The Chicago Bears are in desperate need of a win.
The Bears, who were a lock for the NFC North title four weeks ago, have lost three of four and have relinquished their division lead. A loss to the Minnesota Vikings would be detrimental to Chicago with a game coming up against the Green Bay Packers in Week 15.
The Bears have never had an exceptionally proficient offence, but it’s been the defense that has failed Chicago lately. The Bears gave up 32 points to the San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. And last week, the Bears let rookie quarterback Russell Wilson take the Seattle Seahawks offense down the field on the first drive of overtime to beat the Bears at Soldier Field.
Here are some keys for the Bears to turn things around against Minnesota and, more importantly, build some confidence heading into the matchup against Green Bay.
The Bears are the tenth-best rushing defense in the NFL, giving up just over 100 rushing yards per game. But Chicago has given up an average of 134.5 rushing yards in the last four games, and the Bears will have another steep test Sunday against Adrian Peterson.
A normally strong defense has given up big chunks of yardage on the ground recently. With Percy Harvin out, the Vikings will rely heavily on Peterson, and Chicago will need to be ready.
At this point the Bears might as well give up on trying to develop a second go-to receiver.
With Alshon Jeffery coming off arthroscopic knee surgery and Earl Bennett and Devin Hester dealing with concussions, Chicago has virtually no options at receiver other than Marshall.
So far Marshall has proven he is capable of working through double-teams and making grabs downfield as well as across the middle. The Bears will need even more from Marshall if they are going to make a run in the playoffs.
Forte’s catches are down this year thanks to Marshall's presence, but Jay Cutler needs to find the back more through the air for Chicago to be successful.
Getting defensive touchdowns are tough to ask for or predict, but the Bears are much better when the offense gets some help from the defense.
Chicago 5-0 is when it scores a defensive touchdown.
In the second quarter of Sunday’s loss to Seattle Chicago had the ball on the Seahawks’ 15-yard line and went for it on 4th-and-1. Michael Bush ran for no gain, and Chicago turned the ball over.
Kicking the field goal would have changed the course of the game, and Robbie Gould could have been kicking a game-winning field goal at the end of the fourth quarter instead of a game-tying field goal.
With Brian Urlacher out 2-4 weeks, it will be up to Roach to fill in as middle linebacker and anchor the defense. Roach has 26 total tackles and 1.5 sacks through 12 games this year, but the six-year pro will need to be better for Chicago to fix its defensive issues.
This opportunity may be an audition for Roach in the event Chicago opts to not re-sign Urlacher after this season.
With Harvin out, Ponder’s options are limited. Chicago will need to step up the pass rush to rattle the young quarterback.
Chicago quarterbacks have been sacked 36 times, good for fourth most in the NFL.
When Cutler has time to throw, he is much more accurate and is able to let plays develop and find Marshall downfield.
The Bears have always created plenty of turnovers under Lovie Smith (300, in fact). But this team is especially skilled at causing the other team to cough up the football.
Last time Chicago played Minnesota, Ponder threw a pick and lost a fumble, and the Bears are hoping for similar results Sunday.
Matt Forte has only two games of 100-plus rushing yards, the last one coming in Week 9. Michael Bush has lightened Forte’s load some, but Forte isn’t getting into the second level like he did the past two seasons.
The offensive line is banged up, but the front five will need to create more running lanes for Forte if the Bears are to win.