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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