Amobi Okoye pressures Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder during the teams' first meeting Oct. 16. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 31, 2011 1:50AM
BEARS AT VIKINGS
Time: Noon Sunday at Mall of America Field.
TV: Fox-32 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
Line: Vikings by 1. Total: 41.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
While Jay Cutler’s absence has been disastrous, the Bears have had much better luck replacing injured Matt Forte. Kahlil Bell became the third Bears running back to rush for 100 or more yards in a game this season when he gained 121 on 23 carries last week against the Packers. In four games since Forte was injured, Bell has rushed for 260 yards on 47 carries (5.5 per carry). Armando Allen added 40 yards on 11 carries against the Packers as the Bears ran for 199 yards to move up to eighth in the NFL (128 ypg). Josh McCown gained 38 yards on eight carries in his first start for the Bears. The Vikings are sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.9).
In the air
After displaying extreme competence in place of Caleb Hanie last week against the Packers, McCown has a chance to solidify a shot at the Bears’ backup job for 2012 with a strong finish agianst the Vikings. Had Earl Bennett gotten into the end zone instead of getting tackled at the 1 on a 49-yard play, McCown’s passer rating would have been 88.8 — better than Cutler’s season average of 85.7. McCown historically throws to the most talented receivers on the field, so it’s worth noting Roy Williams (6-81) and Dane Sanzenbacher (4-51) were his favorite targets last week. The Vikings are thin in the secondary and ranked 29th against the pass.
Webb hasn’t progressed as rapidly on the left side as he did on the right last season. Allen had 21/2 sacks and nine tackles against the Bears at Soldier Field to earn NFC defensive player of the week honors. This will be a good test of how far Webb has come.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
Adrian Peterson won’t play after suffering a torn left ACL last week against the Redskins. But the Bears actually have had more trouble stopping his replacement, Toby Gerhart, who doesn’t have Peterson’s moves but runs with power and deceptive speed. Gerhart had a 67-yard run last week against the Redskins and had 109 yards on 11 carries overall. He has 100 yards on 21 carries in three games against the Bears. The Bears have held opponents to 78.5 yards rushing and 3.3 yards per carry in their last 10 games to jump from 21st to eighth in the NFL. They held Peterson to 39 yards on 12 carries in October at Soldier Field.
In the air
Rookie Christian Ponder (13 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 72.4 rating) has had his moments since replacing Donovan McNabb, with three games of 90-plus passer ratings and five of 60 or lower. He has a 114.8 rating in the red zone (eight touchdowns, one interception), the best in the NFL among quarterbacks with 20-plus attempts. Harvin has 46 catches for 518 yards and all six of his receiving touchdowns in his last seven games. Ex-Bear Devin Aromashodu has 14 catches for 262 yards in his last six games. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, a rookie from Notre Dame, has three touchdown catches in the last five games.
Zackary Bowman started for Tim Jennings last week against the Packers but had problems and might yield the spot back to Jennings. Either will be challenged by Harvin, who has averaged five catches for 71 yards in five games against the Bears.
With the Bears out of the playoff race, both teams will be playing for pride in Week 17, a dynamic capable of producing a wide variance of results. The Vikings showed some spunk last week, beating the Redskins after losing Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson. The Bears were a serious postseason contender before Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb and often play well in hopeless situations, so they figure to give a premium effort for Lovie Smith. But it doesn’t take much for things to turn sour on the road.
Devin Hester’s ankle injury and the attrition of other injuries have taken a toll on the Bears’ vaunted special-teams units. Hester has had one kickoff return longer than 25 yards in the last nine games — a 35-yarder last week against the Packers. But he practiced this week and is ready to go. He had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Vikings on Oct. 16 at Soldier Field. Vikings return man Percy Harvin has kickoff returns of 103 and 104 yards this season.