Vikings need to pressure Cutler in Chicago
The Vikings stormed back late to fell the Cardinals last week, but there's little doubt here in the T.C. that the Purple are five stellar minutes away from having a new head coach and a campaign left in the dust.
Now at 3-5 and still tilting upon the scales of extinction, the Vikings travel to Soldier Field on Sunday in what proves the latest version of their more important game of 2010.
Can they win in Chicago for the first time since 2007 and for the first time on the road in more than a year?
My heart says "Yes," but the gut says "No."
That Brett Favre appears to have been reborn in the last two weeks, and Adrian Peterson is a mere seven yards removed from the NFL rushing lead, only serves as a slight diversion from a host of problems for this bunch. In reality, the Arizona victory -- while plucky -- feels like something of a "pull tab win" five days later: A brief high, followed by the sobering reality that you're surrounded by a basketful of cardboard losers.
Like the loss in New England two weeks ago, the Vikings played a mostly sound game last Sunday, even though Special Teams follies made that outcome closer than it should have been (with the Vikings' offense outscoring the Cardinals' 27-10). Such caveats have been a constant theme of the Purple's game verse all season long. The off-field crap aside, this team has evidenced no consistent proof-of-purchase of being a legit playoff contender.
Of course, the same can be said for the Bears, who perhaps own the most deceptive paper record in the NFL.
After a 3-0 start, Chicago has found victory in just two of their last six, with last week's escape of Buffalo -- the league's only winless team -- their first win in a month. Of the five opponents the Bears have beaten this year, the teams own a collective record of 10-31 (.244) and only Green Bay has a winning mark. The Vikings' opponent win percentage ain't much better. The three teams they've beaten (Detroit, Dallas, and Arizona) combine for a .250 win clip at just 6-18.
The Bears defense ranks a solid third in the league, allowing just 83.9 yards per game. Historically, Peterson has oft-tamed this foe, a trend that began back in 2007, when he rushed for a monster 224 yards in just his fifth career game. In six lifetime contest versus Chicago, A.P. has scored 11 touchdowns and averages over 5.2 yards per carry -- that latter mark serves as tops for his career against any team he's faced more than once. Despite their lofty rank, this Chicago run D has proven polar on the ground. While they've held six leading rushers on the opposition to fewer than 70 yards, they've been twice torched on the season. In Week 4, the Giants Ahmad Bradshaw ran up 129 yards on these guys; in Week 7, the 'Skins Ryan Torian hit 'em up for 125.
Reversing field, the Bears run game has been brutal, ranking just 27th in the league. Leading
rusher Matt Forte has popped for over 50 yards just once this season, that coming via a Week 5, 166 yard performance against the league's 25th ranked run D in Carolina. In that game, Forte busted off a 68 yard carry; taking away that dash from his seasonal total finds him averaging a sorry 3.2 per rush. Forte has run for over 90 yards just thrice in his last 20 games.
Sunday marks Favre's 35th career game against the Bears, and he'll look to improve upon a solid 23-11 lifetime record. Dating to 2005, however, Favre has lost three of his last four in Chicago and his task to put together a third straight solid game may prove stringent should be without Percy Harvin (migraines).
Like the Vikings, the Bears claim a mere dozen sacks on the season -- bad for 25th in the NFL. The Purple, of course doubled their meager six sacks up to 12 by getting after Derek Anderson last week. For my dollars, this is where their chances lie this weekend.
Bears QB Jay Cutler has spent more time in his back this season than Kate Hudson has in the last two years. Cutler's been sacked 28 times in just seven games (he missed Week 5 with injury) -- that's tops in the league by six. Should he play in the Bears remaining eight games, he's pacing to go down a whopping 64 times behind Chicago's suspect line. That would serve as the most times sacked since former Texan David Carr went down 68 times in '05 and would be just the fourth time a quarterback has suffered 60-plus sacks since 2000.
Should Jared Allen cause continued havoc in the Chicago backfield and convert pressure
to Cutler into multiple turnovers, then I see the Vikings leaving Soldier Field with a win. But if Allen and the d-line revert to their sack-less ways (as they did in Weeks 6-8), then I can see Cutler finding success through the air to the likes of Greg Olson, former-Viking Chester Taylor, Forte, and yes, even Devin Hester.
Further "if"'s confront the Purple offense: if Favre can be great again this week; if Harvin is healthy; if Sidney Rice plays; if Peterson can find that north-leaning polarity against the tough Bears' D . . .
Unless Allen, Kevin Williams, and Ray Edwards do some serious damage, I just see too much hope and not enough proof-of-purchase for our Purple posse that hasn't won consecutive games in nearly a year. I hope I'm wrong on this outcome, but next week's buzz may be more about Chilly's gig than the throwdown with the Pack.
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