By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) Fresh off a bye week, the 2-4 Bears have a chance Sunday to start the second half of their season with a win against a divisional opponent, the 4-2 Minnesota Vikings.READ MORE: University Of Chicago Police Officer Who Shot Man In Hyde Park Shootout Also Shot Student In 2018
The Bears have won seven straight and 13 of their last 14 home games against the Vikings.
Here are some storylines to follow during Sunday’s action.
What to watch for when the Bears have the ball
Dealing with double A-gap pressure
A hallmark of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is his double A-gap interior pressure packages, known as a mug look. The Vikings’ defensive front is loaded with talent both along the line and at linebacker.
By lining up players outside the center’s shoulders and deploying four defensive linemen, the Vikings force their opponent to make immediate decisions and adjustments to their protection scheme. Those decisions have a high probability of being incorrect. The Vikings may not send all six rushers, but the sheer threat is enough to create pre-snap confusion, which typically leads to post-snap disruptions.
Minnesota has a pair of athletic linebackers who were former teammates and roommates at UCLA: Anthony Barr, an ascending second-year athletic freak, and rookie Eric Kendricks, who’s second on the team with four sacks. Both are a threat to rush the passer or drop back into coverage, which creates the in-game chess match. Zimmer is fond of making on-the-fly adjustments once he sees which way an opponent begins to slide its protection scheme to account for the extra pressure.
On the edge, the Vikings like to run twists and stunts with their defensive linemen, led by defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
The Bears must have a sound game plan going into the game knowing the double A-gap pressures and variations are coming. Look for the Bears to use shotgun sets and heavily involve running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett in soft seven-man protection schemes.
Moving the pocket
In last year’s matchup between these teams in Chicago, the Bears featured moving pockets for quarterback Jay Cutler, after which he said, “We got to keep doing it.”
Moving the pocket will be an extra safety measure to counter the Vikings’ interior pressures. Behind their pressure packages, the Vikings like to play a lot of press-man coverages. Look for Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase to dial up plenty of rub, mesh and shallow crossing route concepts in which the primary read originates from the backside of the formation and times up his route to be parallel with Cutler as he boots to the opposite side.READ MORE: Outdoor Winter Beer Fest Coming to Lincoln Square
In both of Minnesota’s losses, its opponent had a 100-yard rusher as the Vikings struggled to defend outside-zone runs. The 49ers in particular ran heavy (three-tight end) personnel sets, then got the play-action game going on boots and rollouts for Colin Kaepernick targeting his tight ends. Sunday could be a big day for Bennett.
What to watch for when the Vikings have the ball
Throughout his career, Adrian Peterson has had great success running the football against the Bears. The Vikings’ running scheme features a lot of isolation runs with defined aiming points for Peterson to hit at a full sprint heading north-south, giving him an opportunity to make a decisive cut in the hole or simply take on a tackler head up to see if he can gain yardage after initial contact.
Consequently, teams typically drop an extra defender down to form an eight-man box to increase the math and sheer number of arms they can get on Peterson to bring him down to the ground. Last week against the Lions, the Vikings were running into a brick wall in the first half, finding a lot of resistance. In the third quarter, two things happened — Peterson broke a 75-yard run and offensive coordinator Norv Turner started dialing up play-action passes that led to several explosive gains down the field.
The Vikings have found a downfield threat in rookie Stefon Diggs, who’s a smooth athlete and savvy route runner capable of beating a team over the top at any point. Thus, the Bears secondary will be likely singled up and can’t get caught peeking into the backfield, as they’ll open themselves up to an explosive gain down the field.
Interior line stunts
Vikings center John Sullivan had a lumbar microdiscectomy procedure on his back prior to the season and was put on injured reserve with a designation to return. He recently had a setback in his recovery and just underwent a second procedure, which will likely shelve him for the season.
In his place, the Vikings turned to 11-year veteran Joe Berger, who has struggled at times both physically as well as getting the proper protection scheme communicated. Consequently, the interior of the Vikings’ offensive line has been vulnerable to inside stunts and games.
The Bears will be playing their first game with a reshaped defensive line now that Jeremiah Ratliff was released. Ratliff played a big role in the Bears’ line games both as a picker and poster. Rookie Eddie Goldman will now get extended snaps on the inside.
Look for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to deploy linebacker Pernell McPhee from the inside from a two-point stance and try to get him a clear rush lane or a two way go by stunting with the down linemen.
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has adequate pocket presence and mobility, but teams have been able to take some big, free shots on him over the past three games using line stunts.MORE NEWS: Aurora Police Sgt. Ken Thurman Dies Of COVID-19 Complications; Second Aurora Officer To Die From COVID This Month
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @djdurkin.