KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
KEYS TO THE GAME
Bears QB Jay Cutler had six touchdown passes in two games against Minnesota in 2010, but he'll face the NFL's top pass-rush tandem in DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison (13 combined sacks). The Vikings have been stung by pass-catching running backs, and must account for RB Matt Forte as an all-purpose threat. The Vikings force teams to stop RB Adrian Peterson, who averages 103.5 rushing yards against the NFC North in his career. Peterson, also a threat as a receiver, will benefit from QB Donovan McNabb attacking deep and down the seam, where the Bears have been ripped for big plays all season. If DE Julius Peppers (knee) is out, McNabb should have plenty of time to set his feet and scan the field.
McNabb's teams are 46-3 when he has a passer rating of at least 100. ... Forte leads the NFL with 785 yards from scrimmage.
INSIDE THE CAMPSVikings
WR Devin Hester
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Neither the Vikings, nor their new special teams coach has good memories of facing Bears returner Devin Hester.
And with both teams' offenses struggling overall heading into Sunday night's game, it's Hester who could be a difference-maker in this NFC North series once again.
Of Hester's NFL-record 11 punt returns for touchdowns, three came against Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. There was a 45-yarder in 2006, an 89-yarder in 2007 and last year's 64-yarder.
As for special teams coach Mike Priefer, he said, "I do (remember) and I don't want to talk about it. ... It was not a good day for me. That was a nightmare for about three months."
It was 2007 and Priefer was special teams coach with the Chiefs. The Bears won 20-10 at Soldier Field as Hester returned punts 73 yards for a touchdown, 31 yards to set up a field goal and 24 yards to gain valuable field position late in the game. He also had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was nullified by penalty.
Hester goes into the game averaging 23.4 yards on 12 kickoff returns and 20.2 yards with one touchdown on five punt returns. The Vikings, who hope to control the game with running back Adrian Peterson, sound defense and field position, are allowing 21.4 yards per kickoff return and 12.4 yards per punt return.
"I don't want to sit here and let Chicago know what we're going to do, but I will let you know that we're going to change our game plan a little bit from what we've been doing," said Priefer, "We have to do that, he's that good. I don't think I can stand up here and tell you we're going to go status quo against Devin Hester. That's not going to happen."
The numbers tell a sad story about the Bears' defense.
It is No. 27 in passing yards, No. 28 in rushing yards and No. 29 in total yards allowed this season.
And it's not just the disappointing fall from grace of a once-feared unit; it's the manner in which it's been gashed.
Big plays have destroyed a defense that was considered elite as recently as last season, when the Bears were No. 2 in rushing yards, No. 4 in points and No. 9 in total yards allowed.
The 23-14 loss to the Lions provided a snapshot of the season. Of the 395 total yards the Bears allowed, 204 came on three plays - runs of 88 and 43 yards by Jahvid Best and the 73-yard Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson touchdown pass.
"That hasn't happened around here in a long time -- big plays like that," seven-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We're steady. We don't give up a lot of big plays. We make teams grind it out; long drives to score on us. It hasn't worked out that way this year for some reason. We've made some mistakes and some mental errors and allowed teams to have big plays on us."
LB Lance Briggs
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
The Bears have not allowed a run and a pass in the same game of at least 73 yards since at least 1950. They haven't allowed a pass and a run that long in a season since 1999.
"We played hard, we just didn't play smart," Urlacher said. "That's all there was to it. We're in position to make a lot of plays, we're just not making them."
Outside linebacker Lance Briggs, a six-time Pro Bowl selection actually said he was encouraged by some of what he saw in the film review of that game.
"We did a lot of great things," Briggs said. "We're a lot closer to playing the solid defense that we want to play than the big plays might have shown. We gave up a couple of big plays that cost us the game. (But) looking over film, we did a lot of good things.
"What bugs me is (when) you defend the run well most of the game and you give up two or three big runs that you shouldn't. There are simple solutions."
The Bears believe they have answers for the questions that are being asked as a result of their defensive transgressions.
"The key is just being disciplined," Briggs said. "When we're in eight-man fronts get in the gaps; and get back and protect on play-actions and get a good pass rush."
Urlacher says there is a level of trust that has been lacking in a five-week stretch in which the defense has allowed at least 382 yards in every game.
"It's fixable," Urlacher said. "We have the players to (run) our defense. The mental errors and the mistakes are killing us right now. We've got to fix them. It's been five weeks now, and every week we just keep getting gashed. We've got to quit doing it."
Their solutions will be put to the test Sunday night against the NFC's leading rusher, the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who has 498 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. If the Bears are as undisciplined Sunday night in their gaps as they have been the first five weeks, Peterson will make them pay.
"We can't do that anymore," Urlacher said. "We've just got to stay in our gaps and trust that everyone else is going to be in theirs. It's a trust thing. You have to trust the guy (next to you) is going to be in his gap. Now, it's getting to the point where you run to your gap and you're looking, you're getting 'headsy,' looking around to see where the ball carrier is, and then he cuts back in your gap. It's a trust issue with us and being disciplined and trusting other guys are going to be in their gaps. That's what it comes down to right now for us."
--WR Percy Harvin missed Thursday's practice because of a rib injury. Coach Leslie Frazier said it was a precautionary move to give Harvin more rest before Sunday's game.
--CB Antoine Winfield missed another practice because of a neck strain and has not been on the field since hurting the neck against the Chiefs on Oct. 2. Frazier said all tests done on the neck are positive, but the team is waiting until Winfield feels comfortable returning to practice. If Winfield doesn't participate in Friday's practice, he'd likely miss his second consecutive game.
--CB Chris Cook would get his second straight start at left corner if Antoine Winfield (neck) isn't able to play. Cook's confidence has increased dramatically the past month. A second-round pick a year ago, Cook is as healthy as he's been since before he injured a knee in last year's preseason. He went on to have an injury to the other knee in what was a lost season in 2010. A big corner with cover skills, he's also becoming a better tackler.
DE Jared Allen
Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
--CB Asher Allen would also see increased reps if Winfield isn't able to play. Allen would play in the slot in the nickel. He also has grown in terms of confidence. A turf toe injury in the first preseason game hobbled him for nearly seven weeks, but he's finally healthy and coming off a game in which he had an interception and six solo tackles, including an impressive stop on fourth-and-1.
--DE Jared Allen is off to the fastest start of his eight-year career. He's never had this many sacks (8.5) after five games. The total also leads the NFL and matches the five-game total that Michael Strahan had when he set the NFL season record of 22.5 in 2004.
--OG Lance Louis could be moved out to right tackle this week for Frank Omiyale, who has been benched in back-to-back games for poor play.
--WR Earl Bennett (chest) practiced on a limited basis Thursday but will not play this week.
--CB Charles Tillman (hip) did not practice Thursday but is expected to start Sunday night.
--DE Julius Peppers (knee) did not practice Thursday but is expected to play this week.
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