The 6-4 Minnesota Vikings head to Soldier Field to Soldier Field to take on the 7-3 Bears in a crucial NFC North showdown. Raise your hand if you saw this as a key game in the NFC North race before the season started. Yeah, me neither.
The Bears have lost two in a row after jumping out to a 7-1 record, but have played the last game and a half without quarterback Jay Cutler, who suffered a concussion in their Sunday night game against the Texans a couple of weeks ago. It’s unclear if Cutler will return, though he’s practiced all week.
For the Vikings, they’re led by running back Adrian Peterson. That wouldn’t be surprising except that AP blew out his knee last December. It’s miraculous that he’s back healthy and in fact leading the league in rushing after such a serious injury. It looks like the Vikings could be without leading wide receiver Percy Harvin, so that could make the Vikins offense behind Christian Ponder one-dimensional, just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Bears.
To help us prepare for this important game, we’ve enlisted the help of old friend of the program Dan Zinski, editor of FanSided’s own The Viking Age. Here are my questions and Dan’s answers to this week’s 5 Questions.
1. I’m sure you saw what happened to the Bears last week without Jay Cutler, who has yet to be cleared to play on Sunday. Are the Vikings preparing to see Cutler or backup Jason Campbell? Does their defensive strategy change for one guy over another?
The Vikings have said they are preparing as though Cutler will play. Strategy-wise, the only thing I could see is maybe they would blitz more with Campbell in there and really try to make life miserable for him. With Cutler I think they will probably just drop in coverage and stay with a four man rush. And try to beat up on Brandon Marshall the way they have Calvin Johnson. They really like to clamp down on teams’ #1 guy and make the QB find the other guys. I’m personally more concerned about Matt Forte considering the issues the Vikes have had in run defense.
2. Let’s keep this one simple – is Adrian Peterson human? You’d never think the guy who leads the league in rushing blew out his knee less than a year ago. How did he do this? Have there been any signs of him slowing down this season? What can the Bears do to stop him or at least slow him down?
I have it on good authority that he’s a robot. To be serious, he is something of a freak of nature. James Andrews apparently was amazed at the state of his knee when he opened it up. He said it was not a normal knee. It was some kind of mutant knee that showed no signs of aging. So I guess that’s the answer to why he was able to recover so quickly. His knee parts are not normal. Obviously he worked very hard as well. As freakish as he is physically, mentally he’s just as strong. He’s just a one of a kind guy and it will be very sad for him to play his entire career without ever making a Super Bowl. Did I just say that?
If the Bears want to stop him or slow him down, they just have to make sure they wrap him up. Going for his ankles doesn’t work like it used to because he’s learned to jump through those tackles. And going heavy run blitz doesn’t necessarily work either because he escapes in the backfield even when you get guys through. Did I mention I think he’s actually cutting more crisply this year than in the past?
3. It looks like Percy Harvin might not go for the Vikings on Sunday. Who has to step up in his absence? Do the Vikings have any other viable wide receiver options?
Well this is a whole thing because Percy was their entire passing offense when he was in there. Against Detroit they found Kyle Rudolph a lot and hit a deep ball to the rookie Jarius Wright. I would expect they will try to play action and find Rudolph underneath and probably use Wright in the short passing game the same way they use Harvin and perhaps try to sneak him deep once or twice. I would like to say Jerome Simpson is part of the answer but Simpson has been mostly worthless.
I’m personally very curious to see what will happen against the Bears’ defense with Harvin not in there. There were some suggesting Christian Ponder might be better off without Harvin because with Harvin in there Ponder feels the need to force the ball to him, and with Harvin out he had to read the field more. This to me sounds like wishful thinking. Finding open guys against the Lions’ crap secondary is not that hard. We’ll see if he’s that successful against the Bears. I’m kind of doubting it.
4. The Bears offensive line is a mess and in fact they’re starting new players at left guard and right tackle. Is there anything the Bears can do to slow down Jared Allen and the Vikings pass rush?
Everyone asks about slowing down Jared and the pass rush but actually the rush has not been great this year. They’ve sort of been slow starters for some reason. In a couple games they’ve been able to crank it up in the second half and take over and that’s helped. But there’s been a certain lack of consistency. If it were me I’d just block it straight up and see what happens. And run at those guys. They’ve really gotten blown up a lot by dedicated running teams with draw plays and zone runs in their arsenal. What Seattle and Tampa Bay did to them could almost be considered criminal.
5. What’s your prediction for the game, including final score.
Since we know Cutler’s going to play and Harvin isn’t, it’s pretty hard to pick the Vikings in this one. Bears are going to be fired up and that defense is probably going to chew up Christian Ponder and spit him out. Only way the Vikes have a shot is if they can avoid getting down early and make it into a slugfest with Peterson breaking a big one somewhere along the way. But that’s a tall order. Ponder can be turnover prone at times and we know how the Bears excel at taking the ball away. So I’ve gotta take Chicago 24-17.
Thanks to Dan for answering our questions and be sure to head over to TVA to see my answers to Dan’s questions.