Matchup to watch: Rice vs. Graham

When quarterback Gus Frerotte surveys the field, he will likely see a Bears defense stacked to stop Adrian Peterson and shifting help on Bernard Berrian. Second-year receiver Sidney Rice will have to take advantage of the single coverage that he will almost surely see.

In a game that features plenty of worthy matchups, from Pat Williams vs. Olin Kreutz, to Adrian Peterson vs. the Bears defense, to Matt Forte vs. the Vikings defensive front and Devin Hester vs. just about anyone in purple, the battle between Sidney Rice and Corey Graham is this week's Matchup to Watch.

When the Vikings have been successful, they have been able to gash defenses with a steady dose of Adrian Peterson and effectively use the deep pass to get Bernard Berrian open. But, after a very strong month of October, teams have found ways to limit what Berrian can do in the deep passing game, rolling safeties over the top to limit his ability to get single coverage deep down the field. With teams putting eight in the box to stop Peterson and using the lone safety outside the box to double up Berrian, it is incumbent on Rice to make plays that can move the chains as well as get in the end zone.

The Bears come into tonight's game weakened at the cornerback position with starter Nathan Vasher put on injured reserve this week with a hand injury. Under ordinary circumstances, Chicago would line its corners up at the same position on the field – Vasher on the right, Tillman on the left – regardless of where the opposing wide receivers line up. But with Vasher out and the Bears viewing their former teammate Berrian as the only legitimate receiving threat that could make the big play that changes the game in the Vikings favor, Tillman might follow Berrian wherever he goes, with the promise of safety help over the top.

The result will likely be that Rice will be lined up in single coverage most of the game with Graham, a second-year pro from New Hampshire. Rice has missed much of the season and has yet to be a factor. Through the team's first 11 games, Rice has just 10 catches for 97 yards. He has been a non-factor everywhere expect for a few plays in the red zone and teams haven't had to game plan all that much to shut him down. That will need to change tonight.

With a Bears defense geared to slow down A.D. and shut down Berrian, somebody will have to step up and take advantage of potential mismatches down the field. It may be tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. It may be slot receiver Bobby Wade. But more likely, it will have to be Rice taking advantage of fellow second-year pro Graham – making this the matchup to watch in the most critical game of the season to date.


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