NFL Preview – Minnesota (4-5) at Chicago (3-6) (ET)

By John McMullen, NFL Editor

( – There is plenty of blame to go around in Chicago.

Quarterback Jay Cutler, coach Marc Trestman, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker,
general manager Phil Emery … take your pick. Just understand Jim McMahon,
Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan and Jerry Vainisi aren’t coming through the door at
Halas Hall to fix things.

The reeling Bears will try to halt a three-game losing streak and win for the
first time at Soldier Field this season when they host the improving Minnesota
Vikings on Sunday.

“This has been a very disturbing stretch of three weeks,” Trestman
understated. “There’s no doubt about it. But we’re focused in and the only way
we can work our way out of this is to go get ready for Minnesota.”

Trestman is in charge of a team that suffered a 51-23 loss to New England
prior to its bye week on Oct. 26 and came back from the break even worse,
surrendering 55 to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay on “Sunday Night Football” in
Week 10.

In doing do the Bears became the first team since the 1923 Rochester
Jeffersons to allow 50 points or more in consecutive games. They’ve also
allowed their opponents to hit the half-century mark three times in 11 games,
after doing it only six times overall in the previous 93 years.

“We’re not a very good football team right now,” Trestman said. “The level of
play is not anywhere near where it needs to be and it starts with me.”

Observers looking for an easy scapegoat have focused on Tucker but Trestman
has stuck by his defensive chief for now.

“(Mel) is doing everything he can under the circumstances to coach, to teach
and to lead that side of the ball, and he’s got a very good staff with him,”
Trestman said.

Chicago has lost three straight and five of six overall, the latest of which
was a 55-14 drubbing at the hands of its biggest rival during a national
television showcase.

Rodgers threw all of his six touchdown passes in the first half, tying the
Packers franchise record for touchdown passes in a game. The All-Pro finished
with 315 yards on 18-of-27 passing and matched the NFL record for most TD
passes in 30 minutes of football, which was originally set by Oakland’s Daryle
Lamonica in 1969.

Cutler completed 22-of-37 passes for 272 yards with a touchdown and two
interceptions in the setback while Brandon Marshall had eight catches for 112
yards and a score despite suffering a left ankle sprain. Chris Williams also
returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown for Chicago.

The Vikings, meanwhile, won two straight before their bye week, including a
heart-stopping 29-26 win over Washington back on Nov. 2.

Matt Asiata finished that game with just 26 rushing yards on 10 carries but
his third touchdown of the contest proved to be the difference. Rookie
quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went 26-for-42 for 268 yards with a touchdown
for Minnesota.

“It was a great team victory and I’m really proud of the ways the guys
fought,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. “I feel like our team really
grew up today in a lot of ways. We went down a couple of times, and kept
fighting and fighting and it paid off.”

The Vikings lead their all-time series with the Bears by a 54-50-2 margin but
have dropped six straight in Chicago dating back to Oct. 14, 2007.


The Bears probably aren’t allowing 50 points here simple because Bridgewater
is a rookie going through the understandable growing pains and Minnesota
remains without Adrian Peterson, who is still sidelined after pleading no
contest to a misdemeanor reckless assault charge last week.

That doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t do some damage though. Chicago’s defense
is allowing a league-high 30.8 points per game and ranks 28th against in the
NFL against the pass, surrendering 268.6 yards per game.

Bridgewater, meanwhile, is starting to “get it,” leading Minnesota to back-to-
back fourth-quarter comebacks before the bye.

“I think we showed some resiliency there,” Zimmer said. “I think our team grew
up a little bit.”

Without Peterson the Vikings have relied on rookie speedster Jerick McKinnon,
who leads all rookies in rushing with 446 yards and ranks sixth in the NFL at
5.0 yards per carry. When Minnesota gets inside the red zone, it turns to the
tackle-busting Asiata, who has nine rushing TDs since Week 15 of last season,
second in the league over that span.

Bridgewater could also be getting talented tight end tight end Kyle Rudolph
back. The ex-Notre Dame star has missed the previous six games following
sports hernia surgery.

“That’s up to coach Zimmer and Sugs (trainer Eric Sugarman),” Rudolph
said of returning. “I’m excited to be back. I’m excited to do what I can to
help this team win and stay on a roll.”

The main issue for Chicago’s D has been the pass rush and ex-Vikings All-Pro
Jared Allen has been a disappointment after signing a big-money free agent
deal in the offseason. Allen, of the league’s most prolific pass rushers while
in Minnesota, has just 1 1/2 sacks and has been slowed by injury and illness.

“It’s not like we don’t have talent,” Allen said on a conference call. “We
went, home opener on the road against the 49ers and were able to come back
from 17 down. It’s in us.”

Allen has a chance to be revitalized this week because Vikings left tackle
Matt Kalil is having a poor season, Bridgewater will hold onto the football
longer than he should at times, and the veteran will likely bring an extra
gear to show up his old ‘mates.

“I think from what I’ve seen so far, (Kalil’s) firing off well in the run
game. He’s been beat a few times in the pass game but, you know, who
doesn’t get beat a few times?” Allen said. “He’s a good player, he still has
good technique We’re going to have to take advantage of situations
because he knows me, I know him and we’ll have to see whose technique is
better Sunday.”

Under Zimmer the Vikings have been one of the most improved teams defensively.
Minnesota is fourth in all of football against the pass thanks to a ferocious
rush that has produced 20 sacks over the last four games.

Athletic defensive end Everson Griffen, Allen’s replacement, is the ringleader
there with a career-high nine sacks. Griffen has recorded a sack in five
consecutive games and has seven overall over that span.

Overall, the Vikings defense ranks ninth, allowing 316.4 yards per game and is
sixth best at forcing three-and-outs.

Conversely Cutler has been responsible for 15 turnovers and has been sacked
23 times.

“I think the biggest thing is that Jay has got to play better,” Trestman
admitted. “He didn’t play well enough (against Green Bay) and I’m certain that
he’d take accountability for that.”

Marshall expects to play despite the injury suffered against the Packers.


Sometimes this game is all about confidence and little else.

Cutler and the Bears always lose to Rodgers and the Packers and arrived in
Green Bay shoulders slumped, expecting to lose. Conversely, Mr. Cavallari has
won six of his past seven starts against the Vikings and always beats them in
the Second City. Figure on the Bears stopping the bleeding here, if only for
one week.

“Through any career you have adversity,” Trestman said. “When those times come
you have to embrace it and move forward and be resilient, and that’s what
we’re trying to do collectively and individually.”

Sports Network predicted outcome: Bears 23, Vikings 14