By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) It’s been 11 months since the Bears won a game at Soldier Field.
You have to go all the way back to December 9th, 2013, when the Bears defeated the Dallas Cowboys 45-28. Teams like the Blackhawks and the New Zeland All Blacks have enjoyed victory at Soldier Field more recently since the Bears. Heck, the All Blacks scored more points in one game (74) than the Bears have in their three home games this season (51).
This Sunday, they play host to the 4-5 Minnesota Vikings at Noon on CBS.
Considering how poorly things have gone for the Bears this season, it’s fair to wonder how much of a home-field advantage they still have. Running back Matt Forte realizes it’s tough to admit you’re a Bears fan these days, but hopes the remaining faithful will nonetheless rally around the embattled team.
“We’re looking forward to obviously having some support because crowd noise does help, especially when our defense is on the field,” Forte said. “If they’re the opposite way around and they’re making boos against us, then that’s not going to help us out. We haven’t given the fans much to cheer about this year. Hopefully, this home game, we do.”
Quarterback Jay Cutler shares the same sentiment.
“I think we’ve got to start fast,” Cuter said. “We can’t blame them if we don’t start fast and we get some unfavorable, some boos there. Guys understand that. We know we haven’t played as well as we should play, especially at home, so we’ve got to do better for our fans.”
Starting fast would be a complete reversal for the Bears offense. Over the past month, slow starts have been the norm. The Bears haven’t scored in the first quarter of a game since Week 5 against Carolina and for three straight games, they haven’t run a play in their opponent’s territory until the second quarter. Imbalanced game plans, mental errors and miscues between Cutler and his receivers have been major factors.
“We’re killing, we’re hurting ourselves a little bit with some pre-snap penalties, assignment issues, I’ve missed some throws,” Cutler said. “We’ve just got to make sure that those first five, six, seven, eight plays we’re on point and everyone knows their assignment.”
Considering only three teams allow less passing yards per game and only two teams sack the quarterback more frequently than the Vikings’ defense, Forte figures to be the centerpiece of the Bears’ game plan against middle-of-the-road run defense. Getting Forte on track will slow down the Vikings’ pressure packages and could open up play-action passes to stretch the defense vertically.
The Bears will be playing with yet another new offensive line combination. With Jordan Mills doubtful for Sunday, the Bears will likely start with Brian de la Puente at left guard and Michael Ola at right tackle. Ola started a left guard last week in place of Matt Slauson. The Vikings scheme pressure using double-A “mug” looks and create single block opportunities for players like defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
Defensively, the Bears have become a live seven-on-seven drill for opposing quarterbacks. Over the past two weeks, Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers had nearly as many touchdown passes (11) as they did incompletions (14). Three of Brady’s incompletions were arguably drops, so that could be a cringe-worthy one-to-one ratio.
The Bears plan for the season was to build a lead with their offense — particularly through the air — to build a lead and make their opponent one dimensional and allow their well-paid free-agent defensive ends to pin their ears back and get to the passer. That plan has only come to fruition once this season, back in Week 6 against the Falcons.
This week, the pass defense gets a bit of a reprieve against rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has simplified Brigdewater’s reads by throwing off of play action, which several teams have used to exploit the Bears lack of discipline at the second-level of their defense.
Even without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings remain a two-back power offense that likes to run behind sledgehammer fullback Jerome Felton. The Vikings have two complementary backs, a north-and-south grinder in Matt Asiata and a slasher in rookie Jerick McKinnon.
Vikings receivers have yet to make a real impact this season. Through eight games, only one — Jarius Wright — has cracked the 100-yard mark. Cordarrelle Patterson is theoretically the vertical threat, but Bridgewater has struggled with his deep ball accuracy.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is set to return from a sports hernia injury. Given Bridgewater’s preference to work the intermediate passing zones, Rudolph should be targeted heavily as the Bears’ defense has struggled to stop tight ends so far this season.
This is a must win for the Bears. Their season is spiraling out of control and a loss to the Vikings this Sunday would drop beleaguered coach Marc Trestman to 2-7 against the NFC North.