Chicago Bears: 10 Keys To Beating the Minnesota Vikings
Another week, another must-win game for the Bears.
Yes, if the Bears don't win this Sunday they will still be mathematically eligible to make the playoffs, But let's take a look at the odds and see if that is fool's gold or if it would be a realistic opportunity.
At 5-4, the Bears would likely need to win at least five of their next seven games. That is based on the 10 wins most teams believe it takes to make the playoffs.
But is it reasonable for the Bears to expect to lose only two games out of the following: Minny at home; @ Miami; Philly at home; @ Detroit; New England at home; @ Minnesota; Jets at home and @ Green Bay?
I do not think so. Therefore, it is critical for the Bears to beat the Vikings at Soldier Field. If they do, then they can lose three games and those games would logically seem to be New England, and one each at Minny and at Green Bay.
Recognizing that, here are the ten keys to beating the Vikings.
1. Take the Ball Away
The Bears are at their best when their defense forces turnovers. Lovie's Bears have only won when they have no turnovers twice in his six seasons as coach—in a 10-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 23, 2005 at Soldier Field and a 19-16 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 21, 2007 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Since Smith became coach in 2004, the Bears are 2-7 (.222) when generating no turnovers, 6-18 (.250) with one takeaway, 19-8 (.704) with two and 22-5 (.815) with three or more.
2. Stop Adrian Peterson
Historically, the Bears have had trouble with the Vikings running back. In 2007, he averaged 7.6 yards per carry; in 2008 he averaged 5.0; in 2009 only 3.7 though he had three TDs. In all, he's rushed for 732 yards and 11 TDs in six games.
Even his fumbles are not as likely since the guy who has caused the most fumbles on the Bears against AP is Hunter Hillenmeyer, who is gone.
If they can limit the Vikings run game, they can focus on stopping Favre. The more he is forced to throw, the more likely an interception is coming.
3. Improve Their Red Zone Offense
Should the Bears run the ball more? Well, that seems to be the mantra doesn't it? But take a look at this:
In 2009, Matt Forte rushed for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns on 33 carries inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, a 2.3-yard average. Inside the 10, he gained 32 yards and 1 TD on 21 attempts, a 1.5-yard average.
This year, he has failed to get the Bears in from the one yard line repeatedly and will no longer be used in that role. And last week, the Bears running game stunk.
So you really can't blame Mike Martz for being skeptical. Recognizing that, he has thrown the ball more a lot this season and how has that worked out? Not well.
On the one yard line, the Bears finally scored a TD vs. Buffalo after ten unsuccessful ties.
On third down, the Bears rank 32nd in conversions, converting only 22.9 percent.
This has to improve for the Bears to beat the Vikings. How? Don't go for the home run, max protect and run accurate routes. Easier said than done.
Plus, the Bears have switched from Forte to Chester Taylor when they need short yardage on third down. That should help.
But against the Vikings, they need to take advantage of their opportunities and not come away with only three points. Then again, three points is better than no points due to an interception or fumble.
How about utilizing the height advantage that Greg Olsen offers more inside the 20?
4. Bears Need To Limit Their Mistakes
On offense, Jay Cutler makes fewer errors when he is given good protection and when he throws high percentage passes, like screens.
Yes, he did fumble the ball against the Bills but he did not throw an interception. By being willing to throw the ball away instead of throwing into coverage and by using his athleticism to run for first downs, the Bears limit their mistakes and do not beat themselves.
The offensive line needs to cut down on penalties as well.
Mike Martz has to hate this, but he seemed willing to check down and to get rid of the ball in pressure situations. That is what they need more of against the Vikings.
I hate to turn Jay Cutler into a game manager, but it's better to punt the ball than to turn it over.
5. Run the Ball
The Bears need to establish the run against the Vikings if they are going to have any chance at controlling the clock and beating this team on Sunday.
Sure, they averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, and that included Jay Cutler's average (if you don't include Cutler's scrambles, they averaged about 2.5 yards...UGH!), but they need to establish the run in order to eat up the clock and limit Cutler's throws.
It would be nice if they could run the ball more effectively while they're at it, by the way. They were not good last week against a team that ranks last in the NFL at stopping the run, so I'm not sure why we should expect that to improve, but Bears fans can dream, can't we?
6. Stop the Brett Favre Magic
If the Bears get a lead late in the game, they need to maintain pressure on Favre because he seems to have the innate ability to inspire his teams to come back and get the victory, as he did last weekend.
The way to do that is to stop the running game. That way, they can focus on stopping Favre and make the Vikings offense one dimensional.
If the Bears take a lead but let the Vikings slip back into the game late, their confidence will soar. This team truly believes in Favre and his ability to lead teams back from the dead, despite his stats this season.
7. Bears Must Hope That Brad Childress Doesn't Get Fired
With Childress as coach, the players do not like playing for him and may not play to their capabilities. Meanwhile, if the owner had fired him like many thought he would following the Randy Moss debacle, guess how would be the interim coach?
Leslie Frazier. The ex-Bear, that is. And we all know how much he would like to beat the Bears.
Teams often get a spike in energy from a new coach or manager in any sport, so the fact that Childress remains coach for now is a good thing for the Bears.
Childress does not communicate well and garners little respect in the locker room. All of the drama has the Vikings focused in many directions and Bears fans should hope that this takes away from their game preparation.
8. The Defense Needs To Pressure Brett Favre
Brett Favre is a gunslinger who tends to force throws into coverage (where have we heard THAT before, eh?). If the Bears can get a couple of picks then their chances of winning go way up, as we talked before. Lovie's defenses are always predicated upon turnovers.
Maybe Julius Peppers will have a big game, as his talent is always capable of. He may not have the gaudy sack totals we expected, but he does wreak havoc.
Meanwhile, the play of Israel Idonije will be key on Sunday. He leads the team in sacks and can provide a valuable compliment to Peppers if he has an outstanding game. The Bears need his best game this weekend.
Thus far this season, Favre has 13 INTs vs. only nine TDs. The Vikings have not lost a game when Favre had more TDs than INTs.
9. Offensive Line Needs To Open Holes and Protect Cutler
Maybe having a more stable line will help them overcome the lack of talent. Having Roberto Garza back seemed to help the play signalling among the line, if nothing else.
Meanwhile, it's time for the Bears to suck it up and admit that Chris Williams is a bust. They won't do that, of course, but they need to compensate for his propensity to get out-muscled on the line.
Meanwhile, we've been told that the line prefers to block the run versus the pass, but you wouldn't have known that based on their performance against Buffalo. Cutler had time to throw yet the running game failed miserably, averaging about 2.5 yard per carry not counting Cutler's scrambles.
Look, no one on this line deserves to go to the Pro Bowl, but they will have their hands full against guys like Jared Allen, so they better get help. I thought that Brandon Manumaleuna played better than he had all season in the Buffalo game.
10. Devin Hester Needs To Take One to the House
The Vikings have a punter with a strong leg who likes to show it off and that couldn't be a better thing for Devin Hester. Unlike their recent opponents, Minnesota may kick to Hester and this will afford him an opportunity to score.
The special teams play will be critical against a Vikings team that probably is as good or better than the Bears in every other category.