Every game has “keys.” Commonly those are variations on a theme — stop the run, pressure the passer, avoid turnovers, the usual suspects.
But the keys to the Bears being successful are less specific to the Minnesota Vikings — stop Adrian Peterson, the usual — and more to what in a broader sense the Bears simply have not done well enough virtually this entire season.
The early fall-downs
In multiple games this season the result has gone in favor of whatever team scores last — Washington, San Francisco, Minnesota, Detroit, Kansas City, Oakland. The Bears bluntly and correctly declared that in losses to the Redskins and 49ers it should never have had to come down to Robbie Gould field goal tries.
Too often, however, the problem has been who has scored first. The Bears have been outscored in the first quarters of 10 of their 13 games, and they are 3-7 in those games. In some they have come back to tie scores or even go ahead, but those subsequent scores should have been building or padding a lead if the Bears had not spotted opponents the high ground in the first place.
And against a Minnesota team that coach Mike Zimmer admitted had a confidence sag when they were flogged by the Arizona Cardinals (the Vikings’ third loss in the last four games), starting with authority potentially stands to fuel any shakiness the Vikings still feel.
Get a takeaway, any takeaway
The 2015 Bears defense has been respectable in spite of a litany of injuries and personnel losses in every echelon of the unit. Run defense has not allowed an average of fewer than 118 yards per game and was up to 128 per game after a Week 12 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
But the pass defense, while ranked No. 2 at 216 yards per game, is something of a mirage in perhaps the most game-turning area.
Only four teams have fewer than the Bears’ seven interceptions this season. And only three of those belong to defensive backs — two by Kyle Fuller, one by Tracy Porter. That matches the low of the past 20 years, when safety Marty Carter had two and cornerback Jeremy Lincoln had one.
The Bears had four in 2000 and 2002 — coincidentally (or not) seasons of 5-11 and 4-12, respectively.
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Jay Cutler has had a career year at taking care of the football — interception percentage 1.8 vs. his previous best of 2.9 percent for a season in which he has played 12 or more games.
The defense has not returned the favor. The Bears need to be able to commit numbers to stopping Peterson, with the secondary then taking the ball away from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
And the winner is...
Few teams have been as difficult to predict in 2015 as the Bears, with the resiliency and character to recover with road victories to close to within a game of .500, then failing completely at home against genuinely substandard teams in games with genuine playoff implications on the line.
The Bears and the Vikings come into Sunday having lost three of their last four. The Bears have been rallied to upset good teams already (Kansas City, Green Bay) but after the performances, top to bottom, against San Francisco and Washington, and a top-5 Minnesota rushing game going against one of the NFL’s poorest run defenses...
Prediction: Vikings 24, Bears 20