By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (1-6) host the Vikings (5-1) on Monday night at Soldier Field. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Rust removal
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has played only seven quarters of football. He returns from his thumb injury to face a Vikings defense that’s extremely difficult to score on, allowing just 14.0 points per game. The Vikings have thrived off a league-high 16 takeaways and a plus-11 turnover ratio. They’re the only team in the league with four players with three sacks or more. They don’t give up big plays, and the defensive linemen are tied for first in the league with 17 combined sacks and also have five forced fumbles, 17 tackles for loss, an interception and a safety. Cutler must be constantly aware of safety Harrison Smith, who may be the best player on the Vikings. They line him up all over the secondary, and he makes plays. A rusty Cutler would present significant problems against a hungry Vikings defense.
Defense: Bash Bradford
The Bears have an opportunity to do some damage with their pass rush. Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford was hit 17 times by the Eagles last week and completed just five passes against 15 blitzes. The Vikings rotated tackles, and none played well. The Vikings offense has performed well enough for much of the season, because they’ve played with the lead. They didn’t get ahead in Philadelphia and paid the price. The running game is missing its top two backs and sputtering due to a league-worst 29 negative runs. So, if the Bears can stop the run, they can earn the right to rush and bash Sam Bradford.
Special teams: Brace for the best
The Bears’ improving special teams unit get a stiff test from Minnesota. The Vikings have two dynamic returns in Marcus Sherels on punts and Cordarrelle Patterson on kicks. Both are on the injury report, with wrist and concussion issues, but they expect to play. Sherels has five career touchdowns, while Patterson has four and leads the NFL in kick return average. These two give the Vikings excellent field position, the best in the league coupled with what the defense gives this team. There’s an opportunity to make Blair Walsh pay for giving returners an opportunity to return his kicks. The Vikings were scored on last week in the return game. So Chicago’s Deonte Thompson will get an opportunity to make something happen on kickoffs.
Intangibles: Put up your dukes
With the bye week coming and healthy starters on their way back to helping out, the Bears must continue to show the fight that can overcome some weaknesses. Coach John Fox sees it and feels it from his crew. He talks about it all the time. He fully expects his players to ball up their fists, no matter the circumstances. The Bears must be ready to roll up their sleeves and fight the Vikings for every blade of grass. Playing with pride and with heart is as much a part of this matchup as anything.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.