Vikings-Bears Game Plan

The Vikings look to avoid their woeful ways on the road with a healthier Daunte Culpepper and defense. The Bears will look to exploit the NFL's worst run defense, according to the rankings. Get the news, matchups to watch and key injuries from both camps.

VIKINGS

The Vikings will attempt to get their first victory of the season away from the Metrodome after having been outscored 67-18 in losses at Cincinnati and Atlanta.

This should be a slightly easier assignment, considering the Bengals and Falcons are a combined 7-3, while the Bears are tied with Minnesota for second place in the NFC North at 1-3.

The Vikings are hoping a week off will help get quarterback Daunte Culpepper back on track. Culpepper, who has been battling a sprained medial collateral ligament and bursitis in his right knee, has struggled in three of his four games this season.

This won't be an easy defense for Culpepper to right himself against. The Bears are ranked third in the NFL in defense, including seventh against the pass and fourth against the run. The Vikings have struggled to establish the rush this season and are averaging only 79.8 yards per game on the ground. The team has failed to rush for 100 yards in all three losses.

One of the main problems has been an offensive line that has yet to jell. The hope is that starting Adam Goldberg in place of Marcus Johnson at right guard will be an upgrade.

The Vikings' defense, meanwhile, has yet to play even a halfway decent game on the road. That is a big reason it is ranked 30th in the NFL. Against the run, the Vikings are last in the league, giving up 178 yards per game.

In their last game before the bye, the Vikings surrendered 285 yards on the ground to Atlanta. Running back Warrick Dunn had 126 of them and averaged 7.0 yards per carry. The Vikings might have gotten a bit of a break because Bears starting back Thomas Jones (right knee) is unlikely to play Sunday.

The return of free safety Darren Sharper after a two-game injury absence should help stabilize things, but the line remains thin with starting left end Kenechi Udeze (knee) out for the season and backup Spencer Johnson (knee) unlikely to play.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper likely will see plenty of MLB Brian Urlacher throughout the afternoon. Urlacher, who has four sacks in four games this season, should find himself responsible for containing Culpepper. Culpepper's bad right knee likely will help Urlacher with this assignment.

The Vikings' coaching staff spent the bye week claiming the offensive line wasn't playing as poorly as many thought and that things were coming together. They'll have a chance to prove it against a solid Bears defense. Adam Goldberg gets the start at right guard. Right tackle Mike Rosenthal will have his hands full with Bears left defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.

INJURY IMPACT

QB Daunte Culpepper continues to be bothered by a sprained medial collateral ligament and bursitis in his right knee. The Vikings gave Culpepper most of Monday's practice to rest and are hoping that combined with the bye week, he will rebound after a poor start. WR Nate Burleson will miss a third consecutive game, meaning Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson and Troy Williamson should continue to see the ball. Koren Robinson has yet to catch a pass but should be fully adjusted to the offense by now.

The defense also has injury concerns with left end Kenechi Udeze (knee) lost for the season and Spencer Johnson (knee) out for Sunday. That should mean more time for pass-rush end Lance Johnstone and rookie Erasmus James. Nickel back Brian Williams (knee) also won't play, putting Ralph Brown back in the nickel role. Free safety Darren Sharper is expected to return.


BEARS

The Bears have been committed - some might say overcommitted - to running the ball all season, but they've been very successful, ranking ninth in the league in yards and average per rush.

Whether starter Thomas Jones is healthy enough to start or they have to go with first-round pick Cedric Benson, they will run the ball frequently against a Vikings defense that is dead last in the NFL in rushing yards and average gain per rush allowed.

But the Bears are also desperate to establish some big-play identity in the passing game. They didn't take any shot downfield last week and netted 3 yards per dropback. They insist they will try to throw the ball down the field more often from now on.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Bears rookie RB Cedric Benson, a disappointment so far, or injured starter Thomas Jones (knee, questionable) against a Vikings run defense that is statistically the worst in the league.

  • Vikings leading receiver Travis Taylor (18 catches, 215 yards, two TDs) against Bears CB Charles Tillman, who has allowed four TD passes in the past three games.

    INJURY IMPACT

    Left tackle John Tait (ankle), left guard Ruben Brown (chest), running back Thomas Jones (knee) and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye (ankle) all missed practice Wednesday. Ogunleye is probable, while the other three are questionable.

    Journeyman John St. Clair lined up in Tait's spot, Garza was at left guard, Michael Haynes and Israel Idonije got snaps at left end and Cedric Benson ran with the first team offense.

    "We're hoping all of them will be able to go this week," coach Lovie Smith said. "We'll know a little bit more (today) about where they are."

    Although Jones was able to jog Wednesday without a limp, he seems like a long shot at best for Sunday.


    SERIES HISTORY - 89th meeting. Minnesota the leads series, 47-39-2, including playoffs, but hasn't won in Chicago since 2000. The Vikings, who have played the Bears more than any other opponent, are 20-21-2 against Chicago on the road.


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