The Minnesota Vikings get another chance to exact a bit of revenge this season. Just like in Week 2 when they played the Chicago Bears, this will be the second consecutive division opponent for the Vikings. The first time the Bears and Vikings met, Minnesota was coming off a disappointing loss in Detroit.
This time, they're coming off a disappointing tie—where they gave up a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead over the Green Bay Packers. They're also facing a Bears team that is desperate for every win it can get—especially after getting destroyed 42-21 by the St. Louis Rams. Chicago is tied with Detroit atop the NFC North Division at 6-5, but losing twice to the Lions means it has to win the division outright.
On the surface, this game might look like good timing for the Vikings. Just like last week, they faced a team without its starting quarterback—but like last week, that might not be a good thing. This season, quarterback Josh McCown has actually played better than Jay Cutler.
Josh McCown has the same number of games with a Total QBR of 80 or better this season as Jay Cutler (3)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 26, 2013
Almost all of the statistics bear out that McCown has been Chicago's better quarterback this season. The following table compares their performances this year. It's probably one reason Chicago head coach Marc Trestman is allowing Cutler another week to recover from a high ankle sprain.
Pro Football Reference
The Vikings aren't the only team with a quarterback controversy. Cutler will be a free agent next season, and the Bears need to make a decision on how much they will be willing to pay for a quarterback with a passer rating of 82.7 since joining the Bears in 2009.
Pro Football Reference
When the Vikings Have the Ball
Speaking of quarterbacks, the Vikings' Christian Ponder has played better over the past three games as the team has gone 1-1-1.
Two of the three games have come on the road, with the win coming at home.
Despite how well Ponder has played, the Vikings would be wise to focus on the running game against the Bears. Last week, St. Louis rushed for 258 yards on 29 carries—an average of 8.9 yards per carry.
Heading into that game, the Rams averaged 99.4 yards per game, ranked 22nd in the NFL. After the game, their average jumped to 113.8 yards per game, increasing their ranking to 15th in the league.
With running back Adrian Peterson leading the way, the Vikings average 122.5 yards per game. Against the Packers in Green Bay, Peterson and running back Toby Gerhart combined for a season-high 232 rushing yards.
With the Vikings playing at home for only the second time in five games, it seems like everything is working in Minnesota's favor.
If the Vikings can establish the run, it will help to open up the passing game, especially using the play action. The Vikings should use a formation similar to the one they used frequently against Green Bay. With a two-receiver set, the defense typically has only seven defenders in the box.
This would be a great formation to use tight end John Carlson in the passing game. In the past three games, Carlson has 15 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown. With the Bears trying to stop Peterson and Gerhart, this could be a big game for Carlson.
The Vikings' game plan should mimic St. Louis' as much as possible and involve wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the run game. Last week, wide receiver Tavon Austin opened the scoring on a 65-yard touchdown run.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens was very Ponder-like in his performance, going 10-of-22 passing for 167 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating for the game was 86.7.
When the Bears Have the Ball
Chicago's offense revolves around wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He is targeted an average of 10.4 passes per game. In the past three games against the Vikings, 47 passes were thrown to Marshall. He caught 29 of them for 356 yards and two touchdowns.
The best bet for the Vikings is to line up Xavier Rhodes opposite Marshall. In last week's game against the Packers, Rhodes broke up four passes before leaving the game with concussion-like symptoms.
The good news is that he took the first step to making his way back on the field for Sunday.
The Vikings will also have to contend with running back Matt Forte. Forte is a dual-threat back with 56 catches for 414 yards. He has more yards from scrimmage than Peterson.
Pro Football Reference
The Vikings defense has been susceptible to the screen pass, so look for Forte to be a big part of the Bears' game plan in both running and catching the ball. He didn't practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury sustained against the Rams, but he is expected to play on Sunday.
Bears: Matt Forte missed practice today because of a hyperextended right knee, but Trestman thinks he will play. http://t.co/xEIpkzRJNN— Chicago Sports Guy (@SportingNewsChi) November 27, 2013
Don't think that means a whole lot at this point. Peterson didn't practice on Wednesday either, nor last Wednesday and Thursday—when he rushed for 146 yards against the Packers on Sunday.
It could be a long afternoon for the Vikings. The Bears have the fourth-ranked scoring offense, averaging 27.5 points per game. The last time the Vikings played an offense this good, they lost 42-21 to the Seahawks.
The Vikings will not be able to stop the Bears, but they must find a way to slow them down. The best defense in this game will be a strong running game on offense that keeps the Vikings defense on the sidelines.
Hopefully, the game does not come down to the final minute, unless the Vikings offense is on the field with the ball within Blair Walsh's range—and that could be from the Bears' 40-yard line.