Five things to watch: Vikings at Bears

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
7:00
AM ET
Here are five things to watch Sunday when the Chicago Bears host the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field:

Faster start from the offense: The Bears started off slowly in Week 1 because Marc Trestman wanted to first see whether the offensive line could adequately protect Cutler, before potentially exposing him to punishment. So after the protection proved sufficient in the first two quarters, Trestman decided to open up the offense, and the results were near immediate. After putting up 97 yards of offense in the first half, the Bears racked up 226 more in quarters Nos. 3 and 4.

The Bears will go into this game looking to open things up offensively from the onset.

“Early in the game especially against a front like [Cincinnati’s] there’s a little bit of uncertainty about what’s going to happen,” Cutler said. “We had two new guys on the right side, four new guys in general. As we progressed through the game I got more comfortable. Marc [Trestman] got more comfortable calling plays and being able to trust them. Even looking at the film on Monday there were times whenever I was moving around or I could have stepped up and I didn’t. That’s just gaining trust in those guys and not only throughout a game, but throughout a season I’m going to get more and more trust with them.”

More pressure from the front four: Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton fired the ball quickly at the end of his drops, but Minnesota will be looking to connect on more home run balls than the Bengals, in part, because the Vikings expect the Bears to be overly focused on stopping Adrian Peterson. The Vikings will give the Bears a big dosage of Peterson, and then look to get the ball deep off play-action to Jerome Simpson or Greg Jennings. But for those types of plays to work, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder will have to hold onto the ball for a while to let the routes develop.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers, Stephen Paea and Nate Collins
AP Photo/Greg TrottThe Bears are making it a priority to generate more pressure with their front four against Minnesota.
“They live off of play-action,” Bears safety Chris Conte said. “Their running game is what gets them going, and we really just have to be prepared for [Ponder] on the move. He’s really good outside the pocket. So boots and play-action really is the big thing against them.”

That means players such as defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Henry Melton might be poised to nab their first sacks of the season.

“We’ve got to generate the pass rush with [the] four [down] linemen,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said.

More production from the rushing attack: Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills put together a strong NFL debut, as did veteran left guard Matt Slauson, but the rest of the offensive line -- which played fairly well -- needs to step up its game a notch.

Matt Forte finished the season opener with 60 yards on 19 attempts, and as a team the Bears rushed for 81 yards, averaging 2.9 yards per attempt. Obviously, that’s not good enough.

“We thought we would run the ball better [in the opener]; we didn’t,” Trestman said. “We didn’t run the ball as effectively as we’d like to be able to.”

Will secondary targets step up if Brandon Marshall is neutralized? They’ll certainly have to, but it appears the Bears are equipped to handle the Vikings taking away Marshall. In the opener, Cutler targeted three receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Forte and Martellus Bennett) other than Marshall at least six times, which is promising considering last season, the quarterback completed more than five passes to only one other receiver not named Marshall in a game (Forte).

With another week of practice under his belt, Earl Bennett might wind up playing a more prominent role in the offense. Trestman said Bennett is ready after catching one pass in the opener. It’s also important to note the chemistry Bennett shares with Cutler.

“Oh he’s caught up,” Trestman said of Bennett. “He’s had catches in practice, and been one of the targets in practice and that bodes well for us.”

Devin Hester on returns: Of Hester’s 19 touchdowns on kickoff or punt returns, four have come against the Minnesota Vikings. So he’s victimized Minnesota more than any other team in the NFL, with his last touchdown coming on a 98-yard kickoff return on Oct. 16, 2011.

“The first kickoff return (against Cincinnati last week), obviously, he gets it out to the 31. I blinked my eyes, and all of the sudden, I was like, ‘Wow, he’s at the 31,’” special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. “So he’s still got the speed, no question. Hopefully we’ll get more opportunities with the guys we’re playing.”

So if Hester is poised to finally break a TD return, the Vikings would seem to be the mostly likely opponent to do it against.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22
WEEKLY LEADERS