Four Downs: Keys to beating the Vikings (12/20/15)

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Minnesota Vikings.

1. Gang tackle and finish the play

The Bears have the opportunity to gain a measure of revenge on the rival Vikings, however meaningful that might be. They outplayed Minnesota back on Nov. 1 for about 55 minutes. It wasn’t until about five minutes left in the game that the Vikings put together back-to-back scoring drives to claim the victory. The Bears had the right game plan in that contest, focusing on defending running back Adrian Peterson and forcing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to beat them. As noted, Bridgewater did beat them … eventually. I wouldn’t change that defensive game plan one bit as Bridgewater remains a mediocre quarterback, and the Bears secondary has improved since that Nov. 1 game. Peterson is one of the toughest running backs to bring down in the modern era, who doesn’t go down easily after first contact. The Bears need multiple defenders to wrap him up or else he’ll break off a long one.

2. Flush Bridgewater to his left

Bridgewater is a Plain Jane quarterback, and we’re not talking about his appearance. He doesn’t do anything special. His arm strength is not among the league’s best and his running ability — while it can be dangerous in the open field — is not as lethal as that of Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, or even Aaron Rodgers. Bridgewater is only ranked 13th in rushing yards among quarterbacks. But even marginal passers can pick apart your defense if given too much time to throw. The Bears need to send pressure from Bridgewater’s right side, force him to scramble to the left and throw across his body. But, as I noted, they have to keep him behind the line of scrimmage because if he does take off and run, then they’re in trouble.

3. Be more aggressive on offense

I’ve been steadfast in my support of offensive coordinator Adam Gase‘s game plans this season. The Bears do not have a good defense and they have a mistake-prone quarterback, so Gase’s philosophy — an extension of head coach John Fox‘s — has been to control the clock with a strong rushing attack and balanced game plan. It’s worked for the most part, as the Bears have been right there in almost every game this season. But the Bears have gotten to a point in the season now where they have nothing to lose. For the past few weeks, they’ve been in tight battles with two bad teams in the 49ers and Redskins. And the flip side of “keeping games close” is that while they might be within striking distance of the victory, they are just as easily in striking distance of losing the game. I’d like to see the Bears take more chances down field. I’d expect them to heavily use Alshon Jeffery again, try to incorporate Eddie Royal back into the offense if his health allows him onto the field, and don’t be afraid to take bold chances. Like I said, they have nothing to lose at this point.

4. Play consistent special teams

Robbie Gould is in a horrific slump right now. If I didn’t think he had such a big mouth and borderline brash ego, I’d feel sorry for him. But his performance is just one key to the Bears beating the Vikings. The special teams have been overall bad this season, and if you recall in the first meeting between these teams, Marcus Sherels had a 65-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter for the Vikings. When a team is not good enough in one phase of the game to win by itself — like the Patriots’ offense, the Broncos’ defense, and the Seahawks’ defense of the past few years — it needs a total team effort from the other phases. And since the Bears’ offense and defense have been shaky this season, it needs a strong special teams effort to aid them. Unfortunately, that help has not come to the Bears this season, particularly in the past couple weeks.

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