A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Minnesota Vikings.
1. Focus on containing the run
In football, they say that players don’t age gradually over time, rather it happens in an instant. Might that be what is happening with the Bears defense? That’s the only explanation for why the Bears were the No. 2 run defense in the NFL last year and yet currently rank 28th in that department after five games this season. With how poorly the defense has fared against the run, it has to be alarming that the Bears will face the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson on Sunday night. It’s easy for one to say, just stop the run and you can win the game, but it’s much harder to go out and actually do it. Instead, it’s perfectly fair to say the Bears have to put all their focus into containing the run, a much more feasible goal. They won’t be able to stop Peterson — and never have been — but they can slow down his progress and try not to let him break a long run for a touchdown. By limiting Peterson’s success and forcing the aging Donovan McNabb to beat them through the air, the Bears can avoid another total breakdown.
2. Get Jay Cutler into a rhythm and let him move
Given the amount that went wrong for the Bears Monday night against the Lions, it’s easy for fans to overlook the performance of Jay Cutler, especially those who still criticize the quarterback. Cutler completed 28 of 38 passes for 249 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions while finishing with a 99.6 passer rating. He got sacked three times and was under heavy pressure for much of the game, but he was able to get into a rhythm due to his heightened awareness and his ability make plays on the move. Most of us have been screaming until blue in the face since Cutler joined the Bears three years ago that the offense needs to adjust to Cutler’s strengths, not vice versa. Given the added pressure expected from the Vikings’ defensive line, particularly from defensive end Jared Allen, who leads the league with 8.5 sacks and is on pace to break the single-season record, Mike Martz would do well by Cutler to incorporate some plays where Cutler can throw on the move. I know it’s not part of Martz’s typical offense, but if Martz wants to keep his job or to even have a chance to get a new job after this one, he has to adjust and play to his quarterback’s strengths.
3. Continue strong offensive balance
The Bears have had good offensive balance two weeks in a row and have moved the ball down the field — when not stalling drives due to false starts — and picking up good yardage. Cutler threw 38 passes and Matt Forte had 22 carries against the Lions and both did well. The Bears have a better shot at success by maintaining that balance no matter what the score might be. The moment that Martz abandons the run if he panics about the Bears falling behind on the scoreboard, that’s when trouble begins as the Vikings defense sends all-out pressure that the offensive line can’t block.
4. Play smart
This may be a difficult hypothetical to imagine for those fans with the disturbing images of Monday’s defeat still playing in their heads, but without the ridiculous nine false start penalties, the Bears offense would have looked that much better. As it stands, they had a good amount of success moving the ball thanks to Cutler’s and Forte’s athleticism and determined effort. They just had to put more points on the board and cut back on mental mistakes. I’m not sure we can say the same thing about the Bears defense. They made their fair share of mistakes — a couple from Chris Harris that hurt a lot — but there are serious flaws in the Tampa Two that teams in this league have figured out how to exploit and the Bears need to add some wrinkles to it — considering it’s Lovie Smith’s defense and he wouldn’t abandon it altogether — in order to improve. If you throw in Devin Hester’s dumb mistake on special teams when he fielded a kickoff and ran out of bounds at the seven-yard line, there were mental mistakes in all three phases. They may not be able to do anything about talent deficiency, but they at least can play more intelligently.