Bears vs. Vikings: Breaking Down Chicago's Game Plan

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Bears vs. Vikings: Breaking Down Chicago's Game Plan
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The Chicago Bears dropped to 6-5 on the season after their 42-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 12.

The Bears defense struggled to keep the Rams running game in check, allowing 258 yards on the ground. Zac Stacy finished with 87 yards rushing and a touchdown while Benny Cunningham had 109 yards and a touchdown. The Rams running game as a whole averaged nearly nine yards per carry.

According to the Chicago Bears' official website, Jay Cutler is not expected to play again this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, still suffering from a high-ankle sprain he received against the Detroit Lions.

The Vikings are coming off a 26-26 tie against the Green Bay Packers and sit with a 2-8-1 record on the season.

The Bears have won seven of the last eight meetings with Minnesota. The home team has won 19 of the last 23 meetings, with Minnesota’s win at Soldier Field in 2007 and the Bears' wins at the Metrodome in 2006 and 2011 and TCF Bank Stadium in 2010 as the only road victories in the series since 2002.

This Sunday the Bears will try to improve to 7-5 on the season and try to keep themselves in the playoff hunt as they are tied with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North with the Lions holding the tiebreaker.

In order to beat the Vikings and improve their record, they will need to look back at their mistakes from this season and also look at what other teams have done successfully against Minnesota to have an effective game plan.

 

Maintain Gap Integrity

In 2012, the Chicago Bears allowed 1,627 rushing yards for the season. Through the team's first 11 games this season, the Bears have allowed a league-worst 1,597 yards. 

Injuries have decimated this defense. Chicago lost Kelvin Hayden and Turk McBride in training camp to season-ending injuries. Additionally, it has seen D.J. Williams, Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Charles Tillman all go on injured reserve. Lance Briggs has not played since the team's matchup with the Washington Redskins in October, and the team has had to rely on inexperienced and out-of-work players to patch up this defense.  

In Chicago's last three games, the defense has allowed the opposition to run all over it. Detroit racked up 145 yards rushing, Baltimore finished with 174 yards, and St. Louis rushed for 258 yards, gaining nearly nine yards per carry.

Injuries have forced guys like Landon Cohen and Christian Tupou into starting roles, and they have been unable to even perform the basics of Mel Tucker's defense to this point.

In this system, players are assigned a gap (designated areas along the offensive line) that is theirs to maintain.

On this play below, Shea McClellin's responsibility is the "C" gap (the outside of the right tackle).

NFL Game Rewind

Tavon Austin is sent in motion out of the slot position. Quarterback Kellen Clemens tosses it to Austin, who immediately changes direction and heads back toward McClellin. Because McClellin did not maintain his gap and pursued the quarterback, Austin was able to take the ball 65 yards for a touchdown.

NFL Game Rewind

McClellin is not the only one not maintaining his gap, but his mistakes were some of the most obvious this past Sunday afternoon. When the Bears faced off with the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 of the regular season, they allowed Adrian Peterson to gain 100 yards on 26 carries, but that was with a much healthier defensive line.

Heading into this week's matchup with the Bears, Peterson has 997 rushing yards on the season, which is second-best in the league behind the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy.

Mel Tucker has taken much of the blame for the Bears' defensive woes, but head coach Marc Trestman has confidence in him, telling Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune:

He has a knowledge of all three levels of the defense He knows how it’s all tied together and he knows that (just) because something’s not working, you don't go reaching to find something else that might work. You go back to what does work and you teach it better and you show the guys it’s the system.

If this defense wants to make up for its abysmal play of last Sunday, it better hope that Tucker can turn the run defense around.

 

Force Takeaways

With the Bears defense struggling to stop the run and at times stopping the passing game, Chicago needs to rely more on taking the ball away.

The Bears are tied for fifth in the NFC with 22 takeaways and are sixth in the league in turnover differential with a plus-seven.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has nine interceptions on 231 attempts this season and has thrown 34 in his young career. He has also struggled with keeping the ball in his grasp, fumbling four times this season.

As a whole, the Vikings have turned the ball over 23 times and are second-to-last in the NFC with a minus-11 turnover differential.

Ponder is prone to mental mistakes. In Week 11 against the Seattle Seahawks, he fumbled twice and was intercepted twice in the Vikings loss.

During the fourth quarter, the Vikings lined up with their "21" personnel (two running backs, one tight end and two wide receivers).

NFL Game Rewind

Ponder did a nice job of avoiding the pressure and stepping up into the pocket but failed to set his feet and threw a poor pass toward Adrian Peterson that was picked off by linebacker Bobby Wagner.

NFL Game Rewind

Ponder has been prone to these mental lapses in the past. While he was able to successfully avoid pressure, he was not aware of two linebackers in Peterson's vicinity.

After forcing 14 turnovers in Chicago's first four games, the Bears defense has forced just eight over its last seven games. If the Bears want to take some of the pressure off their run defense, they need to force Christian Ponder into making mistakes. 

 

Control the Clock Offensively 

One effective way of limiting your defense's mistakes is keeping it off of the field as much as possible. The Bears currently sit at 15th in the NFL in terms of time of possession per game with 30:33 on average.

Matt Forte has been effective this year running the ball, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Unfortunately for him and the offense, they were forced to play catch up against the St. Louis Rams last Sunday, limiting his carries.

If the Bears offense wants to help its defense, it will need to rely on its running game to effectively control the time of possession on Sunday against the Vikings.

 

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