The Vikings and Chicago Bears each issued their first injury reports of the week on Wednesday. For the Vikings, there were no surprises. Here are the details…
CB Antoine Winfield, who missed last week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals with a neck injury, has been improving in recent days but did not participate in practice on Wednesday. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Winfield limited in practice or even sit out on Thursday, but perhaps he’ll see some action on Friday and have a chance to suit up on Sunday night.
Players limited in practice on Wednesday for the Vikings were WR Percy Harvin (ribs), LB E.J. Henderson (knee) and LB Kenny Onatolu (hamstring). S Husain Abdullah (pelvis) and DE Jared Allen (eye) were full participants.
For the Bears, DE Julius Peppers (knee) missed practice, as did WR Earl Bennett (chest), OT Gabe Carimi (knee) and DT Matt Toeaina. CB Charles Tillman (knee) was limited and DE Corey Wooten (hand) was a full participant.
Tags: Antoine Winfield, E.J. Henderson, Husain Abdullah, Jared Allen, Kenny Onatolu, Percy Harvin
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A big question in Chicago all week will be the status of DE Julius Peppers, who sprained a knee ligament in Monday night’s loss to the Detroit Lions. Peppers was forced from the game temporarily after injuring the knee, but he was able to return eventually and he hasn’t been ruled out of this Sunday’s game against the Vikings.
“His knee is still sore,” Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday. “I don’t know exactly when he’ll be able to go, but hopefully by Friday at least he’ll be able to do some things and be able to go this weekend.”
Peppers’ status for the game is paramount because he’s one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. He has 91.0 career sacks in 9+ seasons, including 10.0 in 21 games with the Bears, and he’s registered double-digit sacks in 6 of his first 9 full seasons. Peppers rushes primarily from the right DE spot, but can also be moved along the line and rush from either end position. He can also flash on special teams and is often used to block FGs and PATs.
It would be surprising to see the Bears rule Peppers in or out of the game before Sunday, so expect this to be a storyline all week. As far as the Vikings are concerned, Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday that they’ll prepare all week as if Peppers will be in the lineup.
“I think you have to plan as if he’s going to play, until you find out for sure that he’s out,” Frazier said. “You don’t want to be surprised if he’s lining up on Sunday, and not have a plan for him. He can change games. He’s done it. You have to plan as if he’s going to be there until you hear otherwise.”
Don’t expect to hear otherwise until Sunday, at the earliest. Peppers has played in 143 of a possible 149 games in his career and he’s started 141 of those 143 games played. The reality is it’s unlikely that a player of Peppers’ ability, toughness and status will miss a primetime matchup against a divisional opponent if there’s even the slightest chance of making it onto the field.
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On Sunday the Vikings will look to win their 2nd game of the 2011 season. And to do so, they’ll have to beat the Chicago Bears at their home stadium, something the Vikings have done just once since the 2001 season.
The lone victory at Soldier Field over the last 10 season came in 2007, when RB Adrian Peterson, then a rookie, gashed the Bears for 361 total yards; he had 224 rushing yards, 128 return yards and 9 receiving yards. Peterson also had 3 TDs that day. The key series in that game was a 53-yard kickoff return by Peterson that set up Ryan Longwell’s game-winning 54-yard FG as time expired.
The Vikings probably shouldn’t count on similar performances this time around. The 54-yard FG was Longwell’s career-long and the 361-yard output by Peterson was the 3rd best in NFL history. But in order to defeat a Bears team that has lost 3 of 4 games since opening the season with a win against the Atlanta Falcons, they’re going to need a buttoned-up, nearly mistake free effort from all three phases.
Can it happen? Yes it can. All season the Vikings have been good at running the ball (they rank 3rd in rushing), stopping the run (they rank 5th in run defense) and limiting turnovers (they are +3 in turnover ratio). The Vikings will need to perform up to par in these areas and also find a way to pressure Bears QB Jay Cutler and keep their own QB protected from the likes of DE Julius Peppers and star LBs Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher.
Sunday night’s Vikings-Bears matchup will mark the 101st meeting between these two division rivals. The first 100 games in this series – 49 of which have been away for the Vikings – didn’t produce a very good road record for the Vikings – they are 21-26-2. But a new 100 games begins this week, and it’s a good time for the Vikings to reverse their fortunes at the storied venue of Soldier Field.
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The Vikings 0-4 start to the season was especially frustrating because they have a roster that contains plenty of talented players. In fact, many of the players on the roster now we’re with the team in 2008 and 2009, when the Vikings won back-to-back NFC North titles and went to the NFC Championship Game after the ‘09 season.
It’s for the same reason that the 0-4 start was frustrating that last week’s win over Arizona has given the Vikings confidence as they move into a key stretch of the schedule. A lot of times in the NFL it just takes one win to get a team rolling. Whether the Vikings can parlay their first win of the season into a string of victories remains to be seen, but there’s reason to believe it could happen.
“The atmosphere will be a lot different,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained earlier in the week. “But the confidence that you gain from winning a football game in a game where both teams desperately needed a win, for our guys to come out and play like they did, it’ll be a big confidence builder for us going forward.”
And the Vikings will need all the positivity they can muster over the next few weeks, as they hit the road to play the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football this week and then return home to play the Green Bay Packers next week. A road trip to Carolina for a bout with the Panthers follows the two NFC North games.
“This gives us some momentum,” Frazier said of the win over Arizona last Sunday. “We don’t want to go on the road without a win, coming from our home venue so it’s a big win for us. It’s a big confidence builder and it’s something that we should build on going forward if we want achieve our goals as a football team.”
A football team sets several goals before a season begins. Certainly one of the Vikings goals heading into this season was to content for the NFC North title. After a 0-4 start and then undefeated starts by a pair of division rivals (Detroit and Green Bay), the goal of winning the division seems far-fetched right now. But that hasn’t stopped the Vikings from continuing their pursuit of that goal, and also from achieving smaller goals along the way.
“I don’t know if I’d use the word selling, but I did talk to [the team] about looking at the season in quarters,” Frazier said, “and understanding that in our league, particularly this season with the way things were this offseason, that there are going to be teams that come back to us. We just have to make sure that we take care of what we have to take care of, and that meant starting this second quarter 1-0 in order for us to have a chance to achieve our goals as a football team because they still are achievable and if the guys took that approach, you just have to know things are going to work out when we get to December.”
Coaches and players insist on taking the season one game at a time, but it’s also important for teams to have an understanding of what’s going on around them. Breaking the season into quarters is a common way for NFL teams to keep a global perspective on the season.
The Vikings finished the first quarter of the season winless. But the second quarter of the season began with a win, and it continues over the next two weeks with a pair of pivotal games. Can the Vikings reverse their fortunes in the 2nd quarter and inch closer to a .500 record? Only time will tell, but if they could accomplish that goal, the third and fourth quarters of the 2011 season could be a lot of fun.
Tags: Leslie Frazier
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As fun as it is to talk about the prior week’s victory, the calendar has flipped to Wednesday and that means it’s time to focus on the next opponent. The Vikings next opponent is the 2-3 Chicago Bears, who are coming off a 24-13 loss to the Detroit Lions, and the game will be played at Soldier Field, a place the Vikings have departed victoriously just once since 2001.
Although this is a game between a pair of teams with losing records, it’s a big game because a victory for the Vikings would pull them out of last place in the NFC North and would move them one notch closer to a .500 record. Meanwhile, a loss for the Bears would be their 4th in 5 games and would drop the defending NFC North champions to 2-4. It’s a big game with a lot on the line, and it’ll be on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Let’s take a quick look at the Bears in all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams.
The Bears defense is a tough group to figure out because there are some savvy, talented veterans on the roster, but at the same time this is a defense that doesn’t stack up well statistically. The Bears rank 29th in overall offense, yielding 419.6 yards per game, and they rank 17th in scoring defense, allowing 24.4 points per game. For the Vikings, a number they might have their eye on is the Bears ranking against the run, where they are 28th in the NFL and allow 101.4 yards per game. The Vikings boast the NFL’s 3rd-ranked rushing offense at 160.0 yards per game.
Last week against Detroit, the Bears defense didn’t play poorly overall. But they displayed poor tackling and they allowed big plays to RB Jahvid Best, who gashed them for 163 yards and 1 TD on just 12 carries, and to WR Calvin Johnson, who beat them over the top for a 73-yard TD in the 1st quarter. Another issue the Bears had defensively was rushing the passer, where they sacked QB Matthew Stafford just one time. Chicago ranks just 21st in the NFL with 9 sacks so far this season.
From a personnel standpoint, the Bears have Julius Peppers rushing the QB from the edge, they have a pair of talented LBs in Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, and their secondary features turnover machine CB Charles Tillman and former Patriots standout S Brandon Meriweather.
Peppers is a player the Vikings must account for on every play to ensure he doesn’t ruin the game. He’s a streaky player, but when he’s on, it’s bad news for the offense. The Briggs and Urlacher tandem is fierce, and while Urlacher is getting up there in age, he’s still an incredibly smart player and he’s crafty. Briggs is in his prime and it can be argued that he’s the best outside LB in the NFL. Tillman has 27 career forced fumbles and 27 career INTs, so Vikings ball-carriers must be sure to secure the ball with Tillman on the prowl.
The Bears have talented players at their positions in QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte, but uneven performances from the offensive line and WR groups have spoiled some opportunities for the offense.
Last week in Detroit, Cutler played at a high level, but his performance was overshadowed by 8 false start penalties and constant pressure from the Lions defensive front 4. Cutler was constantly running for his life, and was ultimately sacked 3 times and hit many, many more. Even still, he completed 28 of 38 passes for 249 yards and 1 TD, which shows you that he can hang in there and produce, even through adversity.
Speaking of producing, that’s what Forte has done so far in 2011. He’s the Bears leading rusher and receiver, with 440 rushing yards and 30 receptions for 345 yards. Forte has been outstanding rushing the ball over the last two weeks, with 116 yards on 22 carries against the Lions last week and 205 yards 25 carries two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers. In the receiving game, Forte was at his best in Week 2 against New Orleans, where he hauled in 10 receptions for 117 yards in a 30-13 loss. Forte should be the #1 offensive threat for the Vikings this week, and he’ll surely be a guy for which the Vikings game plan.
On to the offensive line and WR group. The Bears have allowed 18 sacks already in 2011, which is the 3rd-most in the NFL, and they’ve been flagged a League-high 17 times for false starts. On Sunday they’ll be playing at home, which should reduce the amount of times the Bears jump offsides and will also help the line protect the passer, but the point remains that the offensive line is a group that has seen poor play at times this season. The Bears offensive line coach is Mike Tice, a respected position coach in the NFL who holds his guys to a high standard of performance. But he’s also a former head coach of the Vikings, so there’s no shortage of motivation for him to get his group to improve this week.
On Special Teams
Each season the Bears seem to have one of the NFL’s top special teams groups. Two weeks ago against the Panthers, the Bears won the game and it was almost exclusively because of special teams. Devin Hester registered a 73-yard kickoff return and a 69-yard punt return, while Peppers blocked a FG. Against the Packers in Week 3, the Bears ran one of the coolest punt return plays I’ve ever seen.
This is often times a phase of the game that is forgotten about until a huge mistake is made. When you play the Bears, though, it’s a phase of the game that’s usually on display because they’re performing so well. Hester is sensational in the return game (2nd in punt return average, 15th in kickoff return average), K Robbie Gould is perfect this year on FGs and is a touchback machine on kickoffs, and the Bears coverage units rank 4th on kickoffs and 5th on punts.
Bears opponents’ average starting field position after a kickoff is the 19.7-yardline, while P Adam Podlesh and the punt coverage team have combined to allow just 5.2 yards per punt return.
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As is the case each Wednesday during the NFL season, fans can head to Mall of America tonight from 6:30 to 7 to check out “Vikings Country,” a weekly radio show hosted by Mike Mussman and co-hosted by either Jared Allen or Chad Greenway. Tonight, Chad Greenway is the co-host.
The show will be broadcast live from the Sky Deck Sports Grille and Bar at Mall of America – located on the fourth floor, east side – every Wednesday during the regular season and will air on KFAN (FM 100.3); the show will also be aired on Fox Sports North at 11:00 a.m. every Sunday. Allen and Greenway will alternate weeks as co-hosts of the show with Mussman, and the Vikings Street Team will be at each broadcast giving away great prizes.
Fans are encouraged to attend the live broadcast each week at the Sky Deck Sports Grille and Bar, where they will enjoy a state-of-the-art restaurant and entertainment facility that features high definition TV’s, quality billiards, 12 lanes of bowling and a great menu of beverages and food.
Allen will co-host on the following dates: October 19, November 16, November 30, December 14 and December 28. Greenway will co-host on the following dates: tonight, October 26, November 9, November 25, December 7 and December 21.
Tags: Chad Greenway, Jared Allen
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