Chad Hutchinson will get the start at quarterback for the Bears. He follows rookie Craig Krenzel, who injured his ankle last week and was ineffective. If he struggles, newly acquired veteran quarterback Jeff George might get inserted against his former team. Hutchinson will hope to stay healthy behind a remade offensive line. Left guard Ruben Brown is out for the rest of the season after suffering a neck injury. Right tackle John Tait suffered a knee injury last week and may not be ready to play. Aaron Gibson is expected to play right tackle unless Tait's condition improves considerably. Terrence Metcalf is expected to start at left guard. Metcalf appeared to have an inside track at starting during the preseason until an injury derailed his cause. Steve Edwards will start at right guard, since Rex Tucker has struggled to return to form since returning from several injury-shortened seasons. Marc Colombo's successful return from a slow-recovering knee injury has him challenging for the left tackle spot with Qasim Mitchell.
The Vikings have been doing a better job of putting pressure on the quarterback, and the Bears' makeshift line will definitely have its hands full trying to block Kevin Williams (7 sacks) and Lance Johnstone (8 sacks). Minnesota has been very healthy on defense and is poised to pounce on a struggling Bears offense.
Expect the Vikings to challenge the Bears' line with blitzes and stunts, to see how well Hutchinson can respond to the pressure. Look for the Bears to keep it simple for Hutchinson, with a focus on running ball, draw plays, and play action. Hutchinson possesses a very strong arm, and if he can connect on some deep plays in the early going, it could loosen things up for the Bears' running attack.
Cornerback Charles Tillman returns to his starting position opposite Jerry Azumah. R.W. McQuarters (2 interceptions last week) and rookie Nathan Vasher (4 interceptions) have played well when called upon at that spot. McQuarters will remain on the field by moving to free safety, supplanting Todd Johnson. Johnson has failed to impress since stepping in for Mike Brown (Achilles), who was lost very early in the year. Rookie defensive tackle Tommie Harris left last week's game early and had an MRI earlier this week. He checked out fine, and is expected to return to practice and action this week. If he cannot play, the rotation of Alfonso Boone, Tank Johnson, and Ian Scott will see the majority of snaps. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher returned to practice on Wednesday, surprisingly early after his calf injury. The Bears are 4-3 in games he has started, and winless in the 4 games he has missed. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye was downgraded from probable to doubtful. If he cannot play, Michael Haynes will step in for him.
The Vikings are hopeful wide receiver Randy Moss is closer to full strength. Moss has 9 touchdown receptions in only 30 catches. Center Matt Birk (abdomen) will be replaced by Cory Withrow. Nate Burleson and Marcus Robinson played extremely well while Moss was out. Michael Bennett has not been fully healthy all season. In his absence, Mewelde Moore and Onterrio Smith have played exceptionally well as all-purpose backs. Smith racked up 198 yards from scrimmage in his first meeting against the Bears.
Expect the Vikings to continue their balanced attack. They will test the Bears' pass and run defense, feeling their way until they find the best matchup to exploit. Look for the Bears to find ways to pressure Daunte Culpepper, who has thrown 28 touchdown passes but has also been sacked 31 times. With McQuarters at free safety, the Bears will have their best coverage unit on the field at all times, which should give them more freedom to let strong safety Mike Green play closer to the line against the run or to blitz. Overall, it allows the Bears to gamble that much more.