Ok, youse mugs, here's da last one.....
Grossman needs to work off rust
By Scouts, Inc.
Why To Watch
Motivation is the general theme heading into Week 17 of the NFL season. Unfortunately, neither the Bears nor the Vikings have much to play for in their regular-season finale in Minnesota this Sunday. With their victory over the Packers last week, the Bears clinched the NFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Vikings, on the other hand, were knocked out of the playoffs when the Ravens dealt them a demoralizing loss on Christmas Day.
With job security very much an issue heading into the offseason, Vikings head coach Mike Tice and his staff will push their players to finish strong with a home victory over the division champs. Minnesota's run defense is strong enough to hold up versus surging RB Thomas Jones, but QB Brad Johnson will need to keep his mistakes to a minimum versus a Chicago defense that intercepted four more passes last week, increasing its season total to 24.
When the Bears have the ball
Rushing: The Bears continue to be a one-dimensional, run-oriented offensive team. RB Cedric Benson is still out and RB Adrian Peterson is limited in terms of his effectiveness as a ball carrier, but starter Jones has proved to be an effective feature back. He lacks ideal size but shows very good vision, quickness and initial burst to get through small creases provided by his big, physical offensive line. Jones was able to exploit the Packers' ailing defensive front last week for 105 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, but it will be much tougher sledding Sunday.
The Vikings own one of the league's most underrated run defenses. UT Kevin Williams has never completely bounced back from his offseason knee surgery, but he still does a good job of disrupting versus the run. NT Pat Williams has made a huge difference with his ability to keep blockers tied up in the middle, as has second-year pro Darrion Scott at left defensive end. With lots of protection from their front line, MLB Sam Cowart and WLB E.J. Henderson have been flying to the football and making lots of plays in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage versus the run.
Despite the loss, this unit was able to stymie RB Jamal Lewis and the Ravens' rushing attack last week. If it continues to play with intensity in the final game of the season, the Vikings should be able to bottle Jones up and put the pressure on Bears QB Rex Grossman to beat it via the air.
Passing: Perhaps the most important aspect of Sunday's game for the Bears will be the opportunity to get Grossman more reps behind center. Grossman is coming off his first regular-season start in more than 15 months and needs to use this game as another chance to improve his overall timing and feel as the Bears prepare for a playoff run. Grossman showed good touch on the deep ball, which could wind up becoming a critical aspect in terms of backing defenses off the line of scrimmage during the playoffs. However, his overall timing, footwork and mechanics were poor; he finished with 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception on just 11-of-23 passing.
There's no telling how long the Bears will play their key starters, but it will be important for Grossman to improve his timing with WRs Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian and Justin Gage. If the last two games have been any indication, Berrian is Grossman's favorite deep target and Muhammad is his go-to-receiver in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
The Vikings will load up the line of scrimmage with a lot of eight-man fronts. They will generally walk SLB Raonall Smith (starting in place of the injured Keith Newman) up to the line of scrimmage as a fifth down lineman, while also cheating SS Corey Chavous up closer to the line in order to generate a 5-3 alignment. In doing so, defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell has a size and numbers advantage versus the run, as well as the freedom to become much more aggressive and creative with the blitz package.
If Minnesota can keep consistent pressure on Grossman, the inexperienced quarterback is bound to throw a few balls up for grabs. The Vikings were unable to capitalize on Ravens QB Kyle Boller's inexperience in Week 16, but FS Darren Sharper, who leads the NFC with nine interceptions, is certainly capable of burning Grossman if he begins to melt under the pressure.
When the Vikings have the ball
Rushing: The Vikings' rushing attack has been atrocious throughout much of the season. The problems begin up front with an offensive line that has been very much a patchwork group. LOT Bryant McKinnie has been solid, but the rest of the unit has really struggled to provide enough running lanes. There is potential for this unit because of its youth with ROG Anthony Herrera, OC Melvin Fowler, ROG Adam Goldberg and ROT Marcus Johnson, but inexperience -- individually and playing together as a group -- has led to entirely too many communication errors.
Making matters worse, the Vikings simply do not have a back who they can rely on as a 20-plus-carry "bell cow." Ciatrick Fason has the best combination of size and speed, but he has been limited as a rookie and has much work to do in terms of improving his skills in the passing game during the offseason. Mewelde Moore is handling the biggest load of the group and is a great fit as a third-down back because of his quickness and versatility, but he lacks the size and power of a premier back. Finally, Michael Bennett has proved to be ineffective due to his marginal vision and seemingly declining burst.
There is no telling how long coach Lovie Smith will play his key starters on defense -- or if he will play them at all -- but the Bears should have no trouble limiting the Vikings' ground attack, regardless. The Bears are deep along the defensive line, especially the interior with DTs Tommie Harris, Ian Scott, Alfonso Boone and Tank Johnson. MLB Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs may be limited, but when they are in the game, the Vikings will struggle to get much going east-west or north-south.
Leon Joe has the speed and toughness to provide solid production when he steps in for Briggs at weakside linebacker, but the team could suffer a severe drop-off at middle linebacker when backup Jeremy Cain comes in for Urlacher. When that's the case, it might be a good time for the Vikings to get their most powerful runner, Fason, some more experience carrying the ball between the tackles.
Passing: Minnesota's passing attack remains efficient and balanced. QB Johnson, despite the lack of a consistent run game, is still able to efficiently move this unit via the air by spreading defenses out and keeping all of his skill players involved. TE Jermaine Wiggins has become Johnson's go-to receiver and could create some mismatch problems versus Brendon Ayanbadejo at strongside linebacker. The Vikings are able to spread the field with three- and four-receiver sets thanks to their deep corps of receivers, which includes Travis Taylor, Koren Robinson, Marcus Robinson, Troy Williamson and Nate Burleson.
Taylor is the possession receiver of the group, while Koren Robinson and Williamson provide the deep speed to stretch opposing defenses out vertically. The Vikings also have a reliable receiver out of the backfield in Moore, who has chipped in with 31 catches this season.
The Bears' defense continues to be one of the league's most opportunistic units. DCs Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher have developed into an outstanding cover-corner tandem, and Jerry Azumah has emerged as one of the league's best nickel cover corners. SS Mike Brown is not expected to play again this week, but the Bears still have enough able bodies in DSs Chris Harris, Todd Johnson and Mike Green to hold up well down the middle in coverage.
The big key will be the pass-rush pressure that the front four is able to get on Johnson. The Bears have athletic advantages at three of the four defensive line positions (excluding RDE Alex Brown vs. McKinnie), and the biggest mismatch is on the perimeter with rookie ROT Marcus Johnson working against LDE Adewale Ogunleye, who leads the Bears with 10 sacks. Assuming Ogunleye will give Johnson all sorts of trouble and ultimately force double-team attention, the Bears will have the one-on-one situations they need inside in order to penetrate and flush Johnson out of the pocket on a consistent basis.
"From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, save us!"
-- From a monestary in Ireland.