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When Chicago stumbled into their bye week after a turnover-fest against the Redskins, the Bears coaches vowed to strike a better balance with their offensive play calls, which, true to Mike Martz’s history, heavily favored the pass.
Against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, the Bears made a firm commitment to the run, calling 29 rush plays (excludes the Jay Cutler runs). Although the Bears averaged well under four yards per carry, the balanced attack kept opposing defenders honest and enabled the Bears to move the ball with relative ease throughout the afternoon, albeit mostly through the air. This game plan produced one of the most efficient offensive performance the Bears have had since last season.
Chicago will likely attempt to maintain this balanced attack on Sunday. The Vikings, however, are not the Bills (NFL’s worst run defense). Behind the strong interior line play of Pat and Kevin Williams, Minnesota has consistently stymied opposing rushers. Currently, Minnesota ranks sixth in NFL rush defense.
When Chicago tests the formidable Vikings run defense, they will encounter a brick wall. Making matters worse, veteran center, Olin Kreutz, has battled a hamstring injury all week. Although the savvy veteran returned to practice today, his status remains questionable for Sunday. If Kreutz does manage to start, he will probably struggle to move the Williams boys on running plays. Consequently, expect the Bears run game to become a non-factor early Sunday afternoon.
To compensate for a sputtering rush attack, the Bears will turn to their passing game. The good news for Chicago is their pass-blocking has improved since poor performances against the Giants and Seahawks. Last week, for instance, the beleaguered Bears line yielded only one sack against the Bills.
Meanwhile, the Vikings have surprisingly struggled to generate a consistent pass rush this season. DE Jared Allen, after tallying a phenomenal 14.5 sacks in 2009, has a mere 3.5 sacks this season. Against the Cardinals, however, Allen had a strong 2.5 sack performance. He’ll likely enjoy a good game against the Bears’ porous offensive line on Sunday. To counter, expect Chicago to roll Cutler away from Allen’s side of the field.
Like the Bears, the Vikings use a base Cover-Two defense. As Bears fans know, this defense offers several glaring vulnerabilities: seams between the safety and the corners and between the corners and linebackers. Slants and fade routes are particularly effective when properly timed against Cover-Two.
Chicago will likely attack the Vikings’ coverages with a mixture of short to intermediate passes in an attempt to dink and dunk their way to the end-zone—a tactic Martz used successfully against Detroit and Buffalo this season. With little room for error on the quick passes, expect Cutler to target his most reliable possession receivers, WR Earl Bennett and TE Greg Olsen, both of whom could have big afternoons.
If Chicago succeeds in holding back the Vikings pass-rush, Cutler should have a decent game. Last December, when the Bears held the Vikings to just two sacks, Cutler threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns. Conversely, last November, when the Vikings consistently got in Cutler’s face, the Bears only managed one passing touchdown along with two interceptions.
At home, with some momentum and offensive rhythm coming out of their win in Toronto, expect the Bears passing game to perform well against the Vikings.