By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) The last time the Bears (5-8) and Vikings (8-5) met, Minnesota eked out a last-second win at Soldier Field.
Now, the Vikings are in the midst of their first two-game losing streak of the season, yet are currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC. The Vikings are at their best when they get the running game going and turn up the pressure on defense.
Here are some aspects on the field to focus on during Sunday’s action.
What to watch for when the Bears have the ball
Stacking wide receivers
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is a creative defensive mind. From mugging the A-gap to using hybrid coverage schemes, he’s adept at creating pre-snap confusion, which frequently leads to post-snap disruption.
Through 13 games, the Vikings’ pass defense ranks eighth in the league in passing yards allowed per game (232).
Throughout the course of a game, the Vikings will use a variety of coverage schemes, but their foundation against teams with a dominant wide receiver — like Alshon Jeffery — has been zone, more specifically Cover-4. This allows them to bracket with both their deep and underneath defender to that side of the field.
A countermeasure that teams have taken to free up their top targets has been using stacked and bunched sets with switched releases. In doing so, the offense can get a clean release and make it more difficult for deep defenders to get an early read on which receiver will threaten their zone.
Look for Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase to use stacked sets to the two-receiver side of the formation to scheme Jeffery open deeper down the field.
Using the Vikings’ aggressiveness against them
The Vikings’ front seven is full of premium draft picks and athletes. Collectively, this group aggressively flows to the football with reckless abandon and rude intentions.
This characteristic has worked out well, as the Vikings rank ninth in the league in points allowed (19.6). However, it can also be used against them, particularly on play-action off of stretch run plays.
Opponents have set up explosive passing plays by using outside zone runs early, only to keep the ball later on bootlegs with deep route combinations and crossing routes to take advantage of the voids left by overpursuing linebackers and safeties in run support.
What to watch for when the Vikings have the ball
Secondary run support
The Vikings utilize a lot of two-back and two-tight end personnel groupings, from which they call a variety of power and isolation runs for Adrian Peterson, who leads the league with 1,251 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. His next rushing touchdown will tie him with Emmitt Smith for the second-most seasons with 10 or more rushing touchdowns (eight).
Peterson remains the league’s best combination of size and speed. He’s just as capable of running over a defender as he is making a jump cut to hit a cutback lane and take it to the house. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner increases Peterson’s chances for big gains.
By using heavy sets, Turner creates extra gaps for the defense to account for with players from the secondary.
There are always exceptions, but for the most part, defensive backs are in the game primarily for their pass defense skills. Getting Peterson isolated on safeties and cornerbacks in the hole is a situation that favors the Vikings, and Turner knows it.
The Bears’ secondary must be prepared for a physical game and go low with their tackle attempts on Peterson. Any attempts that are high or just use arms will lead to extra yardage after contact.
In last Thursday’s matchup against the Cardinals, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for a career-high 335 yards and posted a 108 passer efficiency rating. Turner called a great game, utilizing route combinations to pry receivers open in the deep zones of the Cardinals’ pass defense.
However, Bridgewater remains somewhat limited in his decision-making and leaves a lot of yards on the field. Part of this has to do with his deliberate delivery. The other part of it has to do with the Vikings’ struggles on the offensive line. They’ve allowed 38 sacks, seventh-most in the league.
To get the ball deep, Turner utilizes play-action. Thus, it is imperative that the Bears’ back seven — particularly their inside linebackers — be disciplined with their eyes and not get fooled by backfield action.
Since the Bears’ game against the Broncos on Nov. 22, opponents have devised throws up the seam and over the middle on option routes that have taken advantage of the likes of Shea McClellin, Jonathan Anderson and Christian Jones. Tight end Kyle Rudolph will be heavily targeted in Minnesota’s game plan.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @djdurkin.