The Chicago Bears came into the 2015 season with playoff aspirations, but at 5-8 the hopes have been dashed and the Minnesota Vikings can deliver the death punch needed to eliminate them Sunday.
But that won’t come as easy it may appear. The Bears offense has had plenty of success against the Vikings and they won’t be the pushover so many seem to think they will be.
In his last 10 starts against the Vikings, quarterback Jay Cutler has posted a record of 7-3 with three or more touchdown passes in five of them. Defensive end Brian Robison has been around for all of them and has a healthy respect for Cutler’s skill set, which requires defenders to not only pressure him, but finish the job because he can make defenses look bad if they don’t.
“He makes some big-time throws,” Robison said. “He’s very mobile in the pocket. If you let him get out, he can run for first downs. He’s an offensive weapon for them.”
Just as important to Robison and the defensive front seven is to account for Matt Forte.
Forte was injured during the first Vikings game, so he has revenge on mind. He has been forced to share the workload after missing three games.
As a runner/receiver combo platter of the highest order, keeping him in check is a primary distraction to the Vikings’ defenders winning one-on-one battles because they know how the Bears use him in their offense
“We just have to be cued into our keys,” Robison said. “At the end of the day, that’s what playing good football is all about. The guy you’ve got to key in on, you make sure you know what he’s doing at all times. With Forte – really both those backs (including Jeremy Langford) – they’re really good in the screen game doing things like that. They run a lot of wide receiver screens. Obviously, it’s something we have to have in the back of our head, but we’ve just got play our keys. If all 11 guys do that, we’ve showed that we can be pretty good.”
Given Mike Zimmer’s clear knowledge of history – T-shirts have been made to hammer home that point – he knows that Alshon Jeffery has a certain sense of Vikings ownership.
In his last four games against the Vikings, it’s hard to fathom that he has caught 10 or more passes in three of them.
Despite that, Xavier Rhodes, who shadowed Jeffery in their first meeting – a game in which Jeffery caught 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown – is looking at Jeffery as just another challenge. Clearly, a daunting challenge, but nothing he doesn’t see every week.
“As we’ve known for many years, he’s a physical guy,” Rhodes said. “You’ve just got to play tough on him. There’s no easy matchup in the NFL. With these receivers, each and every week you’re going to have different types of receivers. You have small guys sometimes that try to get physical with you. You never know what you’re going to get.”
The history that the key Bears offensive players have against the Vikings defense, which has been its calling card to the playoffs, is relatively impressive in terms of production and wins.
As such, Robison is downplaying the familiarity the two teams have with each other – perhaps because with familiarity has come with a level of contempt for how many times the Bears have come away with victories.
“I just see it as another game,” Robison said. “I don’t think there’s an advantage either way. I don’t think there’s a disadvantage either way. It’s another ball game. They’re going to make adjustments to what they did to us the first time. We’re going to make adjustments to what they did to us the first time. Really and truly, it just becomes another game.”
Rhodes is less familiar with the Vikings-Bears rivalry, but he is happy to be playing games that matter in December. While he and Robison share the same goal, Rhodes looks at Sunday more as a statement for himself and his team.
He hasn’t been a part of playoff chase with the 5-10-1 Vikings of his rookie season or the 7-9 Vikings of last year. His experience is new and he wants that feeling to continue.
“It just lets us know that we’re doing good,” Rhodes said. “We’re in a good spot to have a good chance to go to where we want and that’s the playoffs.”