Matchup to watch when the Vikings are on offense:
OT Ryan Cook vs. DE Adewale Ogunleye
It seems like every week we are talking about a matchup with a defensive end and one of the Vikings' offensive tackles, and that should be the case again Monday night. With Tommie Harris hurting, the Vikings interior offensive line should be able to limit him somewhat. But, while right tackle Ryan Cook seems to be getting more comfortable on the outside as the weeks progress, Adewale Ogunleye's nine sacks can't be ignored.
Tarvaris Jackson's solid last month of work is partly because teams have focused on the running game, partly because he is just playing better and partly because he is getting a feel for the pocket. But if Ogunleye can collapse the pocket and put pressure on Jackson, it will be interesting to see how the young quarterback responds to pressure under the lights of a Monday night game.
Matchup to watch when the Vikings are on defense:
CB Cedric Griffin vs. WR Bernard Berrian
There isn't a whole lot of offensive firepower still active for the Bears, but there is one player that could still change a game with one play and that's Bernard Berrian. Given that the Vikings' defensive weakness is probably in their young cornerbacks, fans should fully expect to see the Bears trying to get Berrian matched up against second-year cornerback Cedric Griffin.
Griffin has performed admirably in the last month with Antoine Winfield not playing much until last week because of a hamstring injury, but Berrian is playing for a new contract and a 1,000-yard receiving season (he has 883 right now). The one true threat for the Bears should test the perceived weakness of the Vikings.
S Darren Sharper and TE Desmond Clark
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner also needs to start using rookie tight end Greg Olsen down the field more often in the passing game, as opposed to wasting his outrageous speed with horizontal patterns out in the flats.
Matchup to watch when the Bears are on defense:
LB Brian Urlacher vs. FB Tony Richardson
Urlacher may have a Defensive Player of the Year trophy on his mantle from 2005, but an arthritic condition in his back has made him look awfully human this season. And with all kinds of problems at the defensive tackle position in front of him due to a rash of injuries, he's had his biggest weakness exploited all year long – shedding beefy blockers. The Vikings run the ball better than any team in the NFL at a ridiculous 172.2 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry, and this once-vaunted Chicago defense has fallen all the way to 24th against the run.
Richardson leads the way for the awesome one-two punch of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, although Urlacher and Co. did a brilliant job shutting down Clinton Portis in Week 14 – just 36 yards on 17 attempts.
The Vikings will win this game if ...
... they can simply maintain their offensive momentum. It doesn't sound glamorous, but they need to avoid more than two turnovers and continue doing what they've been doing – which is running the ball effectively, whether that is Peterson or Taylor, and having Jackson run an efficient yet unspectacular passing game.
The Vikings are 4-2 at home and 6-0 when they score 20 or more points. That should be good enough to win if they keep doing what they've been doing.
The Vikings will lose this game if ...
... Devin Hester becomes a scoring factor. The Vikings' normally solid special teams coverage showed a bit of a crack against the San Francisco 49ers last week during kickoffs, and Hester might be the best there ever was in taking kicks and punts back for touchdowns. It's uncertain at this stage how the Vikings will approach Hester, but they have to at least alter their normal approach when punting and kicking off.
Last week, Hester also became a factor on offense, and there seems to be no good reason the Bears wouldn't try to continue to get him the ball on short routes – especially with Kyle Orton making his first start in two years.
The Bears will win this game if ...
... they force Tarvaris Jackson to beat them in the passing game. The Midway Monsters have been nothing short of atrocious defending the run this season, but they came up with a great effort against Washington their last time out. While Jackson has played very well during Minnesota's four-game winning streak, the playbook is still quite constricted offensively. And with nobody in the receiving corps that truly scares them, the Bears can be aggressive in the box and still trust their coverage on the outside.
When the Vikings win with Jackson under center, the second-year signal-caller averages just 20.1 pass attempts per game – the Bears can potentially force more mistakes if they can get that number closer to 30.
RB Adrian Peterson and DT Tommie Harris
The Bears will lose this game if ...
... Adrian Peterson has anywhere near the same success he had on the ground in Week 6. The no-brainer Offensive Rookie of the Year ran wild for 224 yards against the Bears – at Soldier Field, no less – back on Oct. 24, more than any other player in the 88-year history of the franchise. The 49ers somehow kept Peterson to just 3 yards on 14 carries a week ago, although Chester Taylor managed to slip loose for an 84-yard scoring gallop. Babatunde Oshinowo was just elevated from the practice squad this week with three defensive tackles now lost for the year on injured reserve, and he could receive significant snaps right away.
San Francisco threw all kinds of corner blitzes at the Vikings in order to contain Peterson, but that's not the kind of approach head coach Lovie Smith cares to employ with his Cover-2 scheme.
Tim Yotter: The Vikings have the momentum, have something to play for and have home field. The Bears have none of those three in their favor, so the Vikings need to get a lead early – something they've been able to do well during their four-game winning streak – and hope that they can force Orton into a few a critical mistakes. They'll likely give up some passing yards, but they've been confusing more experienced quarterbacks lately by disguising their coverage ...
VIKINGS 27, BEARS 17
John Crist: The Vikings are playing like the team that the Bears wish they were – running the football at will and stopping the run like a brick wall. Inserting Kyle Orton into the starting lineup provides an extra subplot for this game, although he's bound to be rusty after so much clipboard-carrying the last two seasons. This team is razor thin in the trenches on both sides of the ball, which is not a good combination with the way Minnesota is dominating the line of scrimmage right now ...
VIKINGS 20, BEARS 10