The Bears were rated one of the preseason favorites in the NFC after making it to the Super Bowl last season while the Vikings tripped their way to the 6-10 finish line. This season, things are strikingly similar in a number of important areas between the two teams.
Before Chicago's win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Sunday, when the Vikings had a bye week, both teams were 1-3. A look at their statistical snapshots for 2007 so far backs their similar records.
The Vikings also held a decided advantage over the Bears in numerous statistics from last year's matchup at Soldier Field.
In that 2006 matchup, the Vikings had 21 first downs to the Bears' 6, 190 yards rushing to the Bears' 83, 156 yards passing to Bears' 24, five defensive sacks to the Bears' one, one fumble lost to the Bears' two, and a time-of-possession advantage of 39:21 to the Bear's 20:39.
The Bears did hold the advantage in a couple of key areas. They produced 70 yards on three punt returns vs. the Vikings' 10 yards on three returns and they intercepted four Brad Johnson passes compared to the Vikings intercepting three Rex Grossman passes.
But when it was over, the Bears had a 23-13 win thanks to Devin Hester's 45-yard punt return for a touchdown and Danieal Manning's 54-yard interception return for a touchdown.
While the Bears are favored and playing at home, the statistics say that the Vikings should have the advantage. But there is one more statistic that favors the Bears: recent history in the NFC North. Since 2005, the Bears have an 11-3 record vs. NFC North teams while the Vikings are 7-7.
"I don't even know if our troubles have been in the red zone. Our trouble has been once we hit the 35-yard line. I'm comfortable right now if we're on the minus-1 or the minus-10 that we're going to get on the other side of the 50. We'll move the ball, but it seems like when we get to the plus-35 – and I'm not telling you anything I didn't just tell the offense – it's nothing on the defense," Bevell said. "It hasn't been anything that the defense has done to us, it's been what we've done to ourselves, whether it's a missed assignment, a penalty, just little things that have happened that we've inflicted on ourselves. That's our main focus – to finish drives and continue to stay focused through our drives. I think our average drive is eight plays, our average drive is four minutes, which is very strong offensively. But we have to finish them."
"They are still a tough, hard-nosed team, a very physical team. There is no drop-off in that area. They are obviously very opportunistic; you saw that on Monday night," Frazier said. "They really capitalize on your mistakes and try to create mistakes. And then on offense, just a grind-it-out style and looking for big plays. … They haven't changed a lot. They want to control the clock with the ground game and try to get big plays in the passing game. They are very similar to what I saw when we watched tape getting ready for the Super Bowl."
For the Bears, WR Bernard Berrian (toe), DT Tommie Harris (knee), T John Tait (ankle), CB Nathan Vasher (groin) and DT Darwin Walker (knee) did not participate in practice, just like Wednesday. Also not participating in Thursday's practice for the Bears were LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (foot) and LB Lance Briggs (hamstring). G Ruben Brown, who was limited on Wednesday with a shoulder injury, practiced fully, as did CB Charles Tillman (ankle), who did not participate on Wednesday.
Evans, an Aug. 12 signee with the Vikings, has been active for only one game so far, registering a quarterback hurry.
"It is tough going from a two-gap system to a system where we are asking you to get up the field right now – let's go," Frazier said of Evans' slow progress toward the playing field. "So he is making that transition, and we feel like if there is a week, this is the week we want him to take that giant step. We need him this week and we are going to monitor his progress over the course of the week, but the way they want to run the football, we need him. So we think he is just about there."