Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has two touchdown passes and three interceptions the last two weeks. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP
RICK MORRISSEY: 17-10 Bears Season: 11-1 RICK TELANDER: 24-17 Bears Season: 10-2 DAN McGRATH: 26-24 Bears Season: 9-3 SEAN JENSEN: 23-16 Bears Season: 8-4 ADAM L. JAHNS: 23-16 Bears Season: 6-2 MARK POTASH: 17-14 Vikings Season: 9-3
RICK TELANDER: 24-17 Bears
DAN McGRATH: 26-24 Bears
SEAN JENSEN: 23-16 Bears
ADAM L. JAHNS: 23-16 Bears
MARK POTASH: 17-14 Vikings
Updated: December 8, 2012 1:51AM
BEARS AT VIKINGS
Time: Noon Sunday at the Metrodome.
TV: Fox-32 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
Line: Bears by 3.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
The Bears are hoping to pick up where they left off against the Seahawks last week, when they rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries in the second half after being held to 41 yards on 14 carries in the first. The biggest key for the Bears could be avoiding false-start penalties that put them in early passing downs and discombobulate the offense. Matt Forte (21-66 last week) is averaging 2.9 yards per carry in his last four games after averaging 5.0 ypc in his first six games. Michael Bush (7-39 last week) has bruised ribs and is questionable. Forte could get the workload he has been craving.
In the air
Though Jay Cutler has not put up prolific numbers in two games since returning from a concussion, he has been solid in one key area that bodes well for future success — he has completed 70 percent of his passes (40-for-57) after completing just 59 percent in his first nine games. He is hit or miss on the road, though — a 28.2 rating at Green Bay and a 140.1 rating at Dallas. He and Brandon Marshall had to scratch and claw against the Vikings at Soldier Field (12-92, his lowest average per catch of the season). With Earl Bennett out, the return of Alshon Jeffery (16-199, 2 TDs) could be a key factor.
With help from his teammates, J’Marcus Webb helped keep Jared Allen in check at Soldier Field (4 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 0 sacks). But the noisy Metrodome presents an entirely different challenge for the line to prevent Allen from taking over.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
The Bears held NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson (1,446 yards, 6.2 ypc, 8 TDs) to 108 yards two weeks ago (that’s no joke — it’s his lowest total in the last six games). In fact, Peterson had only 25 yards on seven carries in the first half when the Bears took a 25-3 lead. The Bears’ defensive line won the battle against the Vikings but was less than stellar against the Seahawks. Bears MLB Brian Urlacher is out, but it won’t matter if the line allows Peterson to get a full head of steam. Nick Roach, moving from WLB to MLB, is more than capable. He forced a Peterson fumble in the victory at home.
In the air
If the Bears are counting on taking advantage of struggling Vikings QB Christian Ponder (2 TDs, 3 INTs the last two weeks), they might be disappointed. Ponder had ratings of 58.2 against the Bears and 41.9 against the Packers; both games were on the road. Ponder is better at the Metrodome — he had a 114.2 rating in his most recent home game against the Lions (24-32, 221, 2 TDs, 0 INTs), and WR Percy Harvin, who is on injured reserve, didn’t play in that game, either. TE Kyle Rudolph (45-412, 8 TDs) is Ponder’s favorite target. He has 18 catches for 170 yards and 3 TDs in his last three games.
Geno Hayes is starting for Nick Roach, who moves to MLB for Brian Urlacher. Hayes has 42 NFL starts, but at WLB. He’s not known for shedding blockers, and if he can’t do it against the Vikings and tight end Kyle Rudolph, Adrian Peterson could have a field day.
The last time the Bears played an entire game without Brian Urlacher on short notice was in Week 2 of 2009, when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-14 at Soldier Field with Hunter Hillenmeyer filling in for Urlacher. Nick Roach gets the call this time. And while Roach is more than capable, the Urlacher absence leaves a void in leadership at a bad time for the defense, which is on tilt after folding down the stretch against the Seahawks. Will anybody step up?
While the coverage units continue to do the job, the Bears’ vaunted return game has been a missing element that looms larger as the offense tries to find itself and the defense seeks to recapture its first-half magic. The Bears rank first in the NFL in punt coverage and fifth in KO coverage. But they are 23rd in punt returns (7.5 ypr) and 31st in KO returns (19.5). Devin Hester will be back after missing last week with a concussion, but Eric Weems might also get opportunities to break a long one.