The Vikings are 4-2, winners of two straight, coming off a 300-yard passing game and possessing the No. 2-ranked scoring defense (17.0). But they’re also heading back to Chicago, where they haven’t won since 2007.
What does that have to do with this year’s team? Probably not a darn thing. But when streaks reach seven, reporters tend to bring them up.
Here’s our early look at the Bears …
NEXT UP: Chicago Bears, noon, Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears lost 37-34 in overtime at Detroit before taking their bye last week. They’re 2-4, 1-2 at home. They have a one-point win at Kansas City and a two-point win at home against Oakland. They’ve also lost at home to Green Bay (31-23) and Arizona (48-31) and at Seattle (26-0).
KEY INJURIES: The bye helped some of the Bears get healthier. Receiver Alshon Jeffery, who caught 11 balls for 135 yards and a touchdown in last year’s home win over the Vikings, had another week to rest a hamstring injury that knocked him out of four games. He came back against the Lions two weeks ago and caught eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. He suffered no setback, so look out. Meanwhile, the Bears are hopeful that they’ll get safety Antrel Rolle (ankle) and inside linebacker Shea McClellin (knee) back this week. Rolle missed the last two games while McClellin missed the last game.
LAST TIME: The Vikings split the season series last year, losing in Chicago 21-13 as cornerback Josh Robinson was picked on mercilessly by Jay Cutler and tall receivers Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, who is now with the Jets. Robinson is still on PUP and won’t play this week. The Bears went into that game in Chicago having just tied the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons as the only team in NFL history to give up 50 or more points in back-to-back games. The Bears had just been blown out by the Packers and Patriots, but were able to hold the Vikings to 243 yards of offense and seal the win with an interception of Teddy Bridgewater in the closing minute. Cutler had 330 yards passing.
A LOOK AT THE FILM …
OFFENSE: Cutler is one of the most inconsistent players in the league. Is he an upper echelon quarterback who makes too many mistakes? Or is he an average quarterback with a great arm, an occasional hot streak and a 64-62 record that includes one playoff win? On any given day, he and that powerful right arm are just as likely to make the game-killing mistake as they are the game-winning play. He’s had a costly interception in four of his five games. Two were turned into touchdowns and two killed fourth-quarter drives. But he also executed the late game-winning drives to beat the Raiders at home and the Chiefs in Kansas City. And he moved the Bears 65 yards in 21 seconds for the game-tying field goal in regulation at Detroit. The Bears then lost in overtime. Also, in the game he missed because with a hamstring injury, the Bears lost 26-0 at Seattle. The best way for the Vikings to contain Cutler is to stop running back Matt Forte, a dual threat who is sixth in the league in rushing, and turn lose the pass rush that racked up seven sacks at Detroit. Tight end Martellus Bennett also has given the Vikings trouble in the past, although the Vikings have much more speed at linebacker now than they’ve had in a long time. Up front, the Bears are vulnerable, as usual. Rookie center Hroniss Grasu can be overpowered. Left tackle Charles Leno is a second-year player still learning the position, but might stay there even when Jermon Bushrod returns from a concussion and shoulder injury. And right guard is a weak spot that’s manned by former Viking Vladimir Ducasse.
DEFENSE: Teams typically make changes during their bye week. But not the way the Bears did last week when they released nose tackle Jay Ratliff after a heated exchange with General Manager Ryan Pace at team headquarters. Ratliff reportedly showed up for work in no condition to practice and was sent home. When he returned to the facility twice to argue with Pace, he was escorted off the property by police and released the next day. Ratliff isn’t an All-Pro by any stretch, but he was helping the Bears transition into a 3-4 defense with ill-fitting parts left over from a bad 4-3 defense. One look at the Bears’ defense is all you need to realize that Pace and coach John Fox need a few more offseasons to infuse some more young talent into this weak roster. Earlier this season, they jettisoned some players, trading former Viking Jared Allen to Carolina and releasing former Gopher Brock Vereen, who is now on the Vikings practice squad. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee has been a nice addition both in talent and leadership since joining the Bears from Baltimore via free agency. Rolle’s return at safety will help a secondary that doesn’t have a takeaway this season. The defense has only four of the team’s seven takeaways. The other three came on special teams.
RANKINGS: Offense: 27th (16 rushing, 24 passing). Defense 10 (25 rushing, 6 passing). Scoring: 28 (20.0). Scoring defense: T-last (29.8).
STORYLINE: While the Vikings are on the road for the second straight week, the Bears are coming off a bye. Bears coach John Fox is 10-3 in the week following a bye. He was 6-3 in Carolina and 4-0 with the Broncos.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 0
— Number of takeaways for the Bears secondary.
TURNOVER MARGIN: Minus-1 (T-20)
They have seven takeaways and nine giveaways.