Friday, December 26, 2014

Five Things to Watch for Against the Bears

Image Courtesy of Mike DiNovo- USA Today Sports 

The Vikings are battling to win a divisional game and Daniel House tells you what it will take to knock off the Bears this week. 

Updated: December 26th, 2014 9:51pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings have one more opportunity to gain redemption against an NFC North opponent. Minnesota has been unable to win a game within the division and it will be important for the future of this squad. Chicago has been consistently struggling this season and uncertainty among their coach and quarterback leave plenty of question marks as the Bears enter the offseason. The Vikings put forth a disappointing effort last week in Miami, which has led Mike Zimmer to be very vocal about the performance of his players. They spent the week of practice working to fix the issues they had with alignments on defense. The offense played well enough to win, but the defensive side of the ball reverted back to old habits. It won't get any easier against a Bears squad that has tall and athletic receivers that posed a threat for the secondary in a matchup early in the season.

In that same game, the Vikings linebackers were beaten badly with screen passes and arrow routes to the running backs. These are all areas the Vikings have been struggling with over the last few weeks. The Bears will be turning to quarterback Jay Cutler, after benching him for Jimmy Clausen last week. Clausen suffered a concussion, which led to head coach Marc Trestman naming Cutler the starter for the final week of the season. This could be the last chance both Cutler and Trestman will have to show the Bears front office they deserve a chance return next season. This contest is quietly even more critical for a Vikings squad that needs to build the confidence of young players heading into the offseason. Pride is on the line and the loser of this matchup will end the season in the cellar of the NFC North division.

Rush Cutler into mistakes
Jay Cutler has thrown multiple interceptions in three of his last five contests and his inability to convert on his passes was most of the reason why he was benched. He is considerably worse when he is pressured and has no time to step into the pocket. In Minnesota's previous matchup, they were unable to sack Cutler, which led to him escaping outside of the pocket to extend plays. The Bears have a talented group of wide receivers who can go up and get the ball, along with running backs that are able to extend the ball through the passing game. The Vikings pass rush hasn't been finishing and have combined for just two sacks over the last two weeks of play. Mike Zimmer has expressed the importance of reaching the quarterback and making the hits necessary to take the strain off of the secondary. Jay Cutler cannot handle pressure and if you can place him into adverse situations early in the game, he will crumble.

Shut down the short passing game
The Vikings allowed the Bears to dink and dunk them in the short passing game in their previous matchup. Matt Forte hauled in six passes for 58 yards and he provided the Bears with the chance to extend plays and move the chains. The Bears then used some no huddle and quick formations to wear down the defense. Eventually, this led to more deep shots down the field, which placed the Vikings secondary into difficult situations. The linebacker depth is limited for the Vikings right now and players like Gerald Hodges will be looking to redeem themselves in the coverage aspect of the game. If the Bears are able to sustain drives and control the time of possession, they will drain the Vikings defense.

Contain Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson 
In the Bears last matchup with the Vikings, Jay Cutler was heavily targeting cornerback Josh Robinson in the secondary. Robinson was targeted 15 times in their previous matchup, 11 of which the Bears completed. He was responsible for all 21 points the Bears scored and Chicago definitely was looking to exploit Robinson's size advantage. The Bears will be without Brandon Marshall and Xavier Rhodes will likely shadow Alshon Jeffery. This means Robinson will be squaring off with Marquess Wilson, who won't blow you away with physicality, but his speed and footwork are notable attributes. If for some odd reason the Vikings won't matchup Rhodes with Jeffery, look for Cutler to target Josh Robinson on nearly every offensive play the Bears run through the air. In order to be successful, the Minnesota defensive backs need to be more physical than the Bears wide receivers.

Getting open against the Bears secondary
Getting open against Chicago isn't an issue and the Bears have allowed the second-most passing yards in the league. Their young and inexperienced secondary lacks physicality and receivers have been getting open at will against their defensive backs. The Vikings need to stretch the field and use their playmakers to set up bigger vertical plays up the field. You definitely can effectively take the top off the backend of the Bears defense and this is an area the Vikings need to exploit. They were very conservative in their last matchup against Chicago and with Charles Johnson's ability to get open, he should be highly targeted in this contest.

Win a divisional game to build for the future
The Vikings haven't won a divisional game this season, which doesn't fit the mold Mike Zimmer is looking for in the future. His plan is predicated on winning games within the division and the Vikings are currently 0-5 in the NFC North. In order to gain some confidence, they need to put together a divisional win to conclude the season. They are battling for last place in the division and their definitely is some pride on the line for this squad. After facing adversity last week, we will see the type of men that are on the roster. Some of these players will be battling for their spot on the roster next year and they have one chance to display their abilities on film for the coaching staff. Picking up a divisional win will help the younger players understand the importance of winning division games, while giving them the confidence to pick up more of these critical wins in the future seasons to come.

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