Minnesota Vikings Begin Critical Stretch In Chicago
By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings begin a critical stretch of games against the two teams ahead of it in the NFC North standings with a trip to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings will play two games against the Bears in the next three weeks sandwiched around a trip to Lambeau Field.
The Bears enter the contest with a 7-3 record, which is good for a tie for first place. They got off to a strong start winning seven of its first eight, but has dropped its last two. Chicago is 1-3 against teams currently in the playoffs, including a Week 1 win over the surging Indianapolis Colts, and 6-0 against non-playoff teams.
Bears on Offense
The Bears are a rhythm offense that works best when quarterback Jay Cutler is connecting on short, quick passes.
The best matchup is Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway vs. Bears running back Matt Forte. Greenway is second in the NFL in tackles. Forte is one of the best and most versatile running backs in the league. He can do just as much damage as a receiver as he can as a runner. Greenway had one of his best games in coverage against the Detroit Lions two weeks ago.
The matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of is its defensive ends vs. the Bears offensive tackles. Jared Allen and Brian Robison are two very good pass rushers. Last week, Bears left tackle J’Marcus Webb, right tackle Gabe Carimi and the rest of the offensive line were torched for six sacks – which does not include an additional 11 hits put on quarterback Jason Campbell and one holding penalty. Carimi has really struggled on passing plays, but has been good on running plays.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is the smaller corners vs. Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall stands 6-feet-4 and 230-pounds. The Vikings’ biggest corner is A.J. Jefferson at 6-feet-1 and 190-pounds. Other than that, the Vikings do not have a corner over 5-feet-11. Two weeks ago, Calvin Johnson of the Lions had over 200 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings, mostly on deep passes.
Bears on Defense
The Bears have an aging, yet still surprisingly productive defense that runs a simple Tampa-2 scheme. It is not complex and relies heavily on forcing turnovers.
The best matchup is Vikings running back Adrian Peterson vs. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher is not as good as he once was, but he still is the leader of the Bears defense. Peterson is one of the more remarkable stories in the NFL and when Urlacher was asked about it this week his response was, “Is he having a good season?”
The matchup the Vikings need to exploit is ball security. Individually there is not a great matchup advantage for the Vikings, but taking care of the ball is the way to beat the Bears. The Bears are a plus-18 turnover differential in its seven wins and a minus-6 in its three losses. Just once have the Bears lost the turnover battle and won, but it needed a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter to come back and beat the Carolina Panthers in Week 8.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its youth vs. the turnover capability of the Bears defense. Again, individually there is not a matchup to mention, but the way the Bears force turnovers, especially fumbles, should be concerning the Vikings. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman’s way of knocking the ball out of runners’ hands is something not many of the Vikings players have experienced.
Bears Players to Watch
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall: The Bears acquired the big receiver to balance its offense. The Bears’ passing attack ranks 31st in the NFL. Marshall leads the Bears with 69 catches while Devin Hester is second on the team with 18 catches. As Marshall goes, so goes the Bears’ ability to throw the ball.
Cornerback Tim Jennings: The Bears No. 2 cornerback leads the NFL with eight interceptions. He has teamed with Tillman to allow less than 50 percent of passes to be completed.
The Bears will win and lose by the turnover. If the Vikings take care of the ball and turn it over two times or less, it will win. If not, it will lose.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.