Four Downs: Keys to beating the Vikings

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Contain Adrian Peterson
Nobody ever truly stops Peterson because he possesses a rare combination of speed and power. But he is very containable provided that all 11 players on defense do their assignment and execute proper tackling technique. That’s something that the Bears have struggled to do this year, which is why they’ve been so poor at defending the run and why this matchup is scary. I liken Peterson to Barry Sanders in that both running backs have shown great burst in small doses over the course of a game while struggling to find room for the rest of it. Peterson may record runs of 1 yard, 2 yards, minus-1 yard, 3 yards, minus-2 yards… and then break off a 66-yard run. He’s done it plenty of times in his career, including in several games against the Bears. Those one or two big runs usually come when one or more defenders fail to stick to their assignment. Step 1 to beating the Vikings is to avoid those breakdowns and prevent the big runs.

2. Avoid the quick scores
The Vikings have the sixth-highest time of possession in the league resulting in the second-highest points per game average. This team is going to score its points one way or another. The best way to avoid falling too far behind is to make them earn every yard they get. This is an opponent against whom Lovie Smith’s bend-but-don’t-break defense will actually come in handy. The quicker the Vikings score on drives, the deeper a hole out of which the Bears will have to crawl. If the Bears can force Minnesota to earn every point it gets instead of granting them freebies on broken plays, perhaps there’s a chance the Bears can limit them to field goals to cap off long drives instead of scoring touchdowns.

3. Sustain time-consuming drives
It certainly would have been in the Bears’ best interest this week to try to figure out what the difference is between their offense now and earlier this season. It’s always struggled to run the ball, but it could at least move the ball better through the air back then. Nonetheless, the Bears can’t afford turnovers and have to chew up the clock. That’s easier said than done, of course, as the Vikings have one of the best defenses in the league. I understand the Bears use the quick screen to Devin Hester for two reasons. First, it serves as a run play when the Bears struggle to move the ball on the ground. Second, Hester can make things happen when he has the ball in the open field. But the Bears need to stop running that play because it fails more often than it succeeds. Hitches, outs, and slants are the best way to eat up chunks of yardage and keep the clock moving. The longer that the Vikings’ offense has to wait on the sideline, the better chance the Bears have to keep the score close within striking distance.

4. Pressure Brett Favre
The Vikings have but one loss this year and it came against the defending champion Steelers, who are one of the most blitz-happy teams in the league. I remember watching that game vividly and Pittsburgh is the only team that made Favre look like an old man. This entire season, Favre has looked as good as he did in the prime of his career, but the Steelers made him uncomfortable. They like to bring pressure from all different areas and Favre never looked settled in the pocket. When they did get to him — they sacked him four times — they gave his old body a beating that surely took its toll over the course of the game. The Bears have had much less success while blitzing, so they need to do that sparingly. Somehow, they need to generate pressure from the front four, which has been sadly inconsistent the entire season. If Favre is given too much time to throw and remains relatively unscathed all game, the Bears will not only lose, but lose big.

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