THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS
1. Help out the offensive line: The Bears roll out the starting combination of Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza and J’Marcus Webb for the second consecutive week. It’s unrealistic to expect the group to be totally in sync, but the team can help it out in a variety of ways. First, the Bears need to be diverse in their play calling by sprinkling in plenty of runs with a mixture of long and short drops for quarterback Jay Cutler which should prevent the Vikings from locking into pass-rush mode. Cutler can help the offensive line, too, by identifying the most dangerous threats in the defensive front, calling them out, and delivering the ball quickly. Let’s not forget the Vikings are coming off a six-sack outing against Arizona.
2. Hit Brett Favre: Defensive end Julius Peppers should be able to dominate his matchup with left tackle Bryant McKinnie to put plenty of pressure on Favre. But even if Peppers doesn’t have his way with McKinnie, he should tie up enough blockers to free up teammates to apply pressure. Once the Bears get into Minnesota’s backfield, they need to take shots -- cleanly of course -- on Favre, which over time will likely cause the veteran to throw off target and take chances. If the Bears are fortunate enough to register sacks, it’s important for them to target the ball. Favre has shown a tendency to get lax with ball security.
3. Stop Adrian Peterson: Chicago’s second-ranked run defense faces its toughest foe in Peterson, who appears to be on pace for his second 1,700-yard rushing season. It’s important to shut down Peterson early to keep him from gaining momentum, but it’s equally imperative to slow down the running back in the second half, which is when he gets the bulk of his carries against the Bears. The Bears need to get multiple defenders to the ball on every play against Peterson, who is adept at gaining yardage after contact. Chicago could also help itself by taking away a good portion of Peterson’s power by making contact with the running back before he can get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.
THREE KEYS FOR THE VIKINGS
1. Help out on Peppers: With just two sacks on the season, Peppers is looking to register a breakout performance. The Vikings can’t afford for that to happen. Expected to line up on both sides during this contest, Peppers was so disruptive in his last game against Minnesota that the club benched McKinnie and considered sidelining Favre. McKinnie and right tackle Phil Loadholt should see plenty of Peppers. So the Vikings need to make sure to protect the tackles with help from tight ends and running backs. By running the ball at Peppers early on, the Vikings also have a shot at wearing him down somewhat.
2. Utilize the tight end: The Bears haven’t given up a touchdown to a tight end in eight games, but they have allowed five tight ends to finish outings against them with at least five receptions. Given Visanthe Shiancoe will be matched up with a Bears safety or middle linebacker Brian Urlacher most of the time, there’s a chance the Vikings can take advantage of some of the mismatches the tight end presents. Shiancoe has been solid in his past three performances against the Bears. It’s best to try to get him the ball down the seams in between the coverage responsibilities of Urlacher and the safeties.
3. Take the crowd out of it: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Soldier Field has been the site of 12 false-start penalties so far this season, and that number ranks as tops in the league. Surely Chicago’s raucous crowd plays a role. For the Vikings, a trip to Solider Field couldn’t come at a worse time, considering the club’s propensity for being flagged for false starts. The Vikings have 17 false starts on the season so far. So Minnesota needs to do its best to take the crowd out of this one early because it could go a long way toward cutting down some of those drive-killing penalties. By taking the crowd out of the game, the Vikings will be able to better communicate signals and calls.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Frank Omiyale vs. Jared Allen
Minnesota racked up six sacks against the second-worst team in the league (Arizona) in terms of sacks allowed last week, and meets the NFL’s worst at protecting the passer -- Chicago -- on Sunday.
Allen has logged 15½, 14½, and 14½ sacks in each of the past three seasons, but in the past two games, teams have utilized more one-on-one blocking schemes against him, which wouldn’t be a good idea for the Bears, who would struggle tremendously in such situations with Omiyale.
Omiyale has been mediocre throughout the year, and there’s a good chance he won’t be able to hold his own against Allen because of the defensive end’s relentless rushing style. Still, Omiyale’s matchup with Allen is Chicago’s most important up front, and one of the keys to the game.
The Bears are 17-0 when Cutler finishes with a passer rating of 100 or better.
The Bears are winless this season in games when they finish a game tied with the opponent in turnover margin.
The Vikings have lost eight consecutive road games, including four this season. The club hasn’t captured a road victory since Nov. 1, 2009, when it defeated the Packers 38-26.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Vikings win in the new Soldier Field since it opened in 2003.
38: Wins since 2004 for the Bears and eight losses when they limit opponents to 17 points or fewer.
6: Bears victories during their longest streak in the series against the Vikings.
5: Sacks by Peppers in five career games against the Vikings.