There has been plenty of noise made already this week about how doomed the Chicago Bears are when they face off against Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings’ potent rushing offense on Sunday, but there hasn’t been nearly enough made of just how bad the Vikings’ defense itself has been this season.
A quick look at the numbers suggests that this game could quickly devolve into an offensive shootout. The Vikings have already given up nearly 3,100 yards through the air this season, which puts them firmly as a bottom-five pass defense. Making matters worse, the Vikings are also giving up nearly 120 rushing yards per game, so it isn’t as though they are able to slow down the run either. Finally, the Vikings have only sacked quarterbacks 24 times this season, 26th in the NFL.
For the Bears, those numbers are good news for an offense that has to score a lot to make up for the shortcomings of its defense. Giving up 40 points has become a regular occurrence for the Monsters of the Midway this season, and having the ability to try to give their defense some extra rest by grinding out long sustained drives could be a key factor for the Bears as they try to keep pace with the Detroit Lions in the NFC North.
The question then for the Bears is this: which of their offensive weapons is going to be the biggest key to taking advantage of the Vikings’ weak defense on Sunday? Judging by the first game between the two teams, the answer may not be as simple as the question. After all, Jay Cutler threw for nearly 300 yards against the Vikings in the Bears’ 31-30 Week 2 victory over Minnesota, but several of his receivers had dynamic days. Matt Forte had 10 catches that afternoon for 73 yards, and both Brandon Marshall (who led Bears’ receivers with 113 yards that day) and Martellus Bennett both had seven catches apiece, with Bennett’s touchdown in the game’s closing seconds proving to be the difference.
Really, the only player that struggled for the Bears in that game was Alshon Jeffery, who was targeted five times but could only come up with one catch for 11 yards. Even Earl Bennett caught both of the passes that Cutler threw his way, picking up 19 yards on the receptions.
Complicating matters a bit for the Bears is that they will not only have their back-up quarterback still under center in Josh McCown (although McCown has proven time and again recently that he is very capable of running the Bears’ offense efficiently and successfully), but they will also be dealing with a hobbled Forte, who suffered a hyper-extended knee against the St. Louis Rams in Week 12.
With that in mind, the real key player for the Bears’ offense will be Jeffery. The Vikings are catching a big break by facing a running back that isn’t going to be at 100%, and so the Bears’ receiving corps is going to have to provide McCown with open guys to throw to in order to be successful. The Vikings will likely try to get some double coverage looks on Marshall knowing that they don’t have to commit as many resources to stopping Forte on the ground, and that means that Jeffery is going to be the one getting the majority of the 1-on-1 matchups outside of the numbers.
If he can take advantage of the extra attention paid to Marshall, then Jeffery should be able to have a really strong game for the Bears, and they could right the ship after what was a truly putrid effort last week.