Bears-Vikings Week 8 Ultimate Game Preview

Our jam-packed game preview for the Week 8 matchup between the Chicago Bears (2-4) and Minnesota Vikings (4-2), chock full of notes, quotes, stats, matchups, history and much more.

Game Information

Who: Chicago Bears (2-4) vs. Minnesota Vikings (4-2)
Where: Soldier Field
When: Noon CT
Radio: 780 AM & 105.9 FM

Series History

The Bears and Vikings will square off for the 109th time, with Minnesota holding a 55-51-2 overall advantage in a series that dates back to 1961. The Bears won seven of the first 10 matchups this decade, although the teams have split the season series the past three years. The Vikings won the last meeting 13-9 at TCF Bank Stadium in the season finale last year. The home team has won 22 of the last 26 meetings.

The two franchises have played five overtime games, with Minnesota holding a 4-1 advantage in those games. The Vikings and Bears have faced each other once in the playoffs, a 35-18 Chicago victory in Minnesota during the 1994 NFC Wildcard Round. 

The Bears are coming off their bye week. John-Fox coached teams are 10-3 in the game immediately following the bye week. His respective teams have won seven straight contests coming out of the bye. Prior to last season, the Bears had won four straight games following their bye weekend and have won seven of their last nine such games since 2006. 

Bears-Vikings Connections

-Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is from Lockport, Illinois. He attended Lockport Township High School before palying quarterback and then linebacker at Illinois State. 

-Bears linebackers coach Glenn Pires was an assistant defensive line coach with the Dolphins in 2003 when Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner held the same role in Miami. 

-Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers was the 49ers assistant special teams coach in 2006 when Turner was San Francisco's offensive coordinator. 

-In New Orleans from 2006-09, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was a pro scout (2006) and director of pro scouting (2007-09) while Vikings assistant defensive backs coach Sam Garnes was a training camp coaching intern (2008) and Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer was a defensive assistant (2006-08) and assistant defensive backs coach (2009). 

-Minnesota practice squad safety Brock Vereen was selected by the Bears in the fourth round (131st overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft and appeared in 19 games the past two seasons.  

Head Coach Comparison

121-92 (.565) Regular Season Record (pct.) 11-11 (.500)
8-7 Playoff Record 0-0
14th Years as NFL head coach 2nd
1st Years as team's head coach 2nd
0-0 Career Head-to-Head 0-0
4-2 Career vs. Team 1-1

Injury Report

Bears LB Shea McClellin (knee) did not practice this week. He's listed as doubtful and is not expected to play. 

The following players are questionable: 

LT Jermon Bushrod (shoulder)
C Hroniss Grasu (neck)
DL Bruce Gaston (illness)
S Antrel Rolle (ankle) 

Bushrod was questionable last week and did not play, although he's expected to suit up this week. Grasu missed practice on Thursday but returned in a limited fashion on Friday, which is a good sign. Rolle has missed the last two weeks and was limited all week in practice. He'll be a game-time decision. 

Probable for the Bears:

LG Matt Slauson (knee/shoulder)
G Patrick Omameh (ankle) 

Slauson will start at center if Grasu can't play, while Omameh would fill in at left guard. 

For the Vikings, the following players are out: 

LB Audie Cole (finger)
TE Rhett Ellison (concussion)
DT Sharrif Floyd (knee/ankle)
DE Justin Trattou (foot)

Minnesota lists five players as probable: 

DT Tom Johnson (knee)
FB Zach Line (neck)
RB Adrian Peterson (hip/finger/ankle)
WR Adam Thielen (ankle)
WR Jarius Wright (concussion)

Johnson will replace Floyd in the starting lineup. Ellison is a significant loss, as he's the club's best blocking tight end and a special teams leader. 

Head-to-Head Comparison

20.0 (28th) Points Scored 20.7 (26th)
337.7 (27th) Total Offense 325.5 (30th)
112.0 (16th) Rushing Offense 128.3 (6th)
225.7 (24th) Passing Offense 197.2 (30th)
29.8 (T-31st) Points Allowed 17.0 (T-2nd)
344.8 (10th) Total Defense 338.8 (7th)
124.8 (25th) Rushing Defense 106.0 (13th)
220.0 (6th) Passing Defense 232.8 (11th)
-1 (T-20th) Turnover Ratio +2 (T-12th)

The Cutler Files

With Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal back from injury in Week 6 against the Lions, Jay Cutler completed 26 passes for 353 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. His 353 passing yards were the most in a single game since Week 6 last year (381 vs. the Falcons).

"It helps. Anytime you can get your crew back together and the guys you feel comfortable with, it’s going to make [our] job easier. It’s going to make me comfortable," Cutler said this week. "At this point now, we’ve just got to put it together and find a way to improve in the red zone and keep limiting our turnovers as much as possible."

For the year, Cutler has a 60.9 completion percentage and 86.2 passer rating, which are well below his totals of the past two seasons. Yet Cutler is playing better this year for a few reasons. 

First, he's not turning the ball over at a high rate. He's currently averaging fewer than one interception per start - and has yet to throw two picks in a game - and just one total turnover per game. That's a step in the right direction for a player who led the league last year with 24 total turnovers in 15 starts (1.6 per game). 

Second, Cutler has been very efficient on third down, taking what the defense offers him instead of forcing the ball into crowded areas. His 114.0 QB rating on third down is 4th best in the league, while his 11.02 yards per attempt on third down is second only to his former teammate, current Browns quarterback Josh McCown. 

"I think his ability to make plays with his legs has been critical for us," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "He’s bailed us out of a lot schematically. He’s done a good job of picking up pressures. He’s done a good job of staying in the pocket when he does get guys blocked up and then he’s done a good job of making some plays outside the pocket. That’s been key for us and like I said he’s saved us on some bad plays."

This week Cutler takes on a young Vikings defense in a blitz-heavy system run by coordinator George Edwards. 

"I think they’re kind of the pinnacle of the double A [blitz] in the NFL right now because they show eight [defenders] up [in the box]," Cutler said. "Those other teams that do it, you can handle it with the [running] back and the line. These guys, you have to incorporate a lot of different stuff because [safety Harrison Smith] comes, their two inside guys come, the nickel comes. They've got every combination."

Minnesota has the seventh ranked defense and have allowed the second fewest points in the NFL. The defense is also ranked in the Top 10 in total sacks (17).

"With [linebacker] Chad [Greenway] in there and some of those other linebackers, they do a good job of knowing where the points are, knowing who the Mike is and getting themselves in the best possible scenario for their defense," said Cutler. "You’ve got to be on it. You kind of have to play a little game with them, show a lot of different things. Hopefully, we can run the ball a little bit, get ourselves some third-and-manageable and kind of limit that.”

In 11 career starts against the Vikings, Cutler has completed 247 of 377 pass attempts (65.6 pct.) for 2,606 yards, 23 TDs and 13 INTs, good for a 91.5 rating. 

Bears on Offense

Matchups to Watch

WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Xavier Rhodes
After missing a month due to calf and hamstring injuries, Jefferey returned to the field in Week 6 and lit up the Lions secondary to the tune of 8 catches for 147 yards and 1 TD. Jeffery showed no limitations due to the leg injuries and was deadly on deep balls down the field. Rhodes is a big-bodied cornerback (6-1, 218) who was very good as the club's shutdown boundary defender last season, yet he's struggled this year. He's already allowed four touchdowns, which is twice as many as he gave up in 16 starts last season, while his QB rating against has risen to 118.5, up from 75.7 in 2014. Rhodes is still a physical player with good ball skills and he presents a tough challenge for Jeffery, who will need a handful of big plays against a stingy Vikings secondary that ranks 11th in the league against the pass. 

LT Jermon Bushrod vs. DE Everson Griffen
Griffen leads the Vikings with 4.5 sacks this year and has been a consistent force off the edge on passing downs. Bushrod is expected to return this week after missing the last three contests with concussion and shoulder problems. Some rustiness should be expected, which could be a problem against a player like Griffen, who had 12.0 sacks last season. If Bushrod struggles to find his groove, Griffen is going to wreak havoc on Cutler's blindside. 

Keys to the Game

-The Vikings have two of the best young linebackers in the game in rookie Eric Kendricks and second-year player Anthony Barr. Kendricks has been solid against the run and extremely disruptive as a blitzer. His 4.0 sacks, all from blitzes between the tackles, are second most on the team. At the same time, Barr is one of the best all-around defensive talents in the NFL, one who excels in every phase of the game. Athletically, he's off the charts, with the speed to track ball carriers from sideline to sideline and the awareness to be highly effective in coverage. If the Bears can't get these two linebackers locked up on every play, they stand no chance of moving the ball with any consistency. 

-While Griffen has accumulating sacks, DE Brian Robison has been applying all the pressure. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Robison leads the tam with 23 QB hurries, which is nine more than Griffen. For RT Kyle Long, Robison is another tough challenge, as he has the strength and speed to collapse the pocket on a regular basis. Long has been inconsistent in his first year blocking the right edge and will need to have a solid outing against Robison. 

-The Vikings can also collapse the pocket in the face of the quarterback with defensive tackles Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph. Johnson is second on the team with 15 QB hurries, per PFF, while Joseph has been surprisingly effective on passing downs, despite his massive 6-4, 329-pound frame. Joseph is also a load to handle in the run game, which will put a lot of pressure on the interior of Chicago's offensive line. Starting center Hroniss Grasu (neck) may not play, which would shift Matt Slauson to center, with Patrick Omameh filling in at right guard. All the while, RG Vladimir Ducasse continues to struggle. Any way you slice it, Chicago's offensive line has its work cut out for them against a stout Minnesota defensive line. 

-S Harrison Smtih has picked off Cutler in each of his first three seasons in the NFL. When throwing deep, Cutler needs to look off Smith and make sure he's nowhere near the ball.

Bears on Defense

Matchups to Watch

CB Tracy Porter vs. WR Stefon Diggs
Diggs is a fifth-round rookie who has broken out in a big way since being activated three weeks ago. He's coming off two straight 100-yard performances in which he's shown very good downfield ability (he's averaging 17.1 yards per catch). Tracy Porter, as well as Kyle Fuller, must keep Diggs under wraps. The Vikings have Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson, as well as Jarius Wright, all of whom must be accounted for, but Diggs is the receiver who can tear the game wide open. If the Bears allow him to roam free in the secondary, Diggs is going to post some eye-popping numbers on Sunday. 

NT Eddie Goldman vs. RG Brandon Fusco
The Vikings are weak on the right side of the offensive line. Fusco has been the club's worst run blocker and he's also allowed a team-high 15 QB hurries. This is a matchup that favors Goldman, who is developing rapidly his rookie season. He needs to be a major presence inside during this game if the Bears have any chance of keeping Adrian Peterson in check. Against Fusco, and to a lesser extent C Joe Berger, Goldman must dominate and eat up space along the interior. That will make life easy for Chicago's middle linebackers, who are going to be very busy chasing AP all over the field. 

Keys on Defense

-Against an elite running back like Peterson, gap control is essential. That falls heavily on the defensive line, who must occupy blockers at the point of attack, but even more so on the linebackers. With McClellin out, Christian Jones will once again serve as the centerpiece on defense. Jones has flashed this year but he's been inconsistent, particularly in his run fits. The key for him is discipline because if he fills just one wrong gap, Peterson is going to make the defense pay. Jones - as well as LaRoy Reynolds, who will be on the field in base sets - must play fast, smart and under control, otherwise AP is going to have another signature game against the Bears. 

-If Antrel Rolle can play, that will be a big boost against a speedy Vikings receiving corps. Diggs has shown great deep-ball ability, while Mike Wallace is one of the fastest wideouts in the game. Charles Johnson ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash at his pro day two years ago. Jarius Wright also has 4.42 speed. From top to bottom, Minnesota's receivers are a threat to beat you deep on every snap. That will put a lot of pressure on the safeties, particularly rookie Adrian Amos, so Rolle's veteran presence will be a boost. Rolle isn't the fleetest of foot at this point in his career but his experience and understanding of the position should provide stability on the back end. 

-Teddy Bridgewater is an underrated, emerging young quarterback. He's a smart, accurate game manager who is dangerous on play-action passes. If Chicago's defense is too focused on Peterson, with linebackers and safeties biting hard on play fakes, Bridgewater is going to eat them up over the top. Look for him to utilize his speed at receiver and also TE Kyle Rudolph, his outlet target on passing downs. Pressuring Bridgewater and getting him off his spots will be crucial, so OLB Pernell McPhee must continue his current streak of strong play, particularly on third down, where Bridgewater's 65.5 completion percentage ranks 5th in the NFL. 

-The Bears have lost two starting defensive linemen the past two weeks - Ego Ferguson on IR and Jeremiah Ratliff for being a nut job - and now face one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game. Along with Goldman, Jarvis Jenkins must be stout inside. Jenkins has been quiet the past few games and needs to be a force at the point of attack. The same goes for Mitch Unrein and Will Sutton, as well as newcomer Ziggy Hood, all of whom will be part of the D-line rotation. The Bears are in "next-man-up" mode, so the down linemen on defense must rise to the occasion in order to lock up an elite NFL runner. 

Prediction: Bears 14, Vikings 13

I think this will be a low-scoring contest that will come down to a late-game field goal, and Robbie Gould has been lights out. If the Bears can keep AP from completely exploding, the offense should have enough firepower - especially with Alshon Jeffery fully healthy and Matt Forte playing like an All Pro - to build off the home crowd and pull off the upset victory. 

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