Five Things to Watch Sunday

Bear Report is covering the afternoon matchup in Week 6 between the Bears and Vikings at Soldier Field in Chicago, and here are the top five things to be on the lookout for that could have a major effect on the final score.

1. Will Turner continue his firm commitment to the running game?
The Chicago Bears are, have been, and always will be a running football team, which is why it was so difficult to understand why quarterback Brian Griese threw 52 passes in Week 4 at Detroit while tailback Cedric Benson was only given 15 carries. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner reversed that trend in Week 5 at Green Bay, only asking Griese to put the ball in the air 25 times and feeding Benson repeatedly with a career-high 27 rushes. Benson didn't put up very good numbers and only managed to gain 64 yards despite all those attempts, but the offense was able to stay on the field longer and gave their defensive mates enough time to rest so they could be fresh in the fourth quarter.

Turner's resolve will be put to the test Sunday against Minnesota's top-tanked rushing defense, but Benson can silence many of his critics by putting up triple digits on the ground in the face of behemoth DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.

2. Does Walker's absence spell doom for the front four?
Pro Bowler Tommie Harris is playing on a sprained knee because he simply can't afford to miss any more time after last season's torn hamstring, but fellow defensive tackle Darwin Walker could desperately use a one-week vacation. Walker is unlikely to play Sunday against the Vikings, currently nursing a knee injury after battling through a sore quad earlier in the year. The former Eagle has played very well his first year in Chicago and stepped right into the starting lineup after Dusty Dvoracek ruptured his ACL back in Week 1, but now it will be up to Anthony Adams and Israel Idonije to hold down the fort alongside Harris.

Rookie tailback Adrian Peterson has the speed to make plays in open space but is also strong enough to be effective between the tackles, and both Adams and Idonije will have their hands full against a pair of mammoth Minnesota guards in Steve Hutchinson and Artis Hicks.

3. Could Manning be regressing at corner instead of improving at safety?


DB Danieal Manning
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The injuries to starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher have been brutal on the Chicago secondary, and those problems will likely continue until Vasher returns even though Tillman was back in the lineup last week. Second-year pro Danieal Manning started 14 games at free safety last season, but he's been asked to contribute both at safety and corner so far this year because so many players have been hurt. While Manning is arguably the best athlete on the team and has a bright future as a rangy center-fielder in this league, he looks completely lost covering receivers out wide and needs to be moved back to safety permanently as soon as possible.

The Bears keep starting Manning at corner because they want to secure nickelback Ricky Manning Jr. in that role at all costs, but seventh-round rookie Trumaine McBride would be a better option right now since he's played the position exclusively since college.

4. Can Clark and Olsen continue to be so effective in tandem?
A lot of Bears fans expected a high-flying passing attack this year based on the reports that were coming out of training camp in Bourbonnais. Rex Grossman was bombing the ball all over the field, continually hitting Bernard Berrian and Mark Bradley with deep strikes while working Devin Hester into the offense with an array of reverses, quick screens, and fly patterns. None of that happened once the regular season started and Grossman was eventually benched in favor of Griese, but Griese's precision passing on the short and intermediate routes is exactly what was needed to get the most out of the team's two-headed monster at tight end: veteran Desmond Clark and first-rounder Greg Olsen.

Minnesota safety Darren Sharper told the Chicago press Wednesday that he never worries about the tight end since he came into the league originally as a cover corner, so it will be interesting to see if there is any extra-curricular activity on the field should Clark and Olsen make a few plays.

5. Is Angelo going to let Briggs get away if he keeps playing like this?
Brian Urlacher is on his way to the Hall of Fame and could go down in history as the best Bears linebacker of all time – apologies to Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, of course – but you could make an argument that he's currently the second-best `backer on his own team these days. Lance Briggs returned from a one-week absence because of a hamstring injury and absolutely dominated last Sunday night in Green Bay, racking up a career-high 19 tackles as he flew from sideline to sideline. He leads the team in solo and total tackles even though he's played one less game than Urlacher, and his free-agent asking price seems to be growing at an exponential rate with every stop he makes.

GM Jerry Angelo claims that the organization moved on to other priorities after Briggs turned down a $33 million contract extension before the 2006 season, but he may have to reconsider letting him go because he's arguably as valuable as Urlacher right now and told the media this week that he wants to stay in Chicago despite all that's happened in the past.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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