Joniak’s Keys To The Game: Bears At Vikings
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OFFENSE: FIRST DOWN PRODUCTION
The Bears are still doing damage on first-down ranking, seventh in the league at six yards a pop, which is exactly what you want against a Minnesota defense that can get after the passer. The Vikings lead the NFL in quarterback hurries according to Stats Inc., with 66. Teams have thrown the fifth most passes in the NFL against the Vikings, and that may be a big reason the pressure numbers are so high. They only have 24 sacks, but Brian Robison is the most disruptive of the linemen. He leads the NFL in combined knockdowns and hurries. Throw in Jared Allen and Kevin Williams playing on their home field and NOT getting good yardage on first down will play right into their hands. The Vikings played more man-to-man coverage last week against the Packers, and if it continues Sunday that will play into the hands of the Bears. Marc Trestman wants man coverage against his big targets Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett.
DEFENSE: SAME STORY, DIFFERENT SUNDAY
I don’t have it in me to change this key to the game, which is identical every time the Bears suit up and prepare for Adrian Peterson. So this is a repeat! He’s one blown gap assignment, one missed tackle, and one sharp cut in space away from the end zone on every handoff. He hung 224 on the Bears in 2007; 154 in the 2012 game at the Metrodome. He’s hit 100 yards 41 times; 200 yards four times, and he’s the number-one issue for the Bears Sunday. Against the Bears in week two, Peterson was held to 3.8 yards-per carry with a long run of 36 yards finishing with 100 yards on 26 carries. In the last two games, the Vikings have given back-up running back Toby Gerhart 15 carries and he’s delivered in a big way with 158 yards. That’s a terrific one-two punch.
There is a call from Coach Trestman to take the ball away. Since week four, the Bears have no fumble recoveries and eight interceptions. Three defensive backs are on the injury report, including starter Major Wright who is questionable with a hamstring, which could give Craig Steltz his eighth NFL start.
SPECIAL TEAMS: CLEANING UP THE PENALTIES
The Bears are tied for the third most special-team penalties in the NFL with 17 resulting in 129 yards in lost field position, not to mention Devin Hester’s punt return touchdown of 62 yards nullified by the holding penalty against the Rams. Cleaning up technique in that phase will immediately profit the offense with an improved starting point. Special team penalties get you beat, and they cost momentum. Seven of those penalties have either been holding or illegal block penalties on punt returns and an NFL high three have been offside calls on kickoffs. This game will feature the two players with the most kick return yardage in the NFL. Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson burned the Bears for 105 of his league best 1,088 yards in week two for a touchdown. He’s the NFL leader in average at 34.0 and owns a league best five returns greater than 50 yards. Hester is second in yards at 937, averaging 27.6 per kick return. It’s Hester who has the most 20-plus yard returns in the league with 29; Patterson is second with 26. It should be a good, spirited battle.
INTANGIBLES: QUICK STARTS BOTH HALVES , BIG FINISH
Disappointed in three straight slow starts, Trestman is hoping his players get that part of the game squared away as soon as Sunday. The offense has opened with two first series touchdown drives in the last seven games, which includes a three-and-out punt against Baltimore and a first-snap fumble in St. Louis. Meanwhile, the Bears defense has permitted six first-series scoring drives in those seven games, including touchdowns in the last three games. Starting the second half has not been any kinder to the Bears, who have a missed field goal, three punts and a failed fourth-and-goal at the one over the last five games, while opponents have two touchdowns and a field goal over the same span. Defensively, the Bears have permitted late fourth-quarter scoring drives to Minnesota with 3:15 to play, to Washington with :45 to play, Detroit with 2:22 to play, Baltimore with :03 to play, and St. Louis with 3:05 to play, giving those teams either a tie or the lead, or building a lead to put it out of reach.