The Minnesota Vikings do two things well: run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense. They are fourth in the league in rushing yards per game (160.0) and fourth in average yards per game allowed (76.4). As with most games, if the Chicago Bears are going to pick up their third win of the season and bring their record back to .500, they will have to win the battle in the trenches.
With the way Chicago's offensive and defensive lines have played recently, that will be a very tall order.
-The Bears will be without their three best front-line players: RT Gabe Carimi, DE Julius Peppers and DT Matt Toeaina. Lance Louis will start in place of Carimi, with Chris Spencer filling in at right guard. Henry Melton will move from defensive tackle to end, replacing Peppers. Anthony Adams will start at nose tackle in place of Toeaina. WR Earl Bennett and TE Kellen Davis are listed as questionable. Bennett most likely won't suit up. Davis was a late addition to the injury report, so he's still up in the air. CB Charles Tillman and DE Corey Wootton are listed as probable, although word is Wootton will be inactive.
KEYS TO THE GAME
RB Adrian Peterson
-It all starts and ends with RB Adrian Peterson. He's the best runner in the NFL; a player whose combination of size and speed is unmatched. And throughout his career, he has routinely eaten up Chicago's defense. In seven games against the Bears he's rushed for 784 yards, 5.0 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns. In his first-career game at Soldier Field, he rushed for 224 yards and three scores. In fact, four of Peterson's longest career runs have come against the Bears (73, 67, 59 and 54).
The Bears have struggled mightily against the run so far this year, culminating in a miserable performance against the Lions last week. Chicago allowed Jahvid Best, whose single-game career high was 78 rushing yards coming into the game, to run for 163 yards on just 12 carries, including an 88-yard touchdown jaunt. No one player is at fault, as every level of the Bears' defense has failed to do their jobs in stopping the run. Defensive linemen are getting pushed around, linebackers are filling the wrong gaps and safeties are not breaking down when they reach the ball. It has resulted in one of the worst defensive stretches in recent history.
Peterson is going to get his yards. The Vikings lean on him heavily, and he'll tote the rock early and often. The key for Chicago's defense is to not allow him the huge game. If he picks up 100 yards and a TD, so be it. It's expected. Yet if he goes off for 200-yards and 3 TDs, the Bears will pick up their fourth loss of the year. The key is for everyone to stay in their gaps and fight off blocks. And when the secondary comes up in support, they have to be able to bring him down. One or two missed tackles is all a player like Peterson needs to bring this defense to its knees.
-The task of stopping Peterson will be made much more difficult due to the injuries to Toeaina, the team's best defensive tackle, and Peppers, the team's best defensive end. Henry Melton will move outside to defensive end to replace Peppers. He's played tackle almost exclusively this year but he was an end in college and for the first few years of NFL career. Inside, he's been destroyed by big, powerful linemen, so the hope is he'll be able to utilize his quickness more on the edge. Amobi Okoye will start at under tackle and needs to have a big game. If he can penetrate and disrupt the run in the middle, it will go a long way toward limiting the Vikings' rushing attack. The same goes for Anthony Adams, who will start in place of Toeaina. He must play tougher inside and cannot allow himself to be pushed around as he has for most of this season.
-DE Israel Idonije has to come to play tonight. He's been invisible for the most part this year, especially against the run. With Peppers out, he needs to take over and be a force. Another disappearing act tonight won't do the team any good.
-The Vikings don't boast a stellar receiving corps. In fact, Percy Harvin is the only wideout the Bears defense needs to seriously be worried about. He has outstanding speed and is deadly in the open field. Chicago needs to focus their attention on Harvin and force the other receivers to beat them.
-QB Donovan McNabb has had some huge games against the Bears during his career, yet he's been wildly inaccurate this season. He's not taking shots down field, instead relying on a dink-a-dunk strategy. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier talked a lot this week about the need for McNabb to air it out more, so expect a few deep passes from Minnesota's offense. The key will be for safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright not to let those turn into big gains. Veterans Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather were benched due to giving up too many big plays. This puts a lot of pressure on Wright and Conte, an inexperienced duo. Most observers will consider it a good game by these two as long as they don't allow receivers and tight ends to beat them deep. If they keep the offense in front of them, they'll be just fine.
DE Jared Allen
-Defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen are tearing up the league right now. They've combined for 13 sacks, the most of any defensive line duo in the NFL. Allen especially has been a force off the edge. He's lightning quick and absolutely relentless when getting after the quarterback. He lines up on the left side for most plays, meaning J'Marcus Webb will need to have a good game. If Allen works over Webb consistently, QB Jay Cutler won't stand a chance. The same goes for RT Lance Louis, who has to be able to slow down Robison. If Chicago's tackles play well, the Bears will win this game.
-On the interior, LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza and RG Chris Spencer must be able to move Kevin Williams and the nose tackle rotation of Remi Ayodele and Fred Evans off the ball. And at the second level, they must be conscious of LB Chad Greenway at all times, as he can be very disruptive against the run.
-As always, RB Matt Forte is the biggest factor to the Bears' offensive success. Minnesota does a good job of stopping the run, so it won't be an easy task to get Forte going. Yet even if the run game falters to start the game, offensive coordinator Mike Martz must stick with it. If he bails on the run, Minnesota's defensive line will have a field day on Cutler. Getting Forte involved in the passing game is important also, as he's easily the team's best receiver. If the Vikings succeed in shutting down Forte, the Bears' offense doesn't stand a chance.
-The Vikings will be without CB Antoine Winfield, the best member of the team's secondary and its leading tackler. Chris Cook will start in his place. Cedric Griffin is a solid cornerback on the other side, so the Bears need to take advantage of Cook's inexperience. Cutler needs to know where Cook is on every play and must try to exploit him.
-The Bears need to take shots down field, something they've been hesitant to do all season. The Vikings' safeties are gamblers that often put themselves out of position. A double move here and there should open up space deep. Receivers Johhny Knox and Devin Hester need to be used to stretch the field and open up the underneath zones, where Forte has been a beast.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.