MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS OFFENSE VS. VIKINGS DEFENSE
QB Kyle Orton vs. Minnesota middle linebacker: It's not often that a quarterback and middle linebacker are singled out as matching up, but this could be a battle of Orton's eyes versus the mind of whichever player the Vikings have at middle linebacker. Minnesota already lost E.J. Henderson, who had been playing at a Pro-Bowl level for the last two years, for the season. His replacement, first-year player David Herron, was knocked out of last Sunday's game against Detroit with head and hip injuries and didn't practice Wednesday, so the team signed two former Vikings – Dontarrious Thomas and Napoleon Harris – this week to help out with the razor-thin linebacker corps.
Orton would do well to use plenty of play-action fakes to draw the middle linebacker up and find one of the Bears' productive tight ends in the middle of the field.
Gs Josh Beekman and Roberto Garza vs. DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams: The Lions found out the hard way what happens when you concentrate your blocking efforts on defensive end Jared Allen, as Kevin Williams totaled four sacks in an ugly 12-10 victory over Detroit. Beekman and Garza are adequate at best flanking former Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, and this will be their biggest task to date. Beekman in particular will have to pick between two potent poisons: Does he help John St. Clair off the edge and let the Williams boys dominate one-on-one matchups, or does he maintain the middle and hope his backs and tight ends can assist with Allen on passing downs?
And it's no secret that Kreutz and Pat Williams have no love loss between them, so keep an on the trenches for some extra-curricular activity in this game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: VIKINGS OFFENSE VS. BEARS DEFENSE
Former Chicago receivers vs. current Chicago secondary: The Bears' pass defense is their weakness, and just like the Vikings' linebacker corps, Chicago's secondary is hobbling to the midpoint of the season. With players like S Danieal Manning and CBs Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher, Trumaine McBride and Marcus Hamilton all limited or not practicing at one point this week, it's an obvious area for the Vikings to target. Further helping Gus Frerotte's cause is that the Bears will have to focus on Adrian Peterson, who put up his first 200-yard game as a pro in a similar situation last year – an October game at Soldier Field.
WR Bobby Wade
Harry How/Getty Images
If the Vikings can establish the run and former Bears WR Bobby Wade underneath early to get the secondary closer to the line of scrimmage, former Bears speedster Bernard Berrian could have his third straight 100-yard game receiving.
DEs Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown vs. OTs Bryant McKinnie and Ryan Cook: In two of their three losses this year, this supposedly superior Chicago defensive line has failed get a sack on the enemy quarterback. While it's easy to blame a banged-up secondary for Matt Ryan slinging it all over the Georgia Dome in Week 6, Ogunleye and Brown bear some of the responsibility for not putting any serious pressure on the rookie. This version of the Cover 2 simply does not work properly unless the front four is consistently getting after the passer without a lot of help from blitzers, so it's quite beatable if both Ogunleye and Brown are neutralized.
Frerotte isn't the most nimble of 37-year-olds in the pocket, but he's quickly proven that he can have success with the deep ball if given time to look downfield.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN THIS GAME IF ...
... they can create havoc with Orton. So far, Orton has a very solid 8-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While the Vikings defense is usually solid against the run, they have thrived off the big play in the passing game, which means big turnover-resulting sacks on blitzes or an interception. The Vikings just seem to prosper on big plays, getting a blocked field goal for a touchdown that helped them beat New Orleans and a sack and ensuing fumble return for a touchdown that helped them beat Carolina. Both of those touchdowns came from Antoine Winfield, who has been one of the team's most solid defenders this season.
RB Matt Forte
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
THE VIKINGS WILL LOSE THIS GAME IF ...
... they continue their struggle to score points on offense. While the Vikings have gotten better in the passing game since inserting Frerotte as the starting quarterback, the points were sorely lacking last week against the Lions. The Vikings are dead last in the league in converting red-zone trips into touchdowns. If they can't put the ball in the end zone from up close, then they will need a couple of explosive touchdowns from Peterson or the passing game. Although turnovers and penalties have hurt the Vikings inside the 20-yard line, they have also missed their share of blocks that resulted in losses as well.
THE BEARS WILL WIN THIS GAME IF ...
... Matt Forte outrushes Peterson, which is a tall order but can be done if Chicago is able to get out to an early lead. Don't expect another 200-plus yard performance from Peterson like last year's stomach punch at Soldier Field, as the Bears have more respect for the second-year pro than perhaps any other player in the NFC North. Neither defense gives up very much on the ground, with the Vikings currently fourth in the league (73.7 yards allowed per game) and the Bears fifth (74.3), but Forte is overdue for a big day and can also be a factor catches passing out of the backfield.
THE BEARS WILL LOSE THIS GAME IF ...
... the Minnesota coaching staff puts the running game on the back burner and exploits the Chicago secondary through the air. It's hard to believe that Frerotte, the quintessential journeyman QB, could be a bigger factor in this game than Peterson, perhaps the most talented back in the league, but smart teams alter their game plan when necessary. The Bears will likely be without their top cover corner in Tillman and their nickelback in Manning, plus Berrian certainly made his former teammates – including the will-he-or-won't-he-come-back Vasher – look bad in practice from time to time.
Tim Yotter: So far, the Vikings are 0-2 outdoors and on grass this season. It may do them well to get away from the "Fire Childress" chants that broke out in the second half of an uninspiring 12-10 win against Detroit on Sunday, but if the Bears can create some momentum early with a big defensive or special teams play, the Vikings could be forced into offensive mistakes that only compound the issue ... BEARS 16, VIKINGS 13.
John Crist: Not only is it difficult for fans to root for the Bears because of all the highs and lows, but that also makes it tougher for people in the media to get a read on this team. Every time I think Lovie Smith and Co. are overmatched they emerge victorious, just like every time I think they've hit their stride they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. My gut tells me the Vikings are a more complete team right now, so I'll pull a Georga Costanza and do the opposite ... BEARS 20, VIKINGS 16.
To go back and read Part I, where John answers five questions from Tim, Click Here. For Part II, where Tim answers five questions from John, Click Here.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report. Tim Yotter is the Publisher of Viking Update.