The Vikings rugged post-bye schedule continues this week as they prepare to conclude their season series against the Chicago Bears by hosting them at Mall of America Field on Sunday. Both the Vikings (6-6) and Bears (8-4) are coming off losses last week, but both are very much in the NFC playoff hunt.
Chicago won the earlier matchup between these two teams back on November 25, a 28-10 victory that was never really in question after the 1st quarter. The Vikings figure to put forth a better effort this week as they return to play at home for the first time since November 11 and as they look to gain ground on a division opponent and keep pace with a handful of other teams vying for playoff positioning.
Here are 5 Vikings-Bears storylines to chase this week…
1. Pressure On Christian Ponder Mount
Christian Ponder completed 75% of his passes for 221 yards with 2 TDs and no INTs the last time he played at home – a 34-24 victory over the Detroit Lions. In two road games since then, Ponder is just 35 of 68 (51.4%) for 278 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs. Last week in Green Bay, Adrian Peterson ran for 210 yards and the Vikings defense and special teams groups played well enough to win, yet a sputtering passing game prevented the Vikings from putting the game out of reach and the Packers were able to log a comeback victory. Pressure is mounting on Ponder to snap out of his drought and show the signs of promise he displayed earlier in the season when he wasn’t turning the ball over and was one of the League’s highest-rated passers. The Bears will surely go “all-in” to stop the Vikings elite rushing attack, which means they’ll dare Ponder to beat them.
2. Key Players From Both Teams On The Injury Report
It’s not uncommon for injury reports to fill up this time of year, and the Vikings and Bears will most certainly not be exceptions this week. Percy Harvin has missed the last 3 games due to an ankle injury and his status bears monitoring all week. Also, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier disclosed on Monday that DE Jared Allen underwent an MRI for a back ailment. Expect other odds and ends to show up on the report as well, such as the shoulder injuries LB Jasper Brinkley and TE Kyle Rudolph have been dealing with, knee swelling for RT Phil Loadholt and a rib injury for C John Sullivan.
The Bears are no different. Three players – WR Earl Bennett (concussion), LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and CB Tim Jennings (shoulder) – left last week’s loss to Seattle; Urlacher is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Three other starters – WR Devin Hester (concussion), WR Alshon Jeffery (knee) and G Chris Spencer (knee) – missed last week’s game but are hopeful to return this week in Minnesota. LB Lance Briggs and RB Matt Forte both played last week but are both dealing with ankle injuries, CB Charles Tillman is battling an ankle injury as well, and both DT Stephen Paea and G/C Edwin Williams are playing through shoulder injuries.
3. Vikings Must Contain Bears WR Brandon Marshall
He didn’t get into the end zone against the Vikings two weeks ago, but don’t let that fool you – Brandon Marshall was a thorn in the Vikings side all game. Several times the Vikings had Chicago in unfavorable 3rd-down spots, and several times Marshall bailed the Bears out with a great grab in traffic or a few extra yards after the catch. Marshall had 12 catches against the Vikings two weeks ago and he had another 10 for 165 yards last week against Seattle. Two numbers that illustrate Marshall’s importance to the Bears passing game are 91 and 138: Marshall has 91 receptions in 138 targets this season, while the next highest Bears receiver in each category is 30 receptions for Forte and 43 targets for Bennett.
4. Bear Trap: Can Chicago Stop Adrian Peterson?
It’s not a good week for Chicago to lose their middle LB because they are set to face the NFL’s best RB at a time when he’s playing at perhaps his highest level. Adrian Peterson is the NFL’s rushing leader by 308 yards, has logged 6 straight 100-yard rushing games, is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and is on pace for 1,928 yards (a career best). He nearly single-handedly defeated the Packers last week, and you can count on him trying to do the same to the Bears this week. Even without Urlacher, the Bears have a formidable run defense and will be up for the challenge to stop Peterson. Yes, the Bears will be up for the challenge. But so is Peterson.
5. Rematch: Vikings DL vs. Bears OL
In the matchup two weeks ago between Minnesota and Chicago, many expected the Vikings defensive line to embarrass the Bears offensive line. The Bears were coming off a Monday Night Football beatdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in which QB Jason Campbell was sacked 6 times. Chicago’s offensive line responded, however, and allowed just 1 sack in Cutler’s return to the lineup. Entering this game, the matchup still favors the Vikings on paper. Only three teams have permitted more sacks than the Bears, and the Vikings pass rush at home can overwhelm teams. As we saw two weeks ago, though, this Bears offensive line has the ability to respond.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Jasper Brinkley, John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 420 Comments »