The Chicago Bears (7-3) will host the Minnesota Vikings (6-4) on Sunday afternoon in a big NFC North matchup. The Bears are tied atop the division with the Green Bay Packers, who hold the tiebreaker. The Vikings are just a game back. Chicago has lost two straight, while Minnesota has lost two out of its last three, although the Vikings are coming off a home win against the Detroit Lions last week.
This will be the 103rd meeting between the two franchises. The Vikings hold a 52-48-2 advantage in the all-time series. The home team has won 16 of the last 20 meetings. These two teams will meet again in Week 14.
-Bears QB Jay Cutler, who missed last week due to a concussion, cleared his concussion protocols today and will start.
Bears on Offense
Chicago's offensive rankings
Points scored: 11th (24.9)
Total offense: 30th (299.4)
Rushing offense: 10th (122.8)
Passing offense: 31st (176.6)
Minnesota's defensive rankings
Points allowed: 13th (22.1)
Total defense: 13th (340.7)
Rushing defense: 14th (111.6)
Passing defense: 16th (229.1)
Turnover ratio 23rd (-4)
Matchups to Watch
C Roberto Garza vs. DT Kevin Williams
This game pits together two of the worst passing offenses in the league. So it's safe to say whichever team runs the ball better has the best chance at a victory. Williams is one of the best run stoppers in the league. When he's playing well, he can singled-handedly shut down an opposing rushing attack. It will be up to Garza, as well as guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer, to occupy Williams and keep him out of the interior running lanes.
WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Antoine Winfield
The Vikings play a Cover 2 defense similar to Chicago's. As such, they will likely play a lot of zone, not allowing Marshall to get matched up one-on-one with either Winfield or A.J. Jefferson. Yet when Marshall does get single coverage, he has to make them pay. Winfield is seven inches shorter than Marshall, while Jefferson will be starting just the 10th game of his career. Whichever corner lines up across from him, Marshall will have the advantage in one-on-one situations. If the Vikings succeed in shutting him down, it will be a long day for Chicago's passing attack.
LT J'Marcus Webb vs. DE Jared Allen
The last time the Bears faced the Vikings, Allen racked up 3.5 sacks, each the fault of Webb, who has had an up-and-down season so far. The Bears re-shuffled the offensive line this week, inserting two new starters, yet somehow Webb was left standing, despite playing horribly last week against the 49ers. If he has a repeat performance and Allen, one of the best pass rushers in the game, is allowed to wreak havoc in the backfield, not only will the passing attack flounder but Jay Cutler is very likely to get hurt.
Keys on Offense
-RB Matt Forte is the biggest key to this game. If he can get it going on the ground, that will take the pressure off Chicago's 31st ranked passing attack. The offensive line has struggled recently opening holes for Forte. He has gained just 99 yards on the ground in the past two weeks combined. If that continues against the Vikings' 14th-ranked rush defense, the Bears will be forced to win the game through the air, which has been a recipe for disaster most of the season.
-Cutler is coming off a concussion that kept him out of last week's contest. As such, don't be surprised if the Bears use a lot of max protect and three-step drops to limit his number of hits. That's going to limit what Chicago can do down the field on offense, putting pressure on receivers Earl Bennett and Devin Hester to get open on the short and intermediate routes. If these two continue to be invisible on the field, the Vikings will be able to double cover Marshall all game.
-Vikings LB Chad Greenway is a tackling machine and is currently second in the NFL in total tackles (100). On every single snap, and particularly on run plays, the Bears must be aware of Greenway. Blocking schemes must be designed to seal him away from the ball carrier and Chicago's offensive linemen must be able to find him and lock him up at the second level.
-RT Jonathan Scott, who replaced Gabe Carimi this week, will be making his first start as a Bear. He has 30 starts in his career, so this is nothing new to him, but he won't have it easy facing Brian Robison (5.0 sacks this season). Scott is not the long-term answer, so temper your expectations. He's with his fourth team in seven seasons and was picked up off the free-agent heap earlier this year. Yet with the way Carimi has been playing, Scott only has to be serviceable against Robison to provide an upgrade on the right edge.
Bears on Defense
Chicago's defensive rankings
Points allowed: 3rd (16.5)
Total defense: 5th (311.9)
Rushing defense: 8th (95.2)
Passing defense: 11th (216.7)
Turnover ratio: 2nd (+12)
Minnesota's offensive rankings
Points scored: 14th (23.8)
Total offense: 20th (340.9)
Rushing offense: 3rd (150.5)
Passing offense: 30th (190.4)
Matchups to Watch
NT Stephen Paea vs. C John Sullivan
Sullivan is one of the best run-blocking offensive linemen in the league. He's very strong and technically sound, helping him create holes up front for Adrian Peterson. Paea has been great in his second season yet he struggled mightily last week. He must bounce back and win this matchup against Sullivan. If Paea does that, it will go a long way toward keeping Peterson under wraps.
S Major Wright vs. TE Kyle Rudolph
Wright was having a great season until last week, when San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis ate him up. Wright was exposed in that game, getting burned in coverage and missing tackles. With Harvin out, it's likely Vikings QB Christian Ponder will look to his second best pass catcher, Rudolph, who is second on the team in targets (58) and receptions (34), and leads the club in touchdowns (6). Particularly on play action passes, Wright must be better in coverage, otherwise Rudolph will have a big day.
DE Corey Wootton vs. RT Phil Loadholt
Last week, Wootton wrestled the starting role from Israel Idonije. It's been a long climb for Wootton, who dealt with injuries his first two years in the league. His 4.5 sacks are tied for third most on the team. He'll square off against Loadholt, who is a quality pass blocker. On the opposite side of the line, Matt Kalil doesn't give up pressure, so if either edge is going to collapse, it'll be on the right side. If Wootton can beat Loadholt and have a breakout game, he'll keep Ponder uncomfortable all night, which could lead to some errant throws and, subsequently, turnovers.
Keys on Defense
-If you stop Adrian Peterson, you stop Minnesota's offense. It's really that simple. Ponder has made strides in his second season but, even with Harvin having a career year, this is still the 30th ranked passing offense. Where Peterson goes, so do the Vikings. He leads the league in rushing (1,128 yards) and has been nearly unstoppable throughout the campaign. If Peterson gets going against Chicago, it will force the Bears to bring an extra man in the box, which will make the defense susceptible to play action. Chicago's front seven must be stout, must stay in their lanes and win the one-on-one battles if they are to limit Peterson's production.
-DE Julius Peppers leads the Bears in sacks but it's unlikely he'll get anywhere near the quarterback when he lines up across from LT Matt Kalil. This season, Kalil has allowed just one sack and three QB hurries. So don't expect much from anyone who rushes off the left edge. Yet Kalil isn't a great run blocker. Peppers last week was pushed around by the 49ers in the run game, a rare sight indeed. He needs to play much bigger on Sunday and expose the rookie offensive tackle for his inability to run block.
-With Harvin out, the Vikings will rely on Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright to stretch Chicago deep. Folks, that trio isn't scaring anyone. On passing downs, there will be a lot of opportunities for Ponder to use his legs, as it's unlikely he'll have a lot of open receivers down the field. Chicago's defensive line needs to get after the quarterback but they must also be aware of Ponder's ability to make plays with his legs. On third downs, defenders must stay in their rush lanes and not allow Minnesota's quarterback to scramble and pick up first downs.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.