Keys To Victory

Beating the Bears in Chicago is never easy. The Vikings haven't done it since Denny Green was still the head coach. But there are five keys to today's game that are the blueprint to beat the Bears on their home turf at Soldier Field.

In every game, there are certain objectives every team has coming in. For the Vikings and Bears, the goals are simplified since neither team has been an offensive or defensive juggernaut. The Vikings enter the games with the 20th-ranked offense (8th rushing, 27th passing) and the 18th-ranked defense (1st rushing, 30th passing). They come in with the 30th-ranked offense (27th rushing, 28th passing) and the 23rd-rated defense (12th rushing, 26th passing). In matchups like this, there isn't a lot of mystery to what teams are looking to accomplish.

VU has identified five goals that the Vikings will need to accomplish to come away from Soldier Field with a victory. If they can achieve most or all of these goals, it will be hard for the Bears to beat them.

No. 1: Rush the Ball Effectively -- The Vikings have the second-best rushing average per carry in the league, while the Bears are ninth-best at stopping the run on a per-carry basis. If the Vikings can get Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor started early, they could win the battle of ball control and take over the game.

No. 2: Stop the Bears Running Attack – On paper, this doesn't look like the toughest of chores. The Vikings have the league's best run defense (allowing just 62 yards a game), while the Bears are ranked 27th in rushing and 30th in average per carry. If the Vikings can make the Bears offense one-dimensional, unlike other teams that have picked them apart, they have a good chance of getting the turnovers they need.

No. 3: Convert on Third Downs -- Few teams have been worse on offense converting third downs into first downs than the Vikings and Bears. The Vikings rank 27th, converting just 35.1 percent of third-down chances, but the Bears have been even worse – ranked 30th with a conversion rate of just 30.9 percent. If one team can maintain an edge over the other in this overlooked stat category, they will have a huge leg up.

No. 4: Put Pressure on Brian Griese -- Griese isn't playing because he's been a dominant force. He's playing because Rex Grossman has been so awful. Even with him in the lineup, the Bears pass offense has struggled. They are 31st in pass offense, ahead of only the 49ers, are 30th in average yards per pass attempt and dead last in interception percentage. They are also near the bottom in the league in sacks allowed, having their QBs brought down 17 times. If the Vikings can get to Griese early and get him rattled, he will make the "Bad Rex" types of passes that got Grossman benched a couple of weeks ago.

No. 5: Don't Let Devin Hester Beat You -- The Vikings' coverage teams have been decent, but the Bears and return specialist Devin Hester have picked up where they left off last year. Hester is a threat to bring back any kickoff or punt to the house and teams like the Packers opted to not let him do it last week – directional punting out of bounds and squib-kicking on kickoffs to prevent him from breaking a long run, often letting the Bears start from the 35-yard line. In a close game, one field-position changer like Hester can be the difference between winning and losing.

If the Vikings can control four of these five keys to the game, it will be extremely difficult for the Bears to defend their home field. For a team in dire need of a win, the Vikings may have to win all five of these position battles, but all of them are achievable and not outside the realm of possibility.

* The Vikings are tied for 10th in the league in giveaway/takeaway ratio, while the Bears are 27th – ahead of only the Rams, Browns, Broncos, Dolphins and Saints. That may explain why three of those five teams are still looking for their first win of the season.
* Only the 49ers and Bills have had less productive offenses than the Bears this season.
* The Bears defense has struggled, but still has some bright spots that harken to the old swagger of the Bears of the last couple of years. The team is tied for third in sacks per pass play, is fourth in defensive third-down efficiency and fourth in defensive field goal percentage.
* The Vikings are one of just four teams that has scored on every red zone possession, but the team has been in the red zone just six times in four games. That is the lowest total in the league and an anemic stat. Only three other teams have less than 10 red zone possessions and the Patriots have three times more (24) red zone chances than the Vikings.
* The Bears have the No. 1 red zone defense in terms of coming away without allowing points. In 21 opponent trips into the red zone, in an amazing eight of those chances they have come away with neither a touchdown nor a field goal.
* Part of the problem for both the Vikings and Bears offenses has been not getting much on first down. The Vikings have averaged 4.13 yards on first down, while the Bears have averaged 4.08 yards. That may not sound bad, but it represents the 29th- and 30th-ranked first-down offenses, respectively.
* Defensively, the Vikings rank seventh for yards allowed on first down (4.64), while the Bears ranked 28th with 5.99 yards.
* The Vikings have to worry about Hester, but maybe the Bears should worry about the Vikings. No team has forced opponents to start from a worse drive-opening position than the Vikings. Teams average start spot after kickoffs is the 21.3 yard line, almost six yards better than the league average.
* Although he has struggled in his first full year as a starter, Tarvaris Jackson has been solid in the fourth quarter of games. He has completed nine of 14 fourth-quarter passes for 125 yards with one TD and one interceptions. His fourth-quarter passer rating is 86.9 – almost double his passer rating for the entire game.
* Adrian Peterson is third in the NFC in rushing with 383 yards and Cedric Benson is eighth with 303 yards. But there is one critical difference. Peterson has averaged 5.0 yards a carry – the most for any NFC rusher with 60 or more carries. Benson is averaging 3.0 a carry – the worst among NFC backs with more than 50 carries.
* Bobby Wade leads the Vikings with 173 receiving yards. That ranks tied for 72nd in the NFL – meaning that the other 31 NFL teams average two receivers with more yards and almost half of them have three with more yardage than the Vikes' team leader.
* Ryan Longwell is 25th in the league in scoring among kickers with 25 points. However, only eight teams have had their byes weeks heading into this week, where six more teams are on bye.
* Despite having a bye week, Peterson still leads the NFC in yards from scrimmage, with 383 yards rushing and 85 yards receiving. The total is seventh in the NFL – the top six yardages are from the AFC.
* Peterson has converted 23 first downs as a runner and receiver. Only Edgerrin James of the Cardinals (29 first downs in five games) has more.
* Chris Kluwe is averaging 44.5 yards a punt, which by previous standards would be excellent. But the league has evolved quickly and that currently ranks just 15th among punters. Ten punters are averaging more than 45 yards a punt this season and two have averaged more than 50 yards per punt.
* Kluwe and the Seahawks' Ryan Plackemeier are tied for the league lead with 12 kicks pinned inside the 20.
* Hester leads the NFL with a 17.4-yard punt-return average, including a 73-yard touchdown return earlier this year. He brought a TD back against the Vikings in his record-setting rookie year. Although Hester has a 97-yard kickoff return for a TD this season, he ranks 22nd in the league with a 24.2 yard average.
* All of the top players with sacks and 13 of the top 16 sackmeisters are from the NFC. Among them are two Bears – Tommie Harris and Mark Anderson with four each.
* Chad Greenway is tied for the league lead with four fumble recoveries.

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