Bears offense vs. Vikings defense
The last time the Bears and Vikings met, the final score resembled an Arena Football game as neither defense wanted to show up when it mattered. The Bears won the game, 48-41, at Soldier Field in Week 7, and yet the Vikings racked up 102 more total yards than the Bears and had a time of possession advantage of 10 minutes. They also turned the ball over five times compared to the Bears’ one. There are at least two things you cannot count on every week. The first is getting the other team to turn the ball over five times. The other is scoring quickly and as easily as the Bears did. Whereas the Vikings methodically picked apart the Bears defense, the Bears offense was able to pick up a few quick scores on long plays and with good field position. The Bears would like to slow it down and run the ball more to take over that time of possession statistic, but it won’t be easy against the “Williams Wall” — a nickname for the two mammoth defensive tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams — and the Vikings’ No. 2 run defense. In their last meeting, Matt Forte had just 56 yards rushing on 20 carries. The St. Louis Rams — during their “Greatest Show on Turf” days — had a philosophy that short, swing passes work just as well as running plays — sometimes even better — and that’s what the Bears will likely have to use this week. Forte will have to continue what he’s been doing, which is play a big role in the passing game and move the chains through the air, if necessary. The Vikings don’t intercept a lot of passes, which doesn’t really matter because Kyle Orton doesn’t throw many interceptions, but they lead the league in forced fumbles (18), fumble return touchdowns (2), and safeties (3). This one’s close, but without a run game, the Vikings get the slight edge.
Bears defense vs. Vikings offense
In an analysis of Adrian Peterson, I’ve come to realize that he’s not the world beater we’ve all been trained to be in awe of. Sure, he makes big plays and breaks big runs because of his world class speed. But if all 11 guys on the defense do their jobs, he’s quite average and definitely stoppable. In his career against the Bears, he has averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on 96.7% of his rushing attempts. The other 3.3% of his carries — 6 total — have each been for more than 20 yards, typically due to broken plays and blown assignments. In other words, limit the big plays and the Bears will win this game. Problem is, they haven’t done a good job of that this season, at least, not in the passing game. Aside from one broken play in Week 7’s game — a 54-yard touchdown run — the Bears held Peterson to 67 yards on 21 carries, which is a 3.1 average. It wasn’t Peterson that haunted the Bears, it was Gus Frerotte. In that game, Frerotte threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-40 passing. He also threw four interceptions, which ultimately might have cost the Vikings the game. In the four game since then, Frerotte has averaged just 147 yards passing per game and has thrown 6 interceptions. But that’s what the Bears’ 30th-ranked pass defense has done this year: make average or even bad quarterbacks look good. Rest assured, if the Bears’ No. 5 run defense plays as well as it usually does and stays focused on their assignments, the game will be close. But if they miss tackles and let Peterson run wild, or if they let Frerotte pick them apart through the air like he did five weeks ago, it’ll be a long evening in Minnesota.
With Nathan Vasher possibly out for the year — he’s at least out a couple weeks — there’s talk of the Bears removing Danieal Manning from returning kickoffs to focus on defense because they’ll need the depth at cornerback. I think that would be a big mistake. The Bears were a block away from returning the opening kickoff last week and it’s all thanks to Manning’s straight upfield return style. Besides, what are they worried will happen? That he’ll get hurt? It’s not like it’ll fatigue him. The offense takes the field after kickoff returns, not the defense. That is, unless he returns one for a touchdown or he coughs up the ball. Minnesota’s Ryan Longwell is 8th in the league in field goals made while Robbie Gould is 20th. But there’s a disturbing stat for Vikings fans when it comes to the punting game. Punter Chris Kluwe is fifth in the league in punt average, booming the ball at 47.3 yards per pop. Problem is, their kick coverage isn’t good and he’s 32nd in the league with a 33.9 net average. Opponents have returned 30 punts for 535 yards and 4 touchdowns — both of which are worst in the league. This is Devin Hester’s best chance to get something going. While I like Longwell and Minnesota’s field goal team, their kick coverage could cause them some problems. Slight edge Bears.
Huge rivalry game between these NFC North leaders. One of them will walk away with a 7-5 record and in good shape to make the playoffs. The other will not have control of their own destiny and will have added pressure on them for the remaining four weeks. In prime time on national TV, the Bears have played well this season. They’ve beaten the Colts and Eagles, two opponents that were favored to win. They’ve also played nicely indoors against the Colts, Lions, Falcons, and Rams. The Bears are just 1-3 in Minnesota in Lovie Smith’s tenure as Bears head coach. Their lone win came in their Super Bowl season in 2006 when a late touchdown pass from Rex Grossman to Rashied Davis sealed the deal. To win this game, the Bears will have to take control of the game by trying to get something going with the run and not letting the crowd disrupt the continuity of the offense. The defense will have to keep Adrian Peterson in check and prevent him from making the big play — specifically, a 20-plus yard carry. And most of all, they’ll need to rush the passer better than they have all season. Even if they don’t get a sack, they have to at least make Gus Frerotte feel uncomfortable in the pocket and not let him get into a rhythm. In short, they’ll have to put forth their best effort of the season. Anything less won’t get the job done, unless the Vikings simply implode. Unfortunately, I just don’t see them executing as needed, and — I hope they prove me wrong — I see them coming up just short.
Final Score: Minnesota 27, Chicago 24