The Chicago Bears (5-10) will square off against the Minnesota Vikings (6-9) at noon on Sunday. This will be the 108th meeting between the two franchises, with Minnesota holding a 54-51-2 advantage in the all-time series, which began in 1961.
The Bears have won seven of the first nine matchups this decade. Chicago won both meetings in 2010 and 2011 and the teams split their two meetings in 2012 and 2013. The Bears won the first meeting this season, 21-13 at Soldier Field in Week 11.
The home team has won 21 of the last 25 meetings.
This will mark the ninth time the Bears will wrap up the regular season against the Vikings, and the fourth time in Minnesota. Chicago won the last such meeting in 2011, 17-13 at Mall of America Field at the H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings hold a 5-3 edge overall in series finales against the Bears.
Questionable for Chicago are DE Jared Allen (ribs), CB Al-Louis Jean (hamstring) and DT Jeremiah Ratliff (knee). Ratliff and Louis-Jean did not practice all week, meaning they are unlikely to play. Allen was limited in practice on Friday.
With Willie Young (Achilles) on IR and Allen a game-time decision, the Bears will likely start David Bass and Trevor Scott at defensive end, with Cornelius Washington and recently-signed Austen Lane also in the rotation. Will Sutton will start at defensive tackle if Ratliff is unable to play.
The following Minnesota players are probable:
RB Matt Asiata (foot) S Robert Blanton (ankle) S Antone Exum (knee) DT Sharrif Floyd (knee) TE Chase Ford (foot) T Mike Harris (foot) WR Greg Jennings (hamstring) G Charlie Johnson (ankle) S Andrew Sendejo (thumb)
THE CUTLER REPORT
Jay Cutler’s 2014 Statistics
Last week this segment was known as The Clausen Report due to head coach Marc Trestman’s decision to bench Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen. Yet Clausen suffered a concussion against the Detroit Lions, meaning Cutler is back in the saddle.
There’s a very good chance the Bears will part ways with Cutler this offseason, either via trade or by outright waiving him, so this could be Cutler’s last game as a Bear. It’s a cloud currently hanging over the team, although Cutler said he’s not concerned about his future.
“I don’t know. I’m not the one to answer that question,” he said this week. “All I know is we’ve got a good game plan. The guys worked hard yesterday and today and we’re going to go out there and we’re going to give everything we have.”
After signing his mammoth contract last offseason, Cutler has come under intense scrutiny from fans and media, yet also from his teammates and coaches. He’s been called out publicly by his offensive coordinator and his supposed best friend, Brandon Marshall, for his inconsistent play this season.
The final straw was being benched last week for a quarterback with a 1-9 career win/loss record.
Yet when the Bears take the field tomorrow, Cutler will be under center, even if half the organization doesn’t want him there. For his part, Cutler said he’ll be performing for his teammates.
“The guys in the locker room, the guys that have been in the huddle all year long that I’ve been with, those are the guys that I’ll play for this week,” said Cutler. “[It’s a tough] situation that both teams are in. It’s going to be cold. We’ve got to go away. But I know on Sunday the guys in the huddle, we’ll find a way to rally.”
While the Vikings are Cutler’s immediate concern, he did admit to the uncertainty of what could happen next week, when Bears brass will begin handing out pink slips.
"You think about it during training camp. You chop [the roster] down, chop it down. You wonder where those guys go, what happens to them. Some of them never play football again,” Cutler said. “The situation after the year, it's going to be similar. Coaches could leave. Players could leave. I could leave. That's part of it.
"I think you’ve just got to prepare yourself that anything can happen. That's kind of what I'm prepared for. I mean everyone could stay. Everyone could get axed. You just never know what direction it's going to go. You just have to stay open minded and know that things happen for a reason."
Cutler Career vs. Vikings
In his last three starts, Cutler has thrown six touchdowns and six interceptions, and is coming off a contest against the Saints in which he had a season-low 55.8 passer rating.
The team has nothing for which to play other than pride, and with the way Cutler has been attacked from all sides this year, it’s doubtful he has any of that left. Another sub-par outing to finish the season would surprise almost no one.
Yet if Cutler comes out and lights it up against the Vikings, things could get very interesting in terms of his future with the team.
GM Phil Emery doled out $126.7 million to Cutler due in large part to his second half performance against the, ahem, Cleveland Browns last year. If Cutler tears it up in a meaningless contest against the 6-9 Vikings, he might get a quarter of a billion this offseason.
Seriously though, the biggest question going into this offseason is whether Cutler will be the team’s quarterback going forward. As crazy as it sounds, a strong showing in Minneapolis could again convince the organization’s decision makers that Cutler will be the best option under center in 2015.
|BEARS (NFL Rank)||VIKINGS (NFL Rank)|
|20.7 (21st)||Points Scored||20.8 (20th)|
|331.3 (20th)||Total Offense||315.8 (26th)|
|89. (26th)||Rushing Offense||112.2 (15th)|
|241.8 (13th)||Passing Offense||203.6 (27th)|
|28.6 (32nd)||Points Allowed||22.3 (T-14th)|
|381.5 (30th)||Total Defense||350.1 (15th)|
|112.1 (16th)||Rushing Defense||123.3 (25th)|
|269.3 (31st)||Passing Defense||226.7 (8th)|
|6 (T-22nd)||Turnover Ratio||0 (T-14th)|
BEARS ON OFFENSE
Matchups to Watch
In Week 11, the Bears exploited Vikings nickelback Josh Robinson. Using Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, head coach Marc Trestman created mismatches against the smaller Robinson (5-9), who gave up three touchdowns in that contest.
Since then, the Vikings have shadowed the opposing team’s top receiver with their best cornerback, Xavier Rhodes. With Marshall on injured reserve, expect Rhodes to follow Jeffery all over the field. Jeffery had four drops in last week’s outing, two of which came late in the fourth quarter during the potential game-winning drive.
If Jeffery struggles again and Rhodes is able to keep him under wraps, the Bears will have little chance of moving the ball effectively through the air.
T Jermon Bushrod vs. DE Everson Griffen
Griffen has absolutely exploded this year, emerging as one of the best all-around defensive ends in the NFC. He has 12.0 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 38 QB hurries, per Pro Football Focus. He also has 45 run “stops” and has the highest overall grade of any Vikings defender.
Bushrod was solid in Week 11, not allowing Griffen to get a hand on Cutler, yet the defender did have five QB hurries, his second most in a single contest all year. Bushrod endured a rough patch in the middle part of the season due to ankle and knee injuries yet he’s been better the past month. He’s allowed a sack in just one of his past six games and last week, against Detroit’s top-tier defensive line, he didn’t give up a single QB hurry for the first time all season.
Bushrod will need another quality outing against Griffen to keep Cutler upright in the pocket.
Keys to the Game
-RB Matt Forte had a season-high 26 carries in the Week 11 outing, amassing 117 yards on the ground. He added six receptions for 58 yards en route to the team’s eight-point victory.
The Bears will once again need to lean on Forte, who should have plenty of success against Minnesota’s 25th-ranked rushing defense. That will be crucial, especially if Cutler mails it in.
-With Rhodes shadowing Jeffery, the onus of the passing attack could fall on Marquess Wilson, the team’s de facto No. 2 receiver.
"We're going to figure out if Rhodes is going to go with Alshon,” Cutler said. “If he's going to go with Alshon, [Marquess] has to get ready to go. We really like that matchup with him. He's still a big guy, a little bit shiftier, which isn't a bad thing at all.”
Wilson last week had the best game of his young career, catching seven passes for 66 yards. If Wilson (6-1) can repeat that success against shorter cornerbacks Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn, it will give Cutler the secondary target he needs.
-If the Bears are going to move the ball on the ground, the offensive line must account for DT Sharrif Floyd, who has been beastly against the run this year. Kyle Long was just named to his second Pro Bowl and Roberto Garza just got a contract extension. Both of those interior blockers must have a strong outing if Forte is to have a big game.
-Through the air, the Bears must avoid throwing the ball in the direction of S Harrison Smith, who has a team-high five interceptions on the season. Smith is one of the best playmaking safeties in the league. In Week 11, he returned his interception 52 yards at Soldier Field. If Cutler doesn’t consistently look him off, you can guarantee Harrison will have a handful of impact plays on Sunday.
BEARS ON DEFENSE
Matchups to Watch
Johnson’s coming-out party came in Week 11 when he caught six passes for 87 yards against Kyle Fuller. Since then, Viking QB Teddy Bridgewater has targeted Johnson more than any other receiver on the team.
Minnesota doesn’t have many game-breaking targets in the passing game other than Johnson, so Fuller needs to be on his game. He’s had a rough rookie season yet Fuller played much better against Calvin Johnson last week and will be looking to finish off his freshman year with a bang.
The Fuller vs. Johnson matchup will dictate whether or not the Vikings have success moving the ball through the air.
LG Charlie Johnson vs. DT Stephen Paea
Stephen Paea has easily been Chicago’s most consistent defender this year and with 6.0 sacks this season, he was a legitimate Pro Bowl snub. Paea will get one last chance to prove his value as part of the NFC roster in Hawaii, going against Charlie Johnson, who has struggled in pass protection this year. Johnson is second on the team in sacks allowed (5) and QB hurries (26). If Paea has a big game, he’ll help keep both the run game and the passing attack of the Vikings in check.
Matchups to Watch
-Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are on IR, while Jared Allen is questionable due to a rib injury. As a result, the Bears will very likely be without their top three edge rushers on Sunday. That puts the onus on David Bass and Trevor Scott, who have combined to play just 124 snaps this season.
Bridgewater is an elusive quarterback, one who will make the defense pay if the defensive ends lose contain. It will be up to Bass and Scott, as well Cornelius Washington and Austen Lane, to keep Bridgewater in the pocket, where he’s much less dangerous.
-Minnesota’s backfield has been decimated this season. To carry the ground game, the team has turned to Matt Asiata, a plodding runner who is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Keeping Asiata in check shouldn’t be tough, although Chicago’s inexperienced linebackers must be wary of play action. If they focus too much on Asiata, it will open up room for Minnesota’s receivers in the middle of the field, an area in which opposing offenses have pounded the Bears all year.
PREDICTION: Bears 20 - Vikings 17
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.