For a team that, before the beginning of the season, named their defensive line as being one of their team’s strengths, the 2011 season couldn’t have started any worse for the Chicago Bears. That is, unless they were the 2011 Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota decided during the offseason to turn the page on the Brett Favre experiment, and go with a younger quarterback by signing long-time Eagles QB Donovan McNabb. And so, what was once a marquee matchup instead is a primetime battle between the 2-3 Chicago Bears, and the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings. While this still should be a typical NFC North type game, the importance of the outcome is not that relevant, something the schedule makers surely did not count on, especially since it is only week 6.
Vikings @ Bears, Spread, Line, Betting Odds:
Minnesota Vikings +3 (-130)
@ Chicago Bears -3 (+110)
Over 41.5 (-110)
Under 41.5 (-110)
Vikings vs. Bears Pick:
Is the Christian Ponder watch over in Minnesota now that they have finally won a game, or is it just on hold until Donovan McNabb has another game where he completes 7 of his 15 attempts for 39 yards? As bad as McNabb’s performance in that week 1 matchup with the Chargers was, he could make great strides in winning back some fans if he were to lead the Vikings to a big road win over division rival Chicago. While their quarterback play surely is not what they had envisioned coming into this season, the Vikings have actually looked not all that bad at times so far this season. Given his 39 yard performance, it should come as no surprise the Vikings have the second worst passing game in football, averaging just 155.8 yards per game overall, and just 109 YPG on the road. As bad as those numbers look, they could be a little distorted considering Minnesota also averages the second fewest pass attempts per game at 26.4 (22.5 on the road). As bad as the passing game has been, the running game has been that good, ranking 3rd best in the league with 160 YPG average (163.3 at home, 155 on the road). Adrian Peterson appears to be in mid-season form already, running for 498 yards through the first 5 games, accounting for over 62% of Minnesota’s total rushing offense. Defensively, the Vikings seem to be performing pretty well, ranking 14th overall in the league. The disturbing part of that number however is that they are currently 25th against the pass this season, allowing 271.8 YPG, which is over 60 YPG higher than what they allowed last year (210.4 YPG). Conversely they are 4th overall against the run this year, allowing just 76.4 YPG, an improvement over 2010, when they gave up 102.2 YPG. Given their success defending against the run, the Bears will look to try to exploit the Vikings struggling pass defense, and will try and use Matt Forte more receiving the short passes.
The Bears meanwhile must do a much better job of keeping Jay Cutler upright, even though they are facing the NFL’s sack leader in Jared Allen, who has 8-1/2 to his credit through 5 games this year. As a team, the Vikings are averaging 3.2 sacks per game, and the Bears may be happy if that is all they give up in this one. Considering Chicago has done a terrible job of protecting their QB this year, and that the Bear’s offense has been very predictable, Cutler hasn’t been that bad. While his 82.7 passer rating isn’t stellar, and the Bears 23rd ranked pass offense isn’t terrific, considering Cutler has been running for his life much of the time, it certainly could be worse. More troubling for Bears fans this year though would have to be the performance of their usually strong defense, which has struggled so far. Chicago currently ranks 29th in the league in total defense, 27th against the pass and 28th against the run. They have also given up huge plays so far this year, allowing runs of 88 and 43 yards, and a 73 yard passing play in last week’s game alone. Prior to that game, the Chicago Bears had not given up a pass and a run of more than 73 yards since 1950.
Clearly Chicago must try and become more balanced on offense, forcing opponents to defend against the run at least sometime. If they can get Matt Forte more carries, it would surely give Jay Cutler more time in the pocket and improve their passing game. Minnesota seems to have figured out the last couple weeks what everybody else already knew, when you have one of the game’s best running backs, use him. Donovan McNabb’s role has changed from being the guy that can and will win the game for you, to just not being the guy to lose the game for you. Having said that, the Bears will let McNabb try and beat them through the air, and will instead concentrate on defending against the run. Jay Cutler should have some success passing against the Vikings D, and because of that, take the Bears and give the 3 points.