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Sunday, December 1, 2013
5 things to watch: Bears at Vikings

By Michael C. Wright
ESPN.com

Here are five things to keep an eye on Sunday when the Chicago Bears face the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome:

The pass rush: With defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea expected to occupy the middle of Chicago’s front four, Corey Wootton will likely get a chance to move back to the outside opposite Julius Peppers, and that should lead to the closest thing resembling a legitimate starting front four since the team opened the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. Expectations aren’t high for what Ratliff and Paea may be able to contribute since both are coming off injury. But on the outside, Wootton will be an upgrade over Shea McClellin, who might be better suited as a change-of-pace, situational pass-rusher. It’s imperative Chicago finds a way to get to Christian Ponder because he’s prone to make mistakes the Bears can take advantage of.

Stopping Adrian Peterson: Stop Peterson, win the game. It’s really that simple. The Bears need to try to find a way to force Ponder to beat them. Given Chicago’s recent struggles against the run, Peterson could be in for a big day.

Trestman said the Bears will give Ratliff a set number of snaps “over the course of the game,” and gauge the veteran’s condition as the contest progresses. If Ratliff can give the Bears at least three quarters worth of snaps, it could go a long way in the team’s efforts to stop Peterson. More consistent tackling by safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte would help tremendously as well.

“We showed them a series of clips from the previous game. There were 10 to 12 clips of everyone on defense, in the run game, doing exactly what they were supposed to do: and they were 1, 2, 3-yard gains,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said.  “So that’s encouraging. We’re looking to build off of those plays. And if you can get that type of execution in a game on a consistent basis, then you have a chance to stop people. So we’re building on what we’ve shown that we can do in games, with the guys that we do have. We just need to do it on a more consistent basis.”

Matt Forte: In two games now, Forte has fumbled early and put the offense in a hole. So that can’t happen in this game, which is pretty much a must win for the Bears. Forte has contributed 242 yards from scrimmage in his past two outings, and if the Bears can get him going early they give themselves a better chance by keeping Peterson off the field.

“There’s a lot of flexibility in what you can do with him,” Trestman said of Forte. “He’s a fluid runner. He can run inside and outside. He’s a very good pass receiver, and he’s a very big part of our protection package. He’s a big part of picking up that sixth player, wherever he comes from. He’s got multiple skill sets and he’s a three-down player."

Pass protection: Another indoor venue means the offensive line might experience some difficulty with communication against a Vikings team that is extremely fast on the outside on the turf with defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison. That means the line needs to set the protections quickly while quarterback Josh McCown needs to process pre-snap reads quickly and vary the snap count to prevent Minnesota from timing up the count.

McCown suffered a sack against the Rams last week that resulted in a fumble and 31-yard return for a touchdown by Robert Quinn. No need for a repeat of that.

Special teams: Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown when the teams met in Week 2. So the Bears will try to kick the ball away from Patterson, but they won’t always be successful.

“We just have to make sure if we don’t [kick to him], we cover him,” special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “We saw how explosive he was in our first game. But he’s continued it, no question. He had a touchdown against Green Bay last week. The guy has had a great year. So it’s a real challenge for us.”

Devin Hester poses a similar threat to the Vikings, and the Bears return man busted a 76-yard kickoff return and an 80-yarder to finish the day with 249 yards on kickoff returns. Hester is also coming off a game in which he scored on a 62-yard punt return that was nullified by a penalty.

“It’s a different game than what we played them the first time,” DeCamillis said. “Because it’s a dome, they got a kicker that can bomb it out of there, and I’m sure that’s what he’s going to try to do is try to take [Hester] out of the game in one phase of it.”