Our snapshot look at the Vikings as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Bears at Soldier Field.
PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT CHARLES TILLMAN
Now in his 10th season, energetic cornerback Charles Tillman might be the most important cog in Chicago's takeaway machine. This season Tillman has forced seven fumbles and picked off two passes, both of which he returned for touchdowns.
No wonder the Vikings were singing his praises this week, reminding all their offensive playmakers to remain aware of Tillman's whereabouts.
Said Vikings receiver Percy Harvin said: "Since I've been here, I know every time we've game-planned for them we circle Peanut on our board as a big stripper [of the ball]. I don't think anything's changed."
Tillman's hand-eye coordination and trademarked "Peanut Punch" make him a master at forcing fumbles; he has 36 of those in his career.
But his size, savvy and speed also allow him to be a lockdown corner. FootballOutsiders.com rates Chicago as the NFL's second-best defense against No. 1 receivers. Proof to that end: In a Week 7 victory over Detroit, Tillman limited Calvin Johnson to three catches for 34 yards.
Earlier this month, on the eve of the presidential election, Barack Obama endorsed Tillman as Defensive Player of the Year.
Linebacker Brian Urlacher was asked this week if he agreed with the President's vote for Tillman.
"I thought he already won it," Urlacher said. "Are there still votes out there? He's got it in my book."
MOST PRESSING QUESTION
Will Harvin and/or Jay Cutler play Sunday?The Vikings receiver is listed as doubtful on the injury report because of a sprained ankle; Chicago's quarterback is questionable as he works back from a concussion.
Harvin was unable to practice all week, with his last efforts to do so Friday failing.
Harvin stretched with the team Friday but, according to coach Leslie Frazier, "couldn't really put a lot of weight on that ankle."
Consider him very unlikely to play, which means rookie Jarius Wright will get more work. Wright practiced this week as both an outside receiver and as a guy in the slot.
Cutler, meanwhile, has been limited this week and needs clearance over the weekend from an independent neurologist in order to play. But all signs point to him doing so.
Without Cutler, the Bears offense has been a mess. In the last game and a half, Chicago has scored 10 points on 18 possessions, with backup quarterback Jason Campbell (25-for-41, 201 yards, one TD, two interceptions, two fumbles, six sacks) struggling.
Without Harvin two weeks ago, the Vikings offense found a way to get in a groove, piling up 403 total yards and scoring a season-best 34 points.
The Vikings will need push up front to energize their defense. Ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison should have ample opportunity to get after the quarterback against shaky Bears tackles J’Marcus Webb and Jonathan Scott. But the run defense must also remain stable, building on the bounce-back effort of two weeks ago, limiting Detroit to 60 rushing yards. Chicago’s Matt Forte (4.5 yards per carry, 821 yards from scrimmage, three TDs) presents another challenge but has just two 100-yard rushing efforts this season.
Chicago’s Super Bowl hopes revolve around the defense, which has held five of 10 opponents below 14 points. Most impressive, the takeaway total keeps rising, up to 30 and counting with 11 players having recorded an interception, a forced fumble or a fumble recovery. Cornerback Tim Jennings was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September and has a league-best eight interceptions. Tillman was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October. Oh, and there are also ageless vets named Briggs, Peppers and Urlacher who continue to excel.
Harvin’s injury is the Vikings’ most significant. But nose tackle Letroy Guion and left guard Charlie Johnson are also both questionable because of toe injuries. Johnson banged his toe during the bye week and has been limited in practice the past few days. Frazier said he thinks Johnson will be fine for Sunday, but Joe Berger would be the likely backup plan.