Behind Enemy Lines with Vikings' Featured Columnist Mike Nelson
The Vikings opened their season with a 34-24 loss to NFC North foe Detroit, so the Bears can put Minnesota in a huge hole with a win. A desperate team is a dangerous team, however, so the Bears will have to be on top of their game.
Nelson is a correspondent covering the Minnesota Twins with MLB.com and he has worked at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel while also doing freelance work with The Sports Xchange and Sun-Times Media in Chicago. His work has appeared in Yahoo! Sports and the Chicago Tribune.
I asked Nelson a few questions about Sunday's game and he came up with some interesting responses.
What is something you’re concerned about with the Vikings facing the Bears?
Matt Kalil blocking Julius Peppers.
Yes, Peppers was limited to zero tackles and zero sacks in Week 1. But how long does the lion remain tied to the tree before it breaks free?
At 33 years old, this may be the beginning of the end of Peppers’ career. Even if that is the case, there’s still plenty of talent there. The man recorded 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He’s not dead.
Kalil, named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, isn’t playing his best football. His Week 1 performance was described as possibly “the worst game of his brief NFL career” by 1500 ESPN.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune said coach Leslie Frazier determined there is an unspecified flaw in Kalil’s technique that’s holding him back.
Peppers’ presence in the box score Sunday will tell a lot about where Kalil is in his improvement and how Minnesota does.
Christian Ponder will absolutely continue to struggle (he was 18 of 28 for 236 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in Week 1) if he is consistently on his back.
My take: I don't expect Peppers' slump to last long, but I don't think he breaks out this week.
While Kalil struggled in Week 1, he was great for most of last season so I expect him to revert back to form. He held Peppers to just five tackles and zero sacks in two games last year and I think he'll continue to hold his own.
What is one area you think the Vikings can exploit in the matchup?
Taming Brandon Marshall. Look what Minnesota did in Week 1.
The Vikings held the NFL’s best wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, to four receptions and 37 yards. It was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise ugly game.
With Chris Cook (6’2” and 212 pounds) and Xavier Rhodes (6’1” and 210 pounds), Minnesota has cornerbacks with the size and talent to slow the game’s biggest and best receivers, Marshall included.
Marshall caught eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. Look for 35-50 yards receiving in Week 2.
As Minnesota demonstrated in Week 1, that is irrelevant if the opposition can get whatever it likes underneath or to its other playmakers.
Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett should be on standby. They’ll be called in for heavy duty early and often, especially Forte.
If Reggie Bush can rush for 90 yards, how many will Forte get?
My take: I agree. The Vikings actually did a solid job on Marshall last year. They limited him to 7.7 yards per catch in the first game. In their second game, Marshall caught 10 passes for 160 yards, but some of that came very late in the game and he was targeted 20 times.
There is no way the Bears will reach their potential unless other players can make big plays in the passing game. The Vikings could test their ability to do so this week.
The attention the Vikings gave Johnson was a big part of the reason they lost to the Lions. I don't think they'll give Marshall quite as much help over top, but it'll be enough to limit his targets.
Who do you think wins and why?
Minnesota is 1-9 at Chicago in the last 10 years and those nine losses were by an average of 19.4 points. In other words, Minnesota is AWFUL in Chicago—and in all road outdoor games for that matter.
Minnesota’s defense is better than it played in Week 1, but there are legitimate concerns about cornerback depth and the defensive line’s interior. The Bears should be able to post 20-30 points, especially at home.
With Minnesota’s offensive line struggling and Christian Ponder playing like Christian Ponder, the burden will fall to Adrian Peterson to make some spectacular happen. He will. But it won’t be enough spectacular to compensate for everything working against him.
My take: I have the Bears in this one too. The Bears managed to block the Bengals' defensive line using just their five linemen. Once they were able to do that, they abused them on the back. The Bengals have a better secondary than the Vikings, so if the Bears can hold up on the line, I think they're going to score quite a few points.
Even if they can't, as long as Chicago's offense is efficient, its defense should be good enough to come away with a win at home.
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