After a Lions’ trouncing of the Packers on Thanksgiving Day, the Bears will have their work cut out for them this week against the Vikings. To take control of the NFC North, the Bears will have to win more games than the Lions do the remainder of the season, a task made all the more difficult with Thursday’s Lions victory.
With one eye on the big picture, the other eye should be focused more short term, as even though the Vikings have won just two games this year, they have a running back in Adrian Peterson capable of breaking a touchdown run on this last-ranked Bears rushing defense on almost every play. Last week was an abomination as the Bears yielded 258 rushing yards to a Rams team led by Benny Cunningham, Zac Stacy, and even wide receiver Tavon Austin. Those players are pure lightweights when compared to the heavyweight puncher Peterson is while in the ring.
For the second straight week, the game plan is simple for the Bears. Stop the run and force a bad quarterback to beat you. It couldn’t be any more clear, but not even eight or nine defenders in the box could put that game plan into effect against the Rams. As a result, Kellen Clemens didn’t have to beat the Bears last week, and if the same failed game plan takes place this week, the Vikings’ Christian Ponder won’t have to try to beat the Bears, either.
The last time the Bears and Vikings squared off was in Week 2 — a whole different season ago in NFL standards. The Bears needed a stellar, fourth-quarter drive by Jay Cutler and the offense to complete a 31-30 comeback victory. In that game, a relatively healthy Bears defense held Peterson to just 100 rushing yards, an admirable performance against a relentless running back who has the potential to break off huge runs. Ponder threw for 227 yards to eight different receivers, but I’ll take my chances against him before Peterson.
Cutler is gone this week, obviously, but the red hot McCown will lead this Bears offense into Minnesota. McCown had another solid game last week despite a vicious pass rush from the Rams that got to him several times and knocked him down repeatedly. He completed an amazing 36 of 47 passes (76%) for 352 yards and two touchdowns. He finally turned the ball over for the first time this season as he was intercepted late and also lost the ball on a strip sack, which most definitely was not his fault given how quickly it occurred (2.3 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus).
Running back Matt Forte tweaked his knee last week against the Rams but is probable for the game. Forte will be on the turf for the second straight week and that adds to his explosiveness. Forte was having a solid game last week in the Rams’ dome before injuring himself. He was averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 16 attempts and he hauled in 7 receptions for 40 yards. He could have another solid day on Sunday against a porous Vikings defense.
The Vikings are ranked 24th against the run and 29th against the pass. Once again, I have all the confidence in the world that McCown and the Bears’ highly-ranked offense will do enough to win the game.
But will the Bears defense get it done?
Fortunately, the Bears appear to be getting some help this week. Defensive tackles Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff — the former Cowboys Pro Bowler whom the Bears signed a month ago — could be back from injury and would shore up the middle of the porous defensive line. After being out for so long, nobody knows what to expect from Ratliff, not even the coaching staff. But it has to be a better effort than what the Bears were getting from Landon Cohen, one would expect.
Complicating matters further is that safety Major Wright is questionable for Sunday’s game. He hurt his hamstring in Friday’s practice and if he can’t go, that would mean Craig Steltz would line up next to Chris Conte. Steltz lacks much of the athleticism that Wright has, but it’s possible his knowledge and veteran presence could make up for some of the mistakes that have been occurring in the secondary.
I had nothing but the utmost faith the Bears were going to handle the Rams and beat them because the Rams are an inferior team. At least, collectively they are. But given how bad the Bears defense played, the Rams were the far superior team last Sunday.
Same philosophy applies this week. The Bears are the better team. By a lot. But if their defense plays anywhere near as poorly as they did against the Rams, all bets are off. And after what I’ve seen this year from the Bears’ run defense, I have no faith in them to ever stop the opponent when they set foot on the field.
But, I just can’t pick the Vikings. They are bad. They find ways to lose. They may have a running back who rushes for over 300 yards this week, but maybe the Bears get fortunate and hold the Vikings’ long drives to field goals while their own offense scores touchdowns. Somehow, someway, the Bears get it done.
Prediction: Chicago 27, Minnesota 24