Bears/Vikings keys to the game

Chicago heads on the road to take on the Vikings on Sunday. This NFC North matchup will close the door on two disappointing seasons. We go over everything the Bears must do to pick up the victory.

OFFENSE

Vikings defensive rankings
Points allowed: 31st (28.8)
Total defense: 25th (368.1)
Rushing defense: 12th (108.0)
Passing defense: 29th (260.1)
Turnover ratio: 19th (-3)

Matchups to watch

LT J'Marcus Webb vs. DE Jared Allen
Allen leads the league in sacks with 18.5, which is just four shy of Michael Strahan's all-time single-season mark of 22.5. Allen said this week he's still gunning for that record but at the very least, he wants to finish the season as the league's sack leader, for which he has just a 0.5 lead over the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware. That means he'll be very motivated on Sunday to create something positive from a lost season, which is why Webb needs to be on his game. Allen will use every trick in the book to get after QB Josh McCown. Webb needs to stay balanced and keep his hips in front of the defender if he's going to keep his quarterback clean.

FB Tyler Clutts vs. LB Chad Greenway
Greenway is third in the NFL in tackles this season (144). He's a smart, athletic veteran that is very physical against the run. He has great awareness and fills gaps with power. As such, Clutts needs to make sure Greenway is blocked each time heads leads through the hole. Chicago's best shot at a victory will be by running the ball early and often. If the offense is to have success on the ground, Greenway has to be accounted for on every rushing attempt.

Keys


T Lance Louis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

-RT Lance Louis will be tasked with blocking DE Brian Robison for most of the contest. Louis has been awful in pass protection the past month, yet showed some signs of life last week. He needs to build on that and dominate Robison, who has 7.0 sacks this year. The Bears are going to have to chip Allen on the other side, meaning Louis will go one-on-one with Robison on most passing plays. His ability to keep Robison out of the backfield will go a long way toward the success of the aerial attack.

-Don't sleep on DT Kevin Williams. The nine-year veteran is a force on the inside, as both a run stopper and a pass rusher. C Roberto Garza, as well as guards Edwin Williams and Chris Spencer, must keep tabs on Williams. If too much attention is given to the defensive ends, Williams will wreak havoc up the middle.

-The Vikings have a severely depleted secondary that will start a rookie, Mistral Raymond, at free safety. They'll likely start Asher Allen and Cedric Girffin at safety, with Benny Sapp at nickel. McCown would be best served staying away from Allen, the team's best cover corner, and picking on Sapp when possible. Sapp is very weak in man coverage and can be exploited.

-The Vikings run the same Cover 2 that Chicago's defense runs. Meaning the Bears will need to move the ball methodically down the field. McCown needs to work the short routes, especially with dumpoffs to RB Kahlil Bell, who can then use his open-field abilities to pick up yards after the catch. WR Dane Sanzenbacher will start out of the slot. He's a quality underneath receiver that should be able to create consistent separation, especially if he's matched up against Sapp. Taking the occasional shot downfield will be necessary but McCown will be most successful working the short passing game.

DEFENSE

Vikings offensive rankings
Points scored: 19th (21.8)
Total offense: 18th (331.6)
Rushing offense: 4th (149.3)
Passing offense: 28th (182.3)

Matchups to watch

LB Lance Briggs vs. RB Toby Gerhart
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson tore up his knee last week and won't play until next year. Gerhart stepped in and rushed for 109 yards on just 11 carries. For the season, Gerhart is averaging more yards per carry (4.9) than Peterson (4.7). The second-year player out of Stanford is a powerful back that likes to deliver a blow on defenders. He doesn't typically go down on the first hit. Sound tackling is a must against Gerhart, which is why Briggs will be key in this game. Brian Urlacher (knee) is expected to play but he won't be 100 percent. That leaves Briggs to do the heavy lifting against the run. Keeping Gerhart down will force the Vikings to air it out, where they are far less proficient.

CB Tim Jennings vs. WR Percy Harvin
The Vikings will line up Harvin, by far their most-dangerous weapon, all over the field. They use him out wide, in the slot, at wing and as a running back. It's likely the Bears will deploy CB Charles Tillman on WR Devin Aromashodu, given the receiver's size, meaning Jennings will be tasked with covering Harvin on most pass plays. Harvin is a dynamic player who is deadly in the open field. Minnesota likes to get him the ball on short routes and let him work his magic after the catch. This season, 507 of Harvin's team-leading 852 receiving yards have come after the catch. He leads the team in targets every week, so he's going to catch some balls. The key is limiting him after the reception. Jennings, as well as nickelback D.J. Moore, must make sure Harvin goes down immediately after the catch, otherwise he could turn a five-yard gain into a 70-yard game-changing touchdown.

Keys


QB Christian Ponder
Tom Dahlin/Getty

-QB Christian Ponder was knocked out of last week's game against the Washington Redskins with a concussion yet has been cleared to play in the season finale. He'll likely get the starting nod. Ponder has great wheels and is a threat to run on every play. Yet the rookie has regressed some the past month as a passer. On the season, he's thrown 13 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. He's completing 54.8 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 72.4. He hasn't shown great composure under duress, so it will be up to Chicago's front four to make his day miserable. Pressure on Ponder should lead to plenty of turnovers.

-Don't sleep on QB Joe Webb when he's inserted in the game. The Vikings like to use their backup's size and speed on bootlegs and option runs, allowing him to stretch the defense with his legs. After replacing Ponder last week, Webb completed four of five passes for 84 yards and 2 TDs, while rushing five times for 34 yards and a TD. Minnesota likes to insert him occasionally in what they call the "blazer" package. They are more likely to do so this week with Ponder recovering from a head injury.

-Harvin is really the only threat Minnesota has at wide receiver. Aromashodu and WR Michael Jenkins make the occasional play but the passing game goes through Harvin and the tight ends. Both tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph are threats down the seam. The Vikings like to use a lot of double tight-end sets with these two, flooding the middle of the field. Safeties Major Wright and Craig Steltz have to stay on top of those two, especially on third down.

-DE Israel Idonije becomes a free agent after this season. He's had a very spotty year, getting moved around far too easily against the run and not taking advantage of the attention DE Julius Peppers gets in the pass rush. Opposing offenses have keyed on DT Henry Melton as well this year, as he's emerged as a legitimate 3-technique threat up the middle. This has given Idonije a ton of one-on-one matchups this season, yet he has just 4.0 sacks. That's not the type of production you need from an edge starter. It would do him well to go out with a bang and show he's worth a new contract. He'll square off against RT Phil Loadholt, who is a mauler as a run blocker but can be beaten in pass protection. Idonije needs to take advantage and finish strong.

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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.

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