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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Preview: Bears’ run defense may be opening Vikings, Peterson need

By Andrew Krammer

Minnesota Vikings (8-5) vs. the Chicago Bears (5-8)

When/where: Sunday, 12 p.m. CT at TCF Bank Stadium

Line: Vikings by 5.5

Series: Vikings lead 56-51-2

Last meeting: Teddy Bridgewater and Stefon Diggs, juking his way to a 40-yard touchdown pass, helped lead the Vikings’ comeback at Soldier Field in a 23-20 win on Nov. 1.

Coaches: Mike Zimmer (15-14, second season) vs. John Fox (124-97, 14th season)

Last week: The Vikings fell short of the upset in Arizona, 23-20; Bears kicker Robbie Gould missed a game-tying, 50-yard field goal, losing to Washington, 24-21.

Ground and pound – The classic outdoor winter game will have to wait as the turf at TCF Bank Stadium likely won’t be frozen on Sunday, when the Vikings look to re-establish Adrian Peterson against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses in Chicago. The Bears allow 4.7 yards per carry, ranking 30th. In the Vikings’ last three losses, opponents have found ways to shut down Peterson as he’s averaged just 44 rushing yards in each. He’ll be 10 days removed from a frustrating outing in Arizona, where he was held to 31 yards after a successful opening drive. Coach Mike Zimmer praised Norv Turner’s commitment to the run despite the inconsistent production, and a 10-point deficit late. We should see a continued commitment against the Bears’ lackluster run defense. Zimmer wants more from his offensive line, and Sunday will also be a good opportunity for Brandon Fusco, T.J. Clemmings and Matt Kalil to be the aggressors. One thing to watch is if offensive coordinator Norv Turner keeps Peterson involved on more third downs and hurry-up situations, as he did against the Cardinals.

Yards After Catch – Players were obviously down about the Arizona loss, but came away feeling good about an offense that still found ways to move the ball with Peterson stymied. Teddy Bridgewater said the Vikings were ‘all comfortable’ with the game plan that week, which helped lead to a career-high 335 yards. Roughly 70 percent of those yards came after the catch, meaning Bridgewater was getting the ball out of his hands quicker than he has before this season. Whether that’s a product of play calling or execution, it led to production that this offense has been missing. Kalil and Clemmings will have their hands full against Bears’ outside linebackers Willie Young, Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston. There was also extra emphasis on ball security this week after fumbling three times in Cardinals’ territory last week.

Still recovering – Defensive depth will be tested again. Linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith will miss their second consecutive game on Sunday, meaning rookies Edmond Robinson and Anthony Harris could be in line for another start. Barr didn’t practice all week with a nagging groin injury that also kept him from most of the Seattle loss. Smith was able to practice on a limited basis, but was held out Friday and said his injured left leg would impact him too much at this point. Harris impressed his teammates in his first career start, and his audition could continue as the Vikings seek a long-term solution at strong safety. Nose tackle Linval Joseph returned to practice this week from a foot injury, and is listed as questionable. Defensive end Everson Griffen is also questionable with a shoulder injury. Joseph and Griffen practiced Friday.

A strong duo – The Vikings could use cornerback Xavier Rhodes to shadow Bears’ go-to target Alshon Jeffery, who averages more than 100 yards per game against the Vikings. But linebackers Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway will be key against a running back duo that has worked well for Chicago ever since Harrison Smith sprained Matt Forte’s MCL on a clean hit last month. The Bears have given Forte and rookie Jeremy Langford at least 10 carries each in the last three games, and Langford has averaged 4.1 yards per carry since Forte’s return from injury. Joseph’s return would also be a big boost for a Vikings’ run defense that has been shaky of late.

Playoffs? – A playoff berth could be secured on Sunday if the Vikings win and get some help. It’s not a slam dunk against the Bears, whose last five losses have come by one score. Chicago is also a tough road team, having defeated Kansas City, St. Louis and Green Bay away from home. If the Vikings can get it done, they’ll need a combination of Washington, Atlanta, Seattle or the New York Giants to lose. They already got one piece of the puzzle with Tampa Bay’s loss to the Rams on Thursday night.

Injury reports

Vikings: LB Anthony Barr (hand/groin), S Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring), WR Charles Johnson (ankle) and DE Scott Crichton (concussion/neck) are out; NT Linval Joseph (foot) and DE Everson Griffen (shoulder) are questionable; S Andrew Sendejo (knee), S Robert Blanton (knee) and LB Brandon Watts (rib) are probable.

Bears: CB Bryce Callahan (quad) is doubtful; WR Alshon Jeffery (calf/illness), TE Zach Miller (ribs), LB Pernell McPhee (knee), CB Tracy Porter (ankle) and DL Will Sutton (knee) are questionable.

Prediction

The Bears are 4-2 on the road this season and have held opponents to 18.6 points per game since facing the Vikings last month. Injuries will be tough to overcome, but the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who has long dominated Chicago. Vikings 24, Bears 20

Additional listening: Andrew Krammer and Derek Wetmore assess how the Vikings could finish the season with three regular season games remaining. Why does Krammer think they could take the NFC North? What do they need to be wary of Sunday against the Bears? What did the Vikings and Teddy Bridgewater do differently in Arizona, and can they continue a successful passing game? Where are we at with rookie Eric Kendricks? And the picks segment.

The post Preview: Bears’ run defense may be opening Vikings, Peterson need appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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