Five Things to Watch Monday

Bear Report is covering the Monday evening matchup in Week 15 between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, 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 the Chicago defense still be in awe of the enemy Peterson?
Everyone knows that sensational rookie Adrian Peterson ripped the Bears to shreds in October with 224 yards rushing, the most ever for an opponent in the 88-year history of the franchise. And if you listened to what the Midway Monster defenders were saying in the Soldier Field locker room after the game, it was apparent that they had no idea just how much talent the former Oklahoma Sooner had at his disposal. Alex Brown in particular urged the media to acknowledge how special Peterson was that day and not focus on how poorly he and his defensive mates played, saying that he had never witnessed a better display of power and speed.

The Vikings don't disguise the fact that they are going to run the football early and often on offense with both Peterson and veteran Chester Taylor, and it will be interesting to see if Brown and Co. can put their dubious Week 6 performance in the rearview mirror.

2. Can Orton be effective after being on the shelf for almost two years?
Third-year signal-caller Kyle Orton hasn't started a game in the NFL since a Week 17 matchup with these same Vikings at the Metrodome to close out the 2005 regular season, and it's been even longer since he saw any meaningful time since that game meant nothing in terms of playoff positioning. Head coach Lovie Smith won't admit it just yet, but the evaluation process for 2008 is already underway or he would have put Brian Griese back into the starting lineup at quarterback. Orton doesn't necessarily give the Bears a better chance to win than Griese does, especially since he hasn't fired a live bullet all year long.

Not only can Orton put himself in position to compete for the starting position in Chicago next season, but he could also be a potential bargaining chip before April's draft should he be able to put a few good games on tape.

3. Why haven't the Bears put Vasher on injured reserve yet?


CB Nathan Vasher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Nathan Vasher continues to practice on a limited basis at Halas Hall despite being out of action since Week 4 with a nasty groin injury, but he's not expected to play again Monday even though he's listed as questionable on the injury report. The secondary desperately needs him back in the lineup because he and Charles Tillman form one of the better cornerback combinations in all of football, and neither Ricky Manning Jr., Danieal Manning, nor rookie Trumaine McBride has been the answer in Vasher's absence. That being said, with only a few games remaining in what is already a lost season, it would make much more sense to move the Pro Bowler to injured reserve in order to get McBride and fellow rookie Corey Graham as many snaps as possible on defense.

Manning Jr. has all the makings of a salary cap casualty in the offseason and is most likely on his way out of Chicago, meaning this team will need a new nickelback very soon.

4. When will we see Olsen using his speed down the middle of the field?
The Bears have been dying for a premium player at the tight end position seemingly since Mike Ditka was still suiting up, but they think they've found their man in first-rounder Greg Olsen. And while the former Miami Hurricane naturally gives that big target quarterbacks love on short and intermediate throws, he's able to run patterns like a wide receiver because he has incredible speed for a player his size. However, offensive coordinator Ron Turner hasn't done a very good job getting Olsen involved on deeper patterns down the field, perhaps because an aging offensive line has struggled to provide consistent pass blocking all season long.

Desmond Clark continues to play well as the starter at tight end and is averaging 12.8 yards on his 41 receptions, but it's ludicrous to think that an athlete as good as Olsen is only getting 10.2 yards a crack on his 34 catches.

5. How much will this team relish the opportunity to play spoiler?
The Bears have nothing to play for the rest of the season despite the fact that they're still mathematically alive for the playoffs, but they can take a few teams down with their sinking ship starting Monday night against the 7-6 Vikings. The 7-7 Saints (Week 16) are also fighting for a wild-card berth, while the 10-2 Packers (Week 17) could have home-field advantage on the line in the regular season finale. There may be some contrarians out there who feel that a few more losses won't hurt that much and will inevitably land GM Jerry Angelo a better pick come April's draft, but remember this team hasn't done particularly well high in Round 1 the last decade or so.

Whether they fight their way to the finish line or just lie down like dogs, the next three games will say a lot about both Smith and his football team.

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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