Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings game preview

Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings game preview
Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

This is not quite the same game these two teams played two weeks ago. The Vikings are 5-1 at home this season and 1-5 on the road. It’s only fair, however, for me to point out that the teams the Vikings’ have home wins against have an average 4-8 record, while the teams they’ve lost on the road to have an average 7-5 record. It’s hard to win on the road in the first place; Minnesota’s away schedule certainly proved to be a tougher one.

BUT . . . The home team in this matchup has indeed won 17 of the last 21 meetings, with Minnesota’s win at Soldier Field in 2007 and the Bears' wins at the Metrodome in 2006 and 2011, and at TCF Bank Stadium in 2010, as the only road victories in the series since 2002. So, opponent win percentage aside, there’s a certain edge that goes beyond traditional home-field here that I have to give to the Vikings.

The Bears will certainly have some issues to deal with in Minnesota that they didn’t have in Chicago a couple weeks ago when they defeated the Vikings 28-10. For one thing, the atmosphere in the Metrodome is going to make life hard for the makeshift Chicago offensive line.

For another, and perhaps this one is stretching just a little, but Adrian Peterson has simply proven more effective on the Field Turf surface up at Mall of America Field. The 108 yards on the ground the Bears held him to a couple weeks ago in Soldier Field, on natural grass, was his lowest total rushing yards through his last six games. He’s going to be better at home.

Q: Just how good is Adrian Peterson right now?

A: 7.9-rushing-yards-PER-ATTEMPT-through-his-last-six-games-good.

Peterson is not tearing up the turf against slouches either; he averaged 8.2 yards per attempt against the League’s best run defense in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week-8. The fact that the Bucs allowed that and are still the best statistically is a testament to their ability to stop the run. But stopping the run and stopping Peterson are two entirely different things.

Among RBs with at least 200 attempts in a season, Peterson’s 6.2 yards per average through all of 2012 is 3rd all-time behind only Jamaal Charles and Jim Brown. He currently leads the NFL with 1,446 rushing yards.

Heard this all before? Yeah, I know. But it serves to prove the point of Peterson’s value to that offense. Christian Ponder has struggled all season. As a quarterback, having a run game as strong as the Vikings do should only serve to make you better. The Minnesota attack is Peterson, play-action. That’s it. But for all Ponder’s struggles, his receivers haven’t given him much help either.

Against the Bears, Ponder could have had a halfway decent game if his receiving corps hadn’t dropped a number of key passes in key situations. With his is security blanket in Percy Harvin now on injured reserve and out of the picture, it’s led to a quarterback with trust and confidence issues.

Just to give you an idea of how big a deal it is for Christian Ponder to be missing Harvin: despite having missed three games this season, Harvin is still ranked 15th in the NFL in receptions with 62. Harvin’s 6.9 receptions per game rank sixth in the League.

Ponder has been having issues making and committing to a decision to throw the football. You see a passer hesitating to make a move when his receivers come out of their breaks. The Bears need to exploit that and have a much better week rushing the passer.

If they can get in Ponder’s face, Peterson becomes the only issue. The Bears have to work the mental angle, pressuring Ponder and playing physical in the secondary with his receivers. Play single-high, stop Peterson, and dare Ponder to beat you.

Q: How bad does not having Brain Urlacher hurt the Bears?

A: The fact that he’s tied for second on the team with 53 tackles this season is meaningless compared to the emotional and mental impact.

Nick Roach will slide to the middle with Geno Hayes taking his spot on the strong-side. Urlacher hasn’t been but a shadow of his former self this season, but he was still doing his job and doing it well. It’s a tall order for Roach to fill, but this is one thing that separates the playoff-bound teams from the early vacation-bound teams at this point in a season: the ability to overcome injuries.

With Harvin out of the mix, the Vikings’ passing attack will mostly run through TE Kyle Rudolph, who is tied for second in the League among all TEs with eight TD catches. He’s a big body to stop at 6’ 6”, 259. Without Brian Urlacher in middle of the field, Rudolph becomes an issue. But, athletically, Roach can play the position.

Some folks will tell you that a strong knowledge and understanding of the game, and an ability to read the opposition, will make up for athleticism on any and every Sunday. That’s what has allowed Brian Urlacher to continue to play at a high level for 12 seasons in the NFL, a League where guys are lucky to play four or five. That’s the role Nick Roach has to fill moving forward, because he has the ability to do the rest.

Q: Can the Bears’ offense finally step up and carry their team to an important victory if the defense struggles?

A: Everything goes through Jay Cutler from here on out.

The offensive line is what it is. It’s rag-tag, it’s hodge-podge, but . . . it’s starting to play better. The crowd factor alone in the Metrodome is going to test this group on Sunday. They have to be able to run a mistake-free offense and give Jay Cutler an opportunity to make plays, because right now, he’s hitting his stride.

Cutler has been magnificent through the Bears’ last two. He has to be able to continue that on the road in Minnesota. He will be the player who gets this team to the playoffs, should they make it. The Bears look to hopefully get Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery back in the mix this week, and it should only serve to open up the playbook a little more. They could be without Michael Bush in the run game, putting the onus on Matt Forte’s shoulders. But make no mistake, the Bears want Bush to go, and he does too.

One more “special” note

Don’t discount the Vikings on special teams in this matchup either; these guys are some of the best in the League. The Vikings have allowed only 13 kickoff returns of 20+ yards, which is tied for the fewest in the NFL. The Vikings, with a 25.1 avg., rank 1st in the NFL in average starting position following a kickoff.

Final score prediction

Here’s the deal: my gut tells me the Vikings will win. Sorry. But the part of me that wants to grab my gut by the small intestine and strangle it to death, says Cutler beats Ponder; end of story. I’m going to go with that guy, because I like him better. Bears 27, Vikings 17.

Nuggets

  • Minnesota holds an all-time record of 52-49-2 against the Bears in the series that began in 1961.
  • Chicago currently holds a six-game win streak against the Vikings, including a 28-10 Week 12 victory at Soldier Field, which matches the team’s longest win streak against Minnesota and includes two wins in Minneapolis.
  • Chicago Bears’ offensive Coordinator Mike Tice spent 12 years with the Vikings organization as a player and coach. Tice served as the Vikings head coach for the final game in 2001 and from 2002-05. 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 currently rank 3rd in the NFL in 1st down rushing defense allowing only 3.73 yards per rush.
  • Turn on WBBM, guys, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa have the call on Fox again. (*Involuntary shudder)


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