Bears Preview

The Vikings are coming out of their bye week looking to put the problems of the season's first month in the past. But the Chicago Bears have owned the Vikings the last several years when the Vikings are on the road and promise to make Sunday's matchup a tight game that won't be decided until the final minutes.

It's only the fifth game of the 2005 season, but, much like the New Orleans game in Week 3 had all the makings of a "must-win" game for the Vikings, so too is tomorrow's matchup with the Chicago Bears. To the winner goes a potential tie for the division lead – both the Vikings and Bears trail the Lions by one game – and a critical division win. To the loser goes a 1-4 record and a loss within the division.

The Bears are already 1-0 in the NFC North after a 38-6 hammering of the Lions in Week 2, while this is the first division game for the Vikings. It seems that once again the Vikings head into Chicago with the better personnel, but are an underdog in Las Vegas for one simple reason – the Bears have won the last four meetings between the teams on their home field.

The Bears have struggled badly on offense this season, especially in the passing game. When starting QB Rex Grossman went down in the preseason, it opened the door for rookie Kyle Orton to take over. His numbers through four games have been pretty brutal. He has thrown for just 557 yards – an average of less than 140 yards a game – and has a quarterback rating of just 51.7. He's thrown just two touchdowns as opposed to six interceptions and, in games where the running game has been stymied, Orton hasn't shown the ability to win games on his own. Look for the Vikings to come with several blitz packages designed to confuse the young quarterback and force him to throw ill-advised passes.

The strength of the Bears offense has been its running game. Thomas Jones is among the league leaders in rushing with 413 yards through four games, including three 100-yard games in a row. But he suffered stretched knee ligaments last week and is a question mark heading into Sunday's game. If he can't go, first-round rookie Cedric Benson will likely get the start and share time with backup Adrian Peterson. Benson was taken by the Bears with the fourth pick in the 2005 draft and is expected to be runner in the same vein as Ricky Williams – another standout from the University of Texas. He's a power runner who does most of his work between the tackles, which will make the matchup with defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams one to watch. Making matters worse from the Vikings perspective is that Minnesota is among the worst in the league – allowing 178 rushing yards a game and giving teams an average of 5.4 yards per rush. Until the Vikings can prove that they can shut down the run, expect to see the Bears run early and often to eat up time on the clock.

One of the big question marks for Chicago coming into this game is the offensive line. Two of its starters on the left side – guard Ruben Brown and tackle John Tait – haven't practiced this week and neither might be available for the game. If that's the case, former starter Roberto Garza will step in at guard and tackle John St. Clair, who was cut and re-signed after the season began, will step in at tackle. Olin Kreutz anchors the line at center and is a Pro Bowl-caliber player despite being undersized. He's joined on the right side by fourth-year man Terrence Metcalf, who is in his first full year as a starter, and tackle Fred Miller, a 10-year veteran who nearing the end of his career. At full strength, this is a solid unit, but with the holes created by injury and shuffling of personnel, this is a battle the Vikings can win at the line of scrimmage and force the Bears into a passing mode.

Finding effective receivers has been a long-term problem for the Bears. They hoped to address that in free agency when they signed Muhsin Muhammad to a megabuck contract. He has more than twice as many receptions (22) and yards (250) than any other receiver on the team and more catches than all the other wide receivers combined. Rookie Mark Bradley has won the other starting spot, but the Bears rotate their young receiver corps in and out – bringing in third-year man Justin Gage and second-year men Bernard Berrian and Carl Ford as replacements. Tight end Desmond Clark has been battling injuries and hasn't been a factor in the passing offense. This is a battle the Vikings should be able to win and put even more pressure on Orton to perform at the top of his game.

While the Bears offense has been anemic most of the year, their defense has carried them through most of the season, allowing only the Bengals to score more than 20 points against them and, until a collapse late in the game last week vs. the Browns, had held their other three opponents to 10 points or less. Their defense starts up front where the team has a young front four that potentially could be together for years. Adewale Ogunleye is the old man of the group and he's just in his fifth season at DE. He's flanked by fourth-year end Alex Brown, third-year tackle Ian Scott and second-year tackle Tommie Harris. They're going to be coming after Daunte Culpepper, who has been sacked 20 times in the first four games of the season. The Vikings might try to take advantage of their aggression with misdirection plays and screen passes, but the troubled Vikings O-line is going to have its hands full again.

When you talk Bears defense, you invariably start with MLB Brian Urlacher. He leads the team in sacks with four and is a tackling machine who makes plays from sideline to sideline. He will be asked to spy on Culpepper to keep him from taking off out of the pocket. He's flanked by Hunter Hillenmeyer and Lance Briggs, a pair of third-year linebackers that came into their own last season as first-time starters. Look for both of them to come after Culpepper on blitz packages and try to force the Vikings to throw early.

The secondary remains a position with some question marks but some playmakers that can make up for mistakes in a big way. Second-year cornerback Jason Vasher has moved into the starting lineup replacing Jerry Azumah thanks to three interceptions, and he's joined by third-year man Charles Tillman on the other side. At safety, Mike Brown has always been a Vikings killer and already has an interception return for a touchdown this season. He's the biggest playmaker in the secondary in can change a game with one big play. Rookie Chris Harris has moved into the starting lineup at free safety and it's much more likely the Vikings will go after him rather than take chances trying to beat Brown over the top.

The special teams matchup was supposed to feature a battle of kickers playing against their old team for the first time. Paul Edinger makes his first trip back to Chicago since being released, but the signing of Doug Brien – much like his signing by the Vikings – was short-lived and he's already been shown the door. In games that historically have been low scoring, the battle of the field goal kickers could be prominent in this game.

The Vikings have a lot of pressure on them to win this weekend – both on and the off the field distractions have hurt them this season. But, Mike Tice has never lost a game coming out of a bye week – so there will be significant numbers going against one another in this game. If the Vikings can continue their trend of coming out sharp following a bye week, they will be right back in the thick of the division race. If they lose, they could be digging themselves a hole too deep to get out of if the curse of Soldier Field continues.

Viking Update Top Stories