By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears (3-6) host the Vikings (4-5) on Sunday at noon at Soldier Field. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Play smart
The Bears must prepare for pass pressure from the Vikings. First-year coach Mike Zimmer designs and calls the defense, and he loves pressure. His front four is getting it done, and the Vikings are third in the league with 30 sacks. Eleven of those sacks have come on the blitz, which they will unleash with a variety of speedy athletes.
The Vikings blitz 32 percent of the time on first down, 38 percent on third down. They are third in the league with 60 hurries and have drawn an NFL-high 13 holding penalties. Blocking to create a clean pocket for Jay Cutler to climb will be important for the Bears.
Minnesota three-technique defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is emerging as one of the better ones in the league. On the edge, Everson Griffen is a weapon who converts speed to power and is a tough matchup for Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Rookie strong-side linebacker Anthony Barr is a playmaker on the blitz and against the run, but he’s inexperienced in pass coverage. The secondary features one of the underrated free safeties in the league in Harrison Smith. He’s a nasty hitter and is being used all over the formation, including on blitzes. He must be accounted for at all times. The Vikings are giving up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, an area the Bears might like to exploit to stay ahead of the chains.
Defense: Play smart
After dealing with two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks recently, the Bears look to sink their teeth into a rookie. Minnesota traded a fourth-round pick to Seattle to move from 40th to 32nd and draft Teddy Bridgewater last May. He’s learning under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who is big on shifts, pre-snap motion, reverses, screens and has a desire to run the ball.
The Bears defense will have to play smart and with discipline. Bridgewater’s arm strength is average, and so is his accuracy. On first down, he completes 53.9 percent of his passes, 66 percent on third down. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is a skilled playmaker and dangerous on reverses, screens and runs out of the backfield on sweeps. His 4.34-second 40-yard dash speed is electric.
Greg Jennings has been the most productive Vikings receiver, collecting 60 percent of his pass targets for 459 yards. Patterson has caught only 46 percent of his targeted throws.
Recovered from hernia surgery, tight end Kyle Rudolph is an outstanding weapon off the play-action bootleg. Running back Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon don’t replicate the damage the suspended Adrian Peterson causes, but they can still hurt you. They have seven runs of 20-plus yards, and McKinnon averages 5.0 yards per carry.
The Vikings aren’t a great third down team, with 36.5 conversation rate, as playing without Peterson and Rudolph has hurt. Starting left tackle Matt Kalil has been charged with a league-high 12 sacks, and Phil Loadholt has permitted four.
Special teams: Play smart
The Bears have 17 drives starting inside their 20-yard line after kickoffs, by far the league high. The Bears have the third-most penalty yards on special teams in the league, with 143 on 16 penalties. That’s where the cleanup begins. On the bright side, Chris Williams now averages 25.4 yards on kick return for the Bears.
One of the premier kickers in the game is third-year Blair Walsh, a real weapon for the Vikings with 75 percent of his kickoffs going for touchbacks while 90 percent of his kickoffs reach the end zone. Only 10 of Blair’s kicks have been returned. He’s nailed a 52-yard field goal and a pair of 55-yarders this season.
Intangibles: Play smart
These teams are both having great difficulty going the length of the field to score points. The Bears have 32 drives starting inside their 20, and the the Vikings have 33, which is second-most in the league. The Vikings haven’t scored a touchdown on those drives, totaling six points in such situations, plus four turnovers. The Bears have one touchdown, 14 points and six turnovers on their drives that start inside their own 20-yard line.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.