn’t be lacing up the cleats on gameday.
Final prediction: Bears 24, Vikings 20
- Jay Cutler is 5-1 against the Vikings in his career with an average passer rating of 100.8. Cutler’s teams are 26-0 when he has a 100+ rating since entering the League.
- Minnesota holds an all-time record of 52-48-2 against the Bears in the series that began in 1961 with Chicago winning five-straight.
- The Vikings have won just one game in Soldier Field in the last 11 seasons.
- The NFC North is the only division in the NFL to have three teams with winning records.
- Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier (1981-86) and Special Assistant to the Head Coach/LB Coach Mike Singletary (1981-92) both played for the Bears and helped bring Chicago their only Super Bowl title in 1985.
- The Vikings rank 1st in the NFL with 17 runs of 20+ yards and 3 runs of 50+ yards.
- Vikings K Blair Walsh is 2nd in the League with 41 kickoff touchbacks, which is the Vikings franchise record for touchbacks in a season (previously 40).
- The home team has won 16 of the last 20 meetings, with the Minnesota’s win at Soldier Field in 2007 and the Bears win at the Metrodome in 2006 and 2011 and TCF Bank Stadium in 2010 as the only road victories in the series since 2002.
- Cover your ears: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa on the call for the game on Fox.