The Bears (1-1) travel to Minnesota (1-1) to battle the Vikings. The Vikings are the second straight team coming off a Monday night game to face the Bears. Minnesota lost to Philadelphia, and suffered some significant injuries. The Bears suffered some significant injuries as well. Let's take a closer look at those injuries, and their impact on the matchups.
Right guard Mike Gandy missed almost the entire game against the Packers with a hamstring injury. Steve Edwards filled in capably for him, and would be available to do so in the event Gandy cannot play or has to come out. Whoever lines up at that spot will have his hands full with Kevin Williams. The Vikings will get Kenny Mixon back in their defensive end rotation after he served a suspension.
The Vikings have a much better defense than they've had in recent years, especially among their front seven. E.J. Henderson starts at the middle linebacker position now that he's fully healthy and has a year of learning under his belt. The loss of cornerback Ken Irvin and safety Tyrone Carter impacts the depth of the Vikings' secondary. The Vikings weren't expected to be strong against the pass at full strength.
The matchup between the Bear offense and the Viking defense will not be heavily impacted by injuries. Look for the Bears to neutralize the Vikings' pass rush with double tight end sets and a steady dose of Thomas Jones both running the ball and on screens. Look for the Vikings to challenge the Bears' pass protection and Rex Grossman with line stunts, multiple shifts, and disguised coverages.
Minnesota lost right offensive tackle Mike Rosenthal last week, meaning Adam Haayer will start. Haayer had his hands full with Jevon Kearse last week, and will get Adewale Ogunleye this Sunday. Nat Dorsey may see some time at tackle as well. The Vikings also lost sledgehammer tight end Jim Kleinsasser. Bear fans will easily recall the poundings he put on former Bears' defensive end Bryan Robinson in the run game. Rich Owens or newly signed Sean Berton will take over as the starter. This is good news for both the run defense and strong side linebacker Joe Odom. Marcus Reese (hamstring) had initially been thought to be well enough to play this week, but he was quickly downgraded from probable to questionable. He and Odom are expected to battle it out for the starting role. Michael Bennett and Moe Williams are nicked up, meaning the ultra-deep Viking running back corps will rely most heavily on Onterrio Smith. Williams is expected to be well enough to see limited action.
The Bears' secondary suffered two major blows last week when free safety Mike Brown (Achilles) was lost for the season and cornerback Charles Tillman (hairline fracture in leg) was lost for roughly 2 months. Strong safety Mike Green may be called to switch positions with natural strong safety Bobby Gray moved into the lineup. Another option has Green staying put with second-year player Todd Johnson moved in at free safety. At the time of this writing, the latter is most likely the case. With Tillman and Azumah out until around the middle of the season, R.W. McQuarters has been elevated to the first cornerback position. It means he'll probably get taken off punt returns because the Bears cannot afford another loss at cornerback. Todd McMillon is expected to start for Tillman, but the leash may be short with rookie Nathan Vasher breathing down his neck. Defensive tackle Tank Johnson is expected to start for Alfonso Boone at tackle, even though Johnson has a groin injury. Daunte Culpepper and wide receivers Randy Moss and former Bear Marcus Robinson will be licking their chops.
Bears' Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera was on the Eagles' coaching staff last season. No doubt he already has his hands on the tape from Monday night's dismantling of the Vikings. No doubt he can converse with his former colleagues on strategy. The Eagles put a lot of pressure on the Vikings, forcing Culpepper into early throws. With an untested player at right tackle, Ogunleye will be set for a big day. It might also make sense for the Bears to blitz off that edge of the field, preventing the Vikings from shifting help to Haayer, especially if that help is a tight end who is also from further down on the depth chart. Look for the Vikings to roll away from Ogunleye, and to trot out some of old screen plays they had terrorized the Bears with during the Robert Smith days.