This week the Vikings hit the road for the second consecutive time to face a division opponent, with this week’s challenge being to face the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Vikings come off a 34-24 loss at Detroit while the Bears are feeling the momentum of a season-opening win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Last season these two teams split their pair of matchups, with both teams holding serve on their home field. The Vikings get the first opportunity to break serve this year, and if they do it’ll mark their first win in the Windy City since 2007.
Let’s take a look ahead at five things to watch this week as the Vikings prepare to face the Bears in Week 2...
1. Pressure on Ponder to improve
Quarterbacks shoulder more blame than they should when the going gets tough and receive more credit than they should when the going is smooth. That’s the nature of the beast in the NFL. The Vikings offense struggled to maintain possession last week in Detroit, turning the ball over four times and failing to put together a drive of longer than four plays until deep in the 3rd quarter. As the triggerman, quarterback
2. Urlacher and Winfield are gone, but these defenses can still make plays
A couple of stalwarts from the Bears and Vikings defenses are gone, with both linebacker Brian Urlacher and cornerback Antoine Winfield now retired. Those two players were vital components to their respective defenses for many seasons and were constant standouts in this Vikings-Bears rivalry. But even without those two stars, these two defenses can still play. Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago forced three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) and they yielded just 3.0 yards per carry. On surface level, the Vikings defensive effort doesn’t look impressive because they allowed 469 net yards of offense, 34 points and 28 first downs. But when you consider the Vikings defense was on the field for nearly 70% of the 1st half and still had allowed just six points 28 minutes into the game, or that Detroit started drives inside Vikings territory five times and came away with just 10 points in those drives, you can see how the effort was impressive to some extent. The Vikings defense came into the season wanting to create more turnovers, and they forced two against the Detroit and forced another two fumbles that were recovered by the Lions. With the talent level on both of these defenses and with how each group played last week, perhaps we’re in for an old fashioned Black and Blue Division defensive struggle.
3. Keep an eye on the offensive line
In recent seasons a Vikings-Bears matchup meant it was time to keep an eye on the offensive line – of the Bears. The Vikings have had some success in pressuring Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and in general the matchup between the Vikings defensive line and the Bears offensive line has been an advantage for the Purple. But of off last week’s games, it’s the Vikings offensive line that people are talking about. The Bears didn’t give up a sack to a very good Bengals defensive line and the Vikings struggled to run the ball in Detroit and quarterback Christian Ponder was sacked three times. The Vikings had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL last season and all five starters from that group have returned this season, so there’s no question this group has the talent and ability to play well. Expect big improvement from this group as they head to Soldier Field to face yet another stiff test in the Bears defensive line.
4. Who can get the running game going?
An extension of the previous storyline is this one. Both the Bears and Vikings have dynamic running backs, but neither one of them got to 100 yards rushing last week.
A knee injury sustained in the preseason kept defensive tackle Kevin Williams out of the season opener in Detroit, and there’s a chance he could sit out this weekend’s game in Chicago, too. But there’s also a chance he’ll be ready to play by the time Sunday rolls around. The good news is that Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said last week that Williams was “close” to being able to play in Detroit, so one figures he’s going to be even closer to ready this week. His presence would be valuable in this game because the Bears have gotten better along the offensive line and they feature a pair of talented running backs in Michael Bush and Matt Forte. Additionally, Williams can still rush the passer and the Bears may include more drop back passes than did the Lions a week ago, so the Vikings ability to generate quarterback pressure should be more of a factor this week.