By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Here are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears as they take on the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Soldier Field:
Offense: Take A Deep Breath
After scoring only 13 points in losses to the Texans and 49ers and only one touchdown, it is time to take a deep breath and get busy getting better. Up-front, the Bears will have to keep Jared Allen from being the quarterback wrecker San Francisco’s Aldon Smith was Monday night. Allen has done it before to the Bears; he can do it again. Without protection and blocking up the run game, the offense will not gain the traction needed to threaten the Vikings defense. Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway also needs to be on the radar. He’s an instinctive defender with skill off the snap, and he defends the short passing game as well as any linebacker in the NFL. In the secondary, if the protection holds there are ways to take advantage of the inexperience of Notre Dame rookie Harrison Smith. With the Vikings safeties, there is at times space available to threaten the middle of the field. At times they get confused when receivers occupy their territory. The Vikings are allowing only 5.0yds/play, but have allowed 17 passing touchdowns this season.
Defense: Disciplined Gap Control
Provided the Bears do not create unnecessary gaps for Adrian Peterson to run through, they are equipped to make football’s best and most dangerous back from running wild. It’s imperative no interior running lanes are created by front seven defenders getting out of position. Young quarterback Christian Ponder is capable of making plays with his feet, so the discipline extends to him as well. The Bears can’t allow Ponder’s feet to become a weapon in, around, and out of the pocket. Kyle Rudolph is having a great season as Ponder’s best friend in the passing game with 34 receptions, including six for touchdowns to lead all receivers. Percy Harvin’s ankle injury bears watching throughout the weak, given his 677 yards and three touchdowns. He is instant offense.
Special Teams: Still Not Enough
Ten games into the season and there still is not enough production in the return game. Devin Hester lost a yard on three punt returns in San Francisco and averaged 25.2 yards with a long of 30 on kick returns against the 49ers. If Harvin is healthy, he presents the biggest test in the return game the Bears have faced this season. He’s gone 105 yards for a touchdown and is averaged 35.9 yards to lead the NFL. Marcus Sherels has a 77-yard punt return touchdown and a 41-yard kickoff return under his belt. The Bears have to be sound in coverage and tackle these guys. Punter Chris Kluwe is having a solid season, and Georgia rookie kicker Blair Walsh has been good on 23 of his 24 field goal attempts, already scoring 90 points.
Intangibles: Responding To Adversity
For the first time this season, the Bears have a losing streak. It’s a two-gamer for now, but the playmakers have to come out and prevent that streak from becoming cause for alarm. A home division game cannot be lost if the Bears want to be a playoff team. How the Bears shake off the back-to-back defeats and fix the nagging issues complicating their overall progress will be something to monitor against the Vikings. It’s really a crossroads moment in the season for the Bears. With a half-dozen games left to play, the Bears are still saddled with inconsistent execution offensively. If the defense is struggling, the offense is not in a position to consistently produce in times of need to pick up the baton, so to speak. Ditto the return game on special teams. This team needs a spark and it needs it now.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.