You’ve probably read a bunch of “keys to the games,“ so I’ll try to keep it short, and much more entertaining than those other drones.
1. Limit Adrian Peterson. Yes, he’s a mutant, alien from Planet-X, half-cyborg, etc. However, AP has averaged “only” about 100 yards versus the Bears historically; last year he ran for 108 and 0TDs in Chicago, and 154 2TDs in Minnesota (and outside that one 51 yard run at the start, was pretty much curtailed). Peterson ran for 93 yards and 2TDs versus the Lions in the first game because the Lions sold out on the run and dared Ponder to beat them; I predict a similar tactic by the Bears and similar results: 100 yards and 1TD. The Bears’ defensive line didn’t pass rush effectively against the Bengals, but they did hold BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard to 52 rushing yards combined. The Bears also have a knack for causing fumbles which AP is not immune to (he fumbled twice against the Bears last season). The main key for Bears is to tackle better than they did against the Bengals – to swarm him like flies to sh#te. But perhaps the best way to neutralize AP is to get ahead early, thus reducing APs opportunity because much like Highlander or Lestat, AP gets stronger and not weaker with time, unlike us mere mortals.
2. Don’t forget about Kyle Rudolph. If you’re going to sell out on the run, logic dictates that receivers will get one-on-one looks. It’s well documented that the “Tampa-2” is susceptible to TEs in the seam. Pro-Bowl MVP Rudolph definitely has the size and talent to gain big chunks and is effective in the redzone (9 TD catches in 2012) especially off play-action (defenses assume AP is getting the goal-line carry). This is where Urlacher may be missed some since he was great in eliminating those seam routes. Nevertheless, James Anderson showed great coverage skills against the Bengals and must continue smothering that middle . This game will test Anderson as he must decide very quickly whether to bite on play-action or drop into zone. Chris “The Birdman” Conte will also draw some Rudolph duties, and he must win those match-ups or the Vikings could force the Bears to back-off putting 8 in the box, which would spell trouble. Conte played some CB in college, so this ought to be a great battle to watch.
3. Jerome Simpson, the Wild Card. Jerome Simpson (remember the guy who stuck this 10 point landing? ) opened up some eyes as he was targeted 8 times and caught 7 for 140 yards. He’s a 6’2 200 pound athletic freak who can cause some damage if given one-on-one opportunities. I expect Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings to switch off in covering him and Greg Jennings. I’m sure the Viking’s staff noticed how A.J. Green burned the secondary for big plays, and who knows? Maybe they come out brazen and try to surprise the Bears by hitting Simpson over the top a few times to at least loosen up the box. Still, the knock on Simpson has always been inconsistency, and Ponder challenging two pro-bowl turnover machines would be a dangerous gamble. Speaking of Greg Jennings, I expect him to be a little more active. He was targeted 7 times, but only caught 3 balls for 33 yards. Ponder might look his way on 3rd and longs, and Jennings is savvy enough to know where the Bears’ soft spots are located.
4. GET OFF the field on 3rd and long! Oy-vey! I don’t really care how. Dline stunts. Blitzes. Confusing zones, schemes, shifts. Whatever. I don’t care. Just do it. These 80-90 yard drives are soul crushing and give me bad flashbacks of the Seattle game last year.
Tale of Two Cities. “After being outgained 325-97 over the first two and a half quarters, the Bears dominated the final period and a half, outgaining Cincinnati 226-15 to win their fourth straight season opener.” So, will the real Slim Shady please stand-up, please stand-up, please stand-up? It’s hard to gauge exactly where the Bears stand offensively. Many theories abound for the apparent disparity. Was Trestman conservative in the first half because he was uncertain about his rookies on the right side? Were the Bears still getting used to a whole new system, pace and audibles? Did the Bengals simply out-scheme the Bears in the first half, while Marc Trestman out-coached them from the mid-3rd quarter on? Did Cutler’s “clutch gene” get activated? Most likely, it’s a little of each. Either way, the Bears must start off like they ended: smoking hot. This is especially true if they wish to keep Peterson off the field and make Ponder throw to catch-up. How to do they accomplish this, Butch?
1. Cutler must continue playing better than Peyton Manning. That’s right, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Cutler outperformed Peyton. I won’t rehash as you can read my piece on that here, but needless to say, If Cutler comes out slinging it and minimizing mistakes, the Bears will score and score often. This has a lot to do with digesting the game-plan, properly diagnosing defenses, correctly audibling, scanning through his progressions, and chucking darts. No problemo, right?
2. Oline must repeat excellence. Cutler performed brilliantly. The Oline didn’t allow a sack. Coincidence? I think not. Jermon Bushrod will have his hands full with Mullett Man Jared Allen who almost broke the all-time sack record last season, but he seemed to handle a fierce Bengals’ pass rush adequately. I also suspect the Vikings to blitz a bit more than usual in order to force the rookies on the right side to make veteran decisions. However, if the Vikings fail to disrupt Cutler on those blitzes, then Cutler will make them pay as Cutler was lethal against the blitz in the first game, “Cutler completed 8-of-10 for 94 yards and a touchdown when the Bengals brought five or more rushers, and passed for four first downs,” so the Vikings better hit home when bringing the heat.
3. Bushed. We have a Bush, but Reggie Bush perhaps unveiled a blue-print to beat the Viking’s D. Dump-off passes/screens to a dangerous HB. Matt Forte doesn’t flash the same speed as Bush, but I’d be fine with 20-40 yarders. It was interesting to see Trestman use Forte in short yardage too, so don’t be surprised if Forte becomes the centerpiece for the Bears’ attack this week, especially in an early grudge match.
4. The receivers just have to make the catches. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are not burners, so they don’t need much separation, but they do need to make contested catches. They did last week and must do so again. Martellus Bennett dropped an early pass, but then made an incredible redzone catch with a defender draped all over him. Cutler is displaying surprising accuracy thus far, so it’s up to his pass catchers to catch balls. DUH! Dropped passes lead to 3rd and longs or punts, and the Bears need to jump ahead to nullify Peterson.
5. Half-time adjustments. I don’t know what the hell Marc Trestman did at half-time, but he needs to do it again. I don’t care if he slips into a room, slides out a Ouija board, and contacts Papa Bear himself for tips.
Summary: These are all very doable, and I fully expect the Bears to execute. Besides, the game in many ways has already started in game planning, and for the first time in a long time I trust the Bears’ coach out smarting the opponent. Trestman versus Frazier? Down goes Frazier! As such, I predict another Bears victory over a very motivated foe. The 1st quarter might be tight since the Vikings realize the game’s magnitude and will come out swinging. But the match will settle a bit, and the Bears will knock them out late, sending them reeling to the bottom of the NFC North.
Bears 28, Vikings 17.