If the Vikings are going to crawl back into the picture in the NFC North, this week’s trip to Chicago can’t be viewed as anything other than a must-win situation. Considering the Vikings are just 1-9 in their last 10 trips to the Windy City, it’s certainly not going to be easy. Let’s take a look at how these two teams match up on both sides of the ball.
When the Vikings have the ball
Don’t blame reigning NFC Player of the Week Adrian Peterson for the lack of victories in Chicago over the years. Peterson has owned the Bears throughout his career, averaging 112 rushing yards per game on 5.0 yards per carry, and scoring an absurd 11 TDs in seven career matchups. In fact, prior to being held to just 50 yards in Chicago last season, Peterson did his best work at Soldier Field. Looking backwards from 2009 to 2007, here are Peterson’s stat lines: 27 touches, 137 total yards, 2 TDs; 23 touches, 130 yards, 2 TDs; 21 touches, 233 yards, 3 TDs. Suffice it to say that Peterson will be a focal point against a Bears squad that’s proven incapable of even slowing him down over the years, much less stopping him. Toss in the fact that Chicago has already been abused by the likes of Michael Turner (13 touches, 140 yards), Ryan Grant (17-92), Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams (combined 23-167), and Jahvid Best (16-172), and it’s possible AP will hang on to… whatever it is one gets when one wins the NFC Player of the Week… for another week.
Interested Vikings fans should keep an eye on RT Phil Loadholt, who is quietly developing into one of the best run-blocking RT’s in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings averaged an eye-popping 7.0 yards per carry when running off right guard or right tackle a week ago.
QB Donovan McNabb wasn’t asked to do much last week after the Vikings raced out to a 28-0 lead, and the game plan likely won’t ask much more of him this time around. The Bears have been susceptible to elite passing attacks this season, but considering they’ve faced Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton (three of the top four passers in the NFL right now), and Matthew Stafford (seventh), they get a bit of a pass for allowing an average of 295 yards per game and nine TD passes in five games. The Vikings will be satisfied if McNabb, who’s averaging just 170 yards per game, can do enough to prevent all 11 Bears from keying on Peterson.
If Minnesota follows the same blueprint used by most of the Bears opponents thus far, look for TE Visanthe Shiancoe to be heavily involved this week. Opposing TEs have averaged 76 yards per game and have scored five touchdowns in five games. Shiancoe has three touchdowns in his last six matchups with the Bears, and has been McNabb’s most-targeted receiver the last two weeks.
The Vikings continue to struggle to find contributions from their wideouts. Only the 49ers corps of WRs averages fewer yards per game than the Minnesota crew (109.5 yards per game), and while Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, and Percy Harvin have all shown flashes of brilliance, it’s not a unit the Bears secondary figures to be particularly wary of. If you’re looking for some nugget of promise here, this is it: Harvin has scored in three of his four career games against Chicago.
When the Bears have the ball
The Bears have exactly one offensive player to be concerned about; RB Matt Forte. Forte has gained a total of 785 yards (440 rushing, 345 receiving), which represents 49.3% of the total offense for the Bears (by comparison, Peterson has accounted for 34.6% of the Vikings total yards). The Vikings have done a pretty good job limiting Forte over the years – he averages 84 total yards per game in six career matchups, and has scored just twice. With 30 receptions, the Vikings will have to be particularly cognizant of Forte in the passing game. Minnesota has clamped down after being exploited by the Chargers and Lions earlier this year, but LBs Chad Greenway and the Henderson Brothers will have to be disciplined in order to contain Forte.
When not handing (or dumping) it off to Forte, QB Jay Cutler spends the majority of his time either flat on his back or desperately scrambling to avoid winding up flat on his back. Cutler has been sacked 18 times thus far, and according to Pro Football Focus has been hit or hurried another 46 times. Cutler has attempted 169 passes in five games, so in total he is either sacked, hit, or hurried once every four times he drops back to pass. That’s great news for DEs Jared Allen (NFL-leading 8.5 sacks) and Brian Robison (tied for fourth with 4.5), who might be the NFL’s most devastating tandem of pass rushers. That’s really, really bad news for Bears tackles J’Marcus Webb and Frank Omiyale, who might be the least devastating pair of pass blockers in the league. Cutler does a remarkable job of creating something out of nothing even while running for his life, but even when he has (or creates) time to throw, he gets almost no help from an extremely suspect cadre of wide receivers.
If you knew that Dane Sanzenbacher is the only Bears WR to score a touchdown this season, you’re either related to him or you’re on the wrong NFC North team’s official website. Sanzenbacher has been quietly effective as one of Cutler’s primary dump-off options out of the slot, but the only thing deep threats Johnny Knox and Devin Hester do consistently is play inconsistently. After running through an early-season gauntlet that included Vincent Jackson, Calvin Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald, the Vikings secondary finally gets a break this week.
QB Donovan McNabb – 175 yds, 1 TD
RB Adrian Peterson – 130 yds, 2 TD
WR Percy Harvin – 4 rec, 50 yds, 25 rushing yds
WR Michael Jenkins – 3 rec, 30 yds
WR Devin Aromashodu – 3 rec, 45 yds
WR Bernard Berrian – 1 rec, 15 yds
TE Visanthe Shiancoe – 4 rec, 40 yds, TD