Vikings vs. Bears: Bears Have to Get Back on Track in Vital Divisional Brawl
In one night the Bears' defense collapsed, the backup they thought was a safe bet proved to be anything but, the offensive line imploded and they lost their stranglehold on the division lead.
On the upside, Jay Cutler may be returning this week, a potentially critical point in a very important divisional matchup.
The Bears cannot take the Vikings lightly, nor can they afford a loss here. It wouldn't be season-ending, of course, but it with four of their next six games against NFC North foes, games like this are all the more important and a loss all the more painful.
On paper this seems like a game the Bears should win, but very little about the Vikings are what they appear to be.
So the Bears should proceed with caution and take nothing for granted.
When the Bears are on Offense
Let's begin with the premise that Cutler plays because it's that important a game. As I said at the top, it's not all or nothing, but they need this win. They need it to keep pace in the division (a loss ties them with Minnesota and potentially puts them a game behind Green Bay), and they need it just to wash the taste of the loss to San Francisco out of their mouths.
The Bears defense is better than they played Monday, so let's also assume it does its job far more competently, so the game isn't a blowout.
If Cutler plays, the offensive line needs to do a better job protecting him, lest he get hurt again—an outcome which, given what we saw of Jason Campbell, would be very bad.
This game is all about the trench warfare, make no mistake.
If they're smart, the Vikings will bring Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson off the edge, attacking the tackles. Sure, Gabe Carimi isn't starting anymore, but I don't for a minute buy Jonathan Scott as a massive improvement, and J'Marcus Webb was just as awful on Monday anyway.
And oh by the way, Chilo Rachal rage quit this week and when he came crawling back the team said "thanks but no thanks."
Given the issues on the line and the lack of talent available in free agency or already on the team, there is only so much to do. The Bears have Cutler throwing the ball quickly and taking short drops.
Now they need to add to that, bringing in extra blockers to protect the quarterback—H-back Evan Rodriguez, tight ends Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth or even extra linemen on the edges.
This shouldn't be even one issue and as much as the line had played better on the surface until last week, there have been issues.
Every other plan is contingent upon this.
Even the run game, which couldn't get established either, needs the line to pick up the slack. Run blocking hasn't been much of an issue, save against the Niners. The Vikings' run defense has slipped, but can be dangerous and if they come in focused and physical they can and will overpower the front line and stymie Matt Forte's efforts.
With Cutler back, Brandon Marshall will see targets again. It was criminal how few times he was targeted on Monday and as good as the Niners are defensively, Marshall is better. He can use his size to overcome the secondary but didn't get that chance.
This week he faces a decent secondary but one he should be able to overcome.
Again, though, Cutler needs to be upright if anything is going to happen.
When the Bears are on Defense
The Bears were gashed by Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, even if the stats aren't all that brutal. The Bears constantly missed tackles and were run over by the 49ers duo on Monday night and now face Adrian Peterson, who is playing the best he's ever played in his career.
We'll put aside the usual "holy moley Peterson is coming back from a terrible injury" discussion and just acknowledge if the Bears play against the run on Sunday like they did Monday night, they will probably lose this game.
The Vikings will want to hammer at the Bears and try to break them the way the Niners did, and Peterson can do that. They'll want to control the clock and, more importantly, keep Christian Ponder from having to carry the offense.
Peterson will be the key for the Vikings.
Still, the Bears can't just focus on him.
It's unknown whether Percy Harvin will play or not—though most pundits are leaning toward "no"—but rookie Jarius Wright had a very good game last time out, so he's someone Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings will need to keep an eye on.
Brian Urlacher will need to drop into coverage on occasion to limit what Kyle Rudolph can do as well, as the Vikings are likely to send him short across the middle. The safeties can step up and take care of that as well, and Rudolph has shown the last couple of months he can be shut down.
The defensive line will get more than a few chances to pin Ponder to the ground and pressure him into making some bad throws. Ponder is a decent quarterback, but he has struggled when forced out of the pocket and the Bears can produce turnovers if Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije as well as linebacker Lance Briggs get after the quarterback.
When it comes to the offense, the Vikings are barely more than one-dimensional, but they can move the chains.
The Bears defense has to come out harder than Monday night, something which can be expected given the amount of pride this group has.
Of course, we expected better last week as well.
After Monday, I really feel like this game can go either way.
The Bears should win and I have them doing so, but they cannot take the Vikings for granted. This is not the easy win it looked like it could be when the schedules came out and the Vikings get hot when you least expected it.
The two keys here are Cutler getting protection and the Bears containing Peterson.
It's something they should be able to do—but as I said, I expected them to play the Niners harder as well.
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