The Minnesota Vikings travel to Soldier Field today in search of redemption for an early season loss that was well within their grasp for victory before a late-game meltdown led to a Rex Grossmann game-winning touchdown in a close contest. If tradition means anything, the Vikings ought to win today as the two teams have been fairly consistent in splitting their regular-season games in previous years.
Since tradition really has no bearing on today's game, however, other, more tangible matters merit consideration. And, upon further review of such matters, today's game very well could lead to a Vikings' victory.
Of all the things that will determine the outcome of today's Vikings' game against Chicago, several stand out. There's the possible absence of defensive lineman Pat Williams whose run-stuffing ability has been unparalleled in the NFL this season. There's the Bears' defense which has posted 24 sacks this season despite relying on several young defenders and a sometimes suspect secondary that makes pass rushing less effective. And there's the home-field advantage, at three points to the home team a meaningful item given the tendency of the Vikings and Bears to play each other close.
But more telling than those items for today's game probably will be the play of the respective quarterbacks. Vikings' quarterback Brad Johnson is coming off one of his better performances of the season while Bears' quarterback Rex Grossman is coming off one of his worst performances of the season in a loss at New England. And if you think that's just a one-game blip for each quarterback, other numbers might be worth considering.
For the season, Johnson has thrown for 2410 yards, 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 77.3 quarterback rating. Hardly gaudy numbers, to be certain, but consider the opposition's equally unimpressive numbers. For the season, Grossman has thrown for 2390 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 77.6.
Now, factor in one additional statistic. For the season, the far-from-nimble Grossman has been sacked a mere 13 times for a loss of 90 yards. Johnson, meanwhile, has been sacked 24 times for a loss of 169 yards. In a league in which most games are decided by less than a touchdown, drive-killing sacks often are the difference between winning and losing. And drive-killing sacks--not to mention the ever-present pass pressure that Johnson has felt game in and game out--have been one of the Vikings' leading problems this season.
Last week against Arizona, the Vikings inserted Jason Whittle and Mike Rosenthal into the right guard and right tackle positions, respectively. And while the tandem's best days likely are behind them and Rosenthal, at his peak with the Vikings, has been a revolving door on the pass rush, the two offer a semblance of run blocking and at least a modicum of an obstacle to the pass rush that neither Artis Hicks nor Marcus Johnson appeared to offer, not to mention a greater penchant for abstaining from costly false-start and holding penalties in the red zone.
The presence of Whittle and Rosenthal rather than Hicks and Johnson should mean less pressure on Johnson and should translate into greater success in the red zone than the Vikings were able to muster in their first meeting with Chicago this season. That, and Grossman's modest-at-best performance behind the highest paid and, arguably, sound Chicago offensive line, should provide the Vikings an opening for victory on Sunday.
If Williams sits, look for the Bears to try to run the ball to open up the passing game. If Williams plays, the Bears will be forced to lead with the pass. And that could make things dicey from the outset for Chicago. Beyond Cedric Griffin and Antonio Winfield, the Vikings' secondary has been highly suspect this season. But with Griffin likely to get his second start in place of the very disappointing Fred Smoot in the base package, and Grossman as their quarterback, the Bears should find it difficult to replicate the middle-of-the-field passing scheme that other teams have so successfully employed against Minnesota this year.
A win won't change the division race, one long ago conceded to the Bears. But it will spur the Vikings' playoff hopes and should provide confidence that the offense can accomplish the modest and that the team can play with the best in what is a mediocre to weak NFC.
Up Next: Post game.