Bears at Vikings: What to Watch for on Sunday

The 2-0 Bears travel to the 2-0 Vikings for a third consecutive battle between division rivals. Despite how well head coach Lovie Smith's team has played through two games, a loss in Minnesota will have them looking up in the NFC North standings. Here are 10 things to watch for on Sunday from the Metrodome.

1. Will the Bears offensive line finally open some holes in the run game?
It's hard to complain about the Bears offense considering how well the passing game has performed through two weeks, but they are still yet to move the ball effectively on the ground. Many experts believe that rushing attempts is sometimes more important than actual rushing yards, and the two-headed monster of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson has combined for over 30 carries in both games. That being said, once the weather starts to get colder as the season progresses, the running attack will have to start producing better numbers.

2. How much will the Vikings defensive line miss Erasmus James?
James, who will miss the rest of the season in IR, is arguably the player the Vikings would miss the least if they had to lose a body along the defensive front. The Williams Brothers, tackles Kevin and Pat, occupy some serious space in the middle, with Kevin in particular on the verge of stardom. James's replacement, fourth-round rookie Ray Edwards, will have to step and play well because his fellow end, Kenechi Udeze, is oozing with talent but yet to live up to his potential.

3. Can Rex Grossman possibly play as well as he did last week?
Fortunately for Bears fans, Grossman doesn't necessarily need to be the top-rated quarterback in the NFL for this team to win. It's great to see him throw four touchdown passes and carve apart a suspect Detroit secondary, but he will face a much stiffer challenge on Sunday. The Vikings have reputable tough guys like Antoine Winfield at cornerback and Darren Sharper at safety, plus, Grossman will have to deal with some inner demons considering he shredded his knee the last time he played on the Metrodome turf in 2004.

4. Is Mark Anderson already good enough to be a force at end?
Few players on the Bears have made as big a splash in such a short period of time, but the rookie out of Alabama has impressed from the moment he recovered from a training camp hamstring injury. Starters Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye aren't going anywhere any time soon, but with Israel Idonije still nursing a sprained ankle, Anderson has racked up 1.5 sacks in part-time duty. If he can be disruptive against the Vikings and their mountainous offensive line, GM Jerry Angelo may have found himself another second-day steal in the draft.

5. Is this the game that Jones finally cranks it up a notch?
Jones is only averaging 3.0 yards per carry through two games as opposed to the impressive 4.3 he put up throughout 2005. With Grossman throwing the ball all over the field, one would assume that the running attack would be even better since opponents finally having to respect the passing game. Fortunately for Jones, hungry backup Benson is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry himself, but the time has come for one of them to assert himself as a 100-yard threat every week.

6. Can the Bears force some turnovers facing a QB like Brad Johnson?
Johnson, a two-time All-Pro and former Super Bowl champion, is one of the more underappreciated quarterbacks of his generation. Fresh off his 38th birthday, he keeps himself in fantastic shape and knows what he can and can't do on the football field. He is not the kind of QB who beats himself with poor decisions and careless interceptions, so the Bears will have to work extra hard to come up with the three turnovers that head coach Lovie Smith talks about getting every game.

7. How long will it take Devin Hester to get loose on a return again?
Hester put the final nail in Green Bay's coffin with a gorgeous 84-yard punt return for a touchdown in Week 1, but aside from that highlight-reel effort, he has only 32 yards on his other eight attempts. Some fans are willing to accept a handful of negative returns in exchange for one game-breaker per week, but remember that a defense-first team like the Bears relies heavily on field position. Naturally, all Hester has to do is find the end zone one more time to put all that "just get what you can get and get out of bounds" talk to rest.

8. Will Hunter Hillenmeyer be able to hold off Brendon Ayanbadejo?
Hillenmeyer probably could have played last week against the Lions, but the training staff wisely held him out as he dealt with the concussion he suffered in Week 1. Special teams ace Ayanbadejo stepped right in at strongside linebacker, and the defense didn't miss a beat in shutting down Mike Martz's offense. Hillenmeyer is back in the starting lineup for Sunday, but Ayanbadejo has the kind of speed that is coveted in Ron Rivera's cover-two scheme.

9. Will the check-down receivers continue to be reliable targets?
One of the reasons Grossman is having so much success throwing the ball is because his secondary receivers have done a nice job of getting open and catching the ball. Desmond Clark has been rejuvenated and is the most productive tight end in football through two games, and fullback Jason McKie has been an excellent safety valve with six catches already. Down-and-distance is so crucial in order to keep the majority of the playbook available, so even though those six-yard dumpoffs don't look like much, 3rd-and-4 is exponentially more manageable than 3rd-and-10.

10. How much will the crowd noise at the Metrodome be a factor?
Minnesota fans know that an upset victory over the Bears will solidify their team atop the division in the early going, so they have plenty of motivation to be deafening on Sunday. Grossman isn't the kind of quarterback that calls a lot of audibles at the line of scrimmage, but when he does, he and his receivers will have to be comfortable with hand signals. Tackles Fred Miller and John Tait will also have to pay extra attention to the snap count because they won't be able to hear their QB's calls very well.


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