Here come the Bears again. And I’ve got five big questions…
1. Will Christian Ponder get it done at home?
There’s no doubt Ponder has a different comfort level inside the Dome. And that’s even with the 50,000 drunks wanting to kick his butt. If you must have stats, consider this: Ponder’s road QB rating is 71.6 but his home rating is 88.1. But I don’t need some number to know Ponder looks considerably better at MOA Field than out in hostile environments like Soldier Field and Lambeau. His best games of the year have been at home. Against San Francisco, against Tennessee and against Detroit. And one of those teams even has a legit defense. Of course the Vikes had Percy Harvin on the field for two of those three games and that’s a big deal. But I actually think Ponder will be all right. He’s shown a fair amount of tenacity in his short career. He will bounce back after that trainwreck in Green Bay. If he can just avoid the massive brainfarts, he should have a decent day against a banged up, aging Bears defense. Look for him to lock in on Kyle Rudolph in a big way. I’d also like to see him run more. He’s better when he just tucks it and gets his five.
2. Will Adrian Peterson pop for 200 again?
Adrian has to look back on the first Bears game two weeks ago and feel like it was a missed opportunity. For whatever reason, Bill Musgrave decided not to give him the ball enough early. And then of course Adrian had his fumble. He ended up with a decent game stat wise but it feels like it could’ve been bigger. This is his chance to redeem himself. I’m fairly certain Musgrave won’t blow this one by trying to throw early. He seemed to learn his lesson. It was run run run against Green Bay. And Adrian got 210 and the Vikes had the lead until Ponder shot himself in the face.
3. Will Jarius Wright step into Percy Harvin’s shoes?
The Vikings need the bubble screen factor in their offense. If they’re not going to pass it deep. And we know they’re not going to pass it deep. Jerome Simpson isn’t equipped for those kind of quick short pass plays – not enough explosion after the catch – so Jarius Wright has to be the guy. Of course Wright is not going to be Harvin. We know Percy’s skills are unique. Percy’s ability to catch the ball with his momentum already going forward and see the first hole and blow through it and then go into the first tackler with bone-shattering violence…well, it’s just like nothing we’ve ever seen. Wright is not that guy. But Wright has some quicks and he’s shown the ability to make tough catches. So he can be a weapon if used right. Musgrave has to dial up some stuff for him. He was way too invisible against the Packers. Of course we know the loss of Harvin also takes away our change-of-pace back and that’s a problem. Wright can’t help there. It’s too bad the Vikings let Jordan Todman walk. He might have been useful to them.
4. Will the pass rush succeed in making Jay Cutler “uncomfortable?”
Leslie Frazier says the Vikes need to make Jay Cutler “uncomfortable” if they’re going to defeat the Bears’ offense. They certainly didn’t do that the first game. The only hits they got on Cutler seemed to come after he’d already delivered a strike. Of course the Bears helped him by leaving in extra blockers and sticking with shorter passes. It was just smart game-planning by the Bears. Yes, I said it. Mike Tice called a smart game offensively. He helped out his offensive line and QB. So how do the Vikes overcome this and make Cutler uncomfortable? To me, they must get more pressure up the middle. It’s not enough to just have Jared Allen and Brian Robison shooting off the edges. You can always account for edge rushers with scheme and technique, if you have a QB who’s comfortable stepping up. And Cutler is comfortable stepping up. You’ve gotta make him step up into more pressure if you want to hurt his comfort level. But who’s going to bring that pressure? Kevin Williams isn’t getting it done these days. I wish Everson Griffen was more of a factor but he’s not. Fred Evans is good for maybe one play a game. Maybe you need to change up your looks and bring some more blitzes. Not that there’s really anyone out there in the linebacker corps who’s good at blitzing. Erin Henderson? Jasper Brinkley? Nope.
5. Will this game put the Vikings back in the playoff race?
If they win they’ll be 7-6 and, at least record-wise, back in the playoff race. But will they really be legitimately back in the race? It depends on how much faith you have in their ability to go to St. Louis and Houston and win. Realistically, they have to win both those games to have any shot. Those are two pretty salty defensive teams right there. And we know how bad Christian Ponder has been on the road. So, really, even if the Vikes beat the Bears – and I think they have a good shot – their playoff chances are still very very slim. They would have to pull off two pretty large upsets on the road to get it done. Only thing to their slight advantage is, those are both dome games (Houston has a retractable roof but that’s the same as it being an indoor game even if it’s on grass). Their one road win this year came indoors at Detroit. And they almost pulled off the victory inside at Indianapolis. So this is a team built for indoor football. And that’s all they’re going to be playing the rest of this year. There’s your dose of hope for the day.
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