Reporting Jeff Joniak
(WBBM) Here are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears as they take on the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Soldier Field:
Offense: Time To Make A Move
It’s time for the offense to make a move with a month of Sundays left to be played in a tight NFC. Jay Cutler’s movement in, around, and out of the pocket in the last two games has created opportunities in the passing game, controlled the clock, and moved the chains. He’s helping the reshaped offensive pass protection by getting the ball out on time, and by creating passing windows when the pressure comes. Playing the Vikings at the Metrodome is a different animal than it is at Soldier Field. The inexperience up front as a group in terms of snaps together this season will be tested in a loud building, and a respected pass rush of course led by Jared Allen. In addition to Cutler’s throws, and Brandon Marshall’s catches, the Bears will be trying again to establish a successful, chain-moving, clock-controlling run game. The benefits of taking the crowd out of the game, and keeping Adrian Peterson off the field, and keeping the defense fresh all are huge factors in this pivotal game.
Defense: Disciplined Gap Control
This is the exact same key defensively I had two weeks ago. The Bears did a very good job at Soldier Field on Adrian Peterson, now they have to do the same at the Metrodome. It again will not be easy. It’s imperative no interior running lanes are created by front seven defenders getting out of position. There can be no ad-libbing up front this week. And of course it goes without saying the tackling must be on point. There can be no loafing when it comes to slowing down Peterson. You saw what he did to the Packers last week. Green Bay missed double-digit tackles. Young quarterback Christian Ponder slumped against Green Bay, completing only 12 passes while throwing two interceptions. The Bears once again have to keep the athletic Ponder in the pocket, and don’t allow him to get in a rhythm. The Bears defensive challenge becomes more significant if receiver Percy Harvin returns from an ankle injury. He is a threat to score on every snap.
Special Teams: Crank Up The Return Game
Coordinator Dave Toub is still beating the same drum: The Bears need more return yardage. They need the juice a home run on punts or kicks gives to the team. They’ve been stung by missed blocks, penalties or poor execution by the returners. The coverage units continue to excel led by Blake Costanzo and Eric Weems, and both will be counted on again to set the tone in coverage against the Vikings. If Harvin returns, that brings a heightened level of awareness and concern, but Marcus Sherels is proving to be more than an adequate threat. This phase of the game could be the phase that decides this game. And it’s on this phase where weeks of preparation on scheme, fakes, or deception could lead to some interesting snaps on Sunday. Put it to you this way, whatever the coordinators have up their sleeves if anything, they’ve had the plan cobbled away for weeks, knowing they would be playing each other twice in three games.
Intangibles: Handling The Pressure
A late season skid creates fear in the fans and fuels the skeptics and pundits. It creates an atmosphere of doubt, concern, and in some cases panic. The Bears are not there yet, but they have lost three of their last four games. Right now they are a solid playoff contender at 8-4 owning the fifth seed in the NFC. However, the final four games will decide the outcome of this season, and they now become early playoff games. They will get all they can handle from a Minnesota team in the same boat, losing four of five, getting outscored 155-95. They are one of four NFC teams with 6-6 records. They could go either way. The Bears are working to overcome some injuries, and still trying to find a way to score more points. It sets up simply: Which team will handle the pressure Week 14 and a shrinking schedule brings?
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.