Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears Week 12 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears Week 12 Preview
At one point in time this season, it looked as if the NFC North was totally dominated by one team. Now the division is one of the tightest in the league. This week, two of the three teams that are in contention for the division title will have their first of two matchups within the next three weeks.
The Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears square off at Soldier Field in Week 12. The Bears (7-3) have started the second half of the regular season on a sour note, losing their last two games. The injury to quarterback Jay Cutler could be credited for Chicago’s recent meltdown. In addition to Cutler’s concussion, the Bears’ offensive line has continued to show why they are considered one of the worst in the league.
The Vikings (6-4) have surprisingly done better than many people thought they would. With a victory over the Bears this week and a Green Bay Packers loss, Minnesota will find themselves in a three-way tie for the NFC North title.
The result of this game will have a major impact in the division, and can potentially dictate the direction in which both teams will be headed for the rest of the season. A loss for the Bears will mark their first three-game losing streak since last season, while a Vikings win will start their second winning streak of the year.
In this matchup, the Vikings seem to have the upper hand on one side of the ball, while the Bears seem to have the advantage on the other. Here’s a closer look at how this week’s battle will unfold.
The uncertainty of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will determine which team has the advantage at this position. Cutler, who sat out last week after suffering a concussion, practiced this week with limitations, and still isn’t sure if he will be cleared to play against the Vikings. Chicago’s backup quarterback Jason Campbell didn’t do much to make Bears fans believe that he’s reliable enough to lead the offense in Cutler’s absence. Assuming that Cutler isn’t cleared to play, and Campbell is called upon to start behind Chicago’s horrible offensive line, I predict that the level of play from Campbell won’t be that great.
The Bears still hasn’t given their running game a significant amount of carries over the past several games. Even if that does happen this week, the changes to the Bears’ offensive line may cause some difficulty in the production of the running game. As for the Vikings, running back Adrian Peterson has proven once again that he is the best running back in the league. Despite tearing his ACL and MCL late last season, Peterson leads all rushers with 1,128 yards. In eight career games versus the Bears, Peterson has had much success, rushing for 823 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
It isn’t a secret that wide receiver Brandon Marshall is the Bears’ primary target in the passing game. After seeing how Marshall was taken out of Chicago’s aerial attack last week with a double team, the Vikings just might do the same and force another receiver to step up. The Bears’ tight end position hasn’t produced much this season as well, due to their contributions in pass protection. With their number one receiver listed as doubtful for this week, Vikings second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph has become more reliable week by week, and leads Minnesota with six receiving touchdowns on the year.
The recent news from the Bears’ organization of the demotions of two of their starting offensive linemen, and the indecisiveness of one of the players wanting to be a part of the team just brings more negative attention to an offensive front that is already observed under a microscope. Three times this season, the Bears have surrendered at least six sacks in a single game and on the year Chicago has given up 34 sacks so far, which is the second worst in the league. Minnesota’s pass rush and blitzes just might be too much for the Bears’ offensive line to handle
Both teams have defensive lines that can produce heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as well as slow down running games. The Bears’ front four has gotten to the quarterback 25 times this season, and has recorded at least one sack every game this year. The Vikings have 20.5 sacks from their defensive front, and are probably licking their chops after seeing how Chicago’s offensive line was manhandled last week. Minnesota definitely has one of the best pass rushes in the league, but when nearly 90 percent of your team’s sacks come from everyone on the defensive line, there is no going against that.
The Bears’ group of linebackers only registered three sacks, and the Vikings’ linebacker corps only has four, so help in the pass rush from both sides shouldn’t be expected. Only one interception has been recorded this season by a Minnesota linebacker, while Chicago’s linebackers have returned all three of theirs for touchdowns. Both run defenses will be highly tested this week. The Bears’ eighth-ranked run defense will have to contain the top rusher in the league, and Chicago will more than likely challenge the Vikings’ 14th ranked run defense with a heavy dose of their running game if Jay Cutler is unable to play.
Minnesota is in the middle of the league’s rankings in pass defense allowing an average of 229.1 passing yards per game. In addition, the Vikings’ defensive backs have just four interceptions on the year, with one of those returned for a touchdown. Even though Chicago’s defensive backs were carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey last week, they are still one of the best in the league, and have three potential Pro Bowlers in the starting lineup. The Bears are still tops in the league in interceptions and defensive touchdowns scored this season. The chances are slim of having last week’s performance duplicated this Sunday.
Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh has looked like a seasoned veteran all season long, connecting on 23 of his 24 field goal attempts. Five of Walsh’s field goals have been from 50 yards and out. Minnesota has done something that the Bears haven’t done all season long, which is have a return for a touchdown. As a matter of fact, the Vikings have a kickoff return and a punt return for a touchdown this year. Bears return specialist Devin Hester has been very hesitant in his kick and punt returning. Last week Hester actually ran backwards during a punt return for a significant loss in yardage.
The Bears have won seven of the eight home games versus the Vikings since the 2004 season. Usually, the defensive coaching isn’t something that is of any concern, but after the team’s total meltdown last week, the coaching of all three phases will be closely monitored. Chicago’s defensive play calling shouldn’t worry too many, but the sudden change with the offensive line may possibly cause some confusion in blocking assignments. We’ll have to see if Minnesota makes the decision to help their secondary contain wide receiver Brandon Marshall with a double team, or if they’ll keep their same coverage in their pass defense.