Pregame Notes: Vikings-Bears

Let’s look at some pregame notes for tonight’s game in Chicago.

Minnesota (11-3) at Chicago (5-9)

Defending A.P.

How do the Bears commit to stopping the run game of the Vikings and Adrian Peterson? From my perspective, look for the Bears to play three different eight-man fronts, with Cover 3 and Cover 1 being their lead calls on first and second downs. By doing this, Chicago can show its Cover 2 looks pre-snap and then drop the strong safety into the box as a curl/flat defender who contains the edge rushing game or as man defender over the TE. But also look for the Bears to play some Cover 10, which is a weak-side man-to-man defense in which the free safety drops into the box and plays man to man on the first back to his side and who also fills the “A” gap for any cutback runs. Regardless if it’s an eighth defender weak or strong, the Bears will have to use an eight-man front to contain Peterson on early downs to force some third downs — which I don’t see them doing with a seven-man front in their Tampa 2 defense.

Taking advantage of the Vikings’ secondary

Bears QB Jay Cutler should know this defense in Minnesota better than any other defense in the league because he saw it every day in training camp from Lovie Smith. And in saying that, we should see a QB who protects the football by making proper decisions when he drops back to throw. Just like any defense in the NFL, there’s a weakness, and when Cutler reads Cover 2, he need to exploit those weaknesses: the middle of the field and the 7-route between the sinking corner and the deep-half safety. But what all Bears fans want to see is Cutler check the ball down to RB Matt Forte when those routes are not there. That will keep them in the game against a secondary that I think is average when matched up against the rest of the league.

Minnesota on third downs

Just as we talked about first and second downs in defending A.P., the Bears will have to have a plan to attack Brett Favre on third downs. Lovie’s defense has become more pressure-heavy on third-and-medium situations, but they are a team that likes to rush four and drop seven into coverage — the exact plan that was used by both Arizona and Carolina in their convincing victories over the Vikings. But do the Bears have a front four that can win one-on-one matchups and get to Favre while the back end plays a tent over the defense?

The Bears’ run game

Can Chicago find a way to establish some semblance of a ground game tonight? The Bears rank 31st — yes, 31st — in the NFL with just over 88 yards a game on the ground. Against what might be the best front four in football in the Vikings defense, how do you do this? From my perspective, the Bears need to use Forte in their nickel running sets, where they use their Zebra (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) personnel and force Minnesota to bring in a nickel corner in place of a linebacker. The Vikings have too much talent in their front seven for the Bears to use their power running game. The one-back runs give Chicago the best chance to get production from the ground game.

Get Harvin involved

One way the Vikings can keep drives alive and convert on third-down opportunities is to use WR Percy Harvin exclusively in the slot — where the Bears do not have a nickel corner who can match up with him. The option routes, the underneath crossers and the vertical seams that can allow Harvin to run away from a defender can produce big numbers tonight for the rookie. It will be interesting to see how Chicago decides to match up with Harvin and if it plays some man-under technique on him in passing situations.

The weather and turnovers

It’s the end of December here in Chicago, so weather will be as issue. I don’t like this Vikings team outside of the Metrodome at this time of year, and we all know what Favre has done lately in cold-weather games. Peterson has fumbled the ball six times in ’09 and has put the ball on the ground 19 times already in his career. But if the Bears can’t move the ball on the ground, can they throw it and pick up explosive plays through the air? Expect Chicago to lean on turnovers as a way to either score on defense or set up a short field to work with. It might be the only way to pull the upset.

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