Bears vs Vikings: Bears Need to Run Ahead Early, Apply Pressure to Ponder
The Bears enter this game with some injury issues on the defensive side of the ball and with a battered offensive line.
On the plus side, they may have Devin Hester and rookie Alshon Jeffery back, and the Vikings' quarterback situation is pretty bad, as are the wide receivers he has to work with.
It's not a game the Bears can take lightly, especially with the Packers slightly ahead of them in the race for the Divisional title.
While the Bears are on Offense
Really, it's just a matter of getting the ball out quick.
The front seven for the Vikings can be dangerous, even if it has struggled the last month or so.
Meanwhile, the Bears have lost Lance Louis to injury and continue to shuffle players around to find an effective setup. They did a good job against the Seahawks, in part because Jay Cutler got the ball out of his hands quickly.
Short routes, quick decisions and quick releases.
The Vikings will be coming after Cutler hard, but the Bears should be ready for it.
Brandon Marshall is the main threat and the Vikings don't really have anyone who can match up with him. They'll need to have some help.
What that means is the other receivers will find themselves more frequently with single coverage. If Jeffery or Hester can take advantage of it, Cutler will be able to use them to move the chains consistently.
Now, of course, he will get the ball to Marshall. However, using the single coverage will also give Cutler the option to move the ball in more open space.
Running Matt Forte will also be a key component to getting the ball down the field.
The Bears will want to score early and get the Vikings to pass.
Putting the ball in Christian Ponder's hands and out of Adrian Peterson's will make the defense's job much easier.
When the Bears are on Defense
The Bears defense is at its best when it is active, when it is aggressive and firing off at the offense, and when it is setting the tone and tempo—attacking, not reacting.
None of this happened in the last quarter of the loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Vikings don't have quite the defense Seattle does nor is Christian Ponder quite as effective as Russell Wilson has been. What they do have in common is an outstanding run game, which is how the Seahawks were able to wear down the Bears.
In order to avoid the Vikings being able to replicate that, Chicago will need to be very careful about how they approach the game defensively.
Part of this will be the offense putting touchdowns on the board early which, as I mention above, will take the ball out of Peterson's hand and put it more frequently and into Ponder's.
Even without Tim Jennings, the defense should force Ponder into making bad throws. It doesn't take much to get him out of the pocket, and when he's on the run his accuracy goes in a hole.
The Vikings have just one semi-credible threat in the receiver corps an he's a rookie. As much as I like Jarius Wright, he's still raw and inconsistent. Jerome Simpson was supposed to take this offense vertical but he's been a terrible disappointment.
Another factor could be tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph is a big, athletic tight end, but defenses have been able to knock him off his routes too frequently and the Bears won't have much of an issue replicating that.
The pass game isn't the problem—stopping the run and Adrian Peterson is.
When the Bears collapsed at the end of the game against the Seahawks it was because for nearly the entire fourth quarter—and bleeding into overtime—the Seahawks dictated the terms of what the Chicago defense could do.
They did so through a campaign of hard running, which wore the defense out and allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to find his receivers for completions.
From the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Bears defense started to look more and more worn down and unsure of itself.
That was its downfall and it began because both Wilson and Lynch ran ruff-shod over the defense.
Marshawn Lynch is a tremendous running back. Adrian Peterson is much better.
The Bears held Peterson in check the first time out, until they turned their attention to defending the pass as the Vikings tried to score late.
Sunday will require more of the same if they are to keep this game from being close enough for some late-game heroics.
Peterson is on fire right now and he is the key to this game. If he is allowed to dictate the terms of the matchup by grinding the ball into them an exhausting them, then the Bears could find themselves in the same position they were in last week.
If they can bottle him up, as they did two weeks ago, this game will be over early.
Both teams are banged up, but the Vikings were already playing with a weak hand. Ponder isn't looking like a guy who can bring them back from even a modest deficit, so if the Bears' offense gets going then they should be able to put the Vikings away early.
Minnesota has more talent than people give them credit for, though, and they know if they lose their season is done.
So expect a huge effort by the Vikings in front of a fired up hometown crowd which will put this Bears team to the test.
Follow me on Twitter at @andrew_garda.
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