Bears-Vikings Matchups to Watch

Julius Peppers (Mark Rebilas/USA TODAY)

Three offensive and defensive individual matchups that will be critical in Sunday's NFC North contest between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings.

Bears on Offense

C Roberto Garza vs. NT DT Kevin Williams
Williams missed last week's contest with a bone bruise and it showed. The Lions gashed the Vikings' defense up the middle, rushing for 112 yards as a team. He'll return this week, meaning Garza and the Chicago Bears' two guards must make Williams the priority in the run game. He's a big, powerful nose tackle who is very difficult to move. Garza had the worst performance of any Chicago offensive lineman last week and, not surprisingly, the Bears struggled to run the ball. A repeat performance by Garza would again make it difficult for Matt Forte to gain yards up the middle.

WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Xavier Rhodes
Against the Lions, the Vikings never flip-flopped starting cornerbacks Chris Cook and Rhodes, keeping Cook on the right side and Rhodes on the left side the entire game. So both corners got a heavy dose of Calvin Johnson, yet they were able to hold Megatron to just four catches for 37 yards. The strategy will likely be the same against Marshall, a player of similar caliber to Johnson. The smart move for the Bears would be to target Rhodes, a rookie starting just his second NFL game. Cook (6-2) and Rhodes (6-1) have good size yet Rhodes cannot match Marshall physically, which gives the Bears the edge, particularly in the red zone.

RT Jordan Mills vs. DE Brian Robison
Mills graded well last week against the Bengals, working mainly against Carlos Dunlap. This week, Mills gets Robison, another powerful pass rusher who has 16.5 sacks the last two years combined. Jared Allen is a force off the left edge but the Bears have two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod to keep him at bay. If Mills can handle Robison the way he did Dunlap, Jay Cutler should have plenty of time to throw, which could lead to some offensive fireworks.

Bears on Defense

LB D.J. Williams vs. RB Adrian Peterson
It will take all 11 defenders to corral Peterson. It won't all be on Williams' shoulders but he'll be a big key in stopping the run. He looked slow and rusty last week, yet the Bears got away with it because of Cincinnati's lackluster rushing attack. Peterson is a different beast all together and missed reads or slow fills will be costly. Williams missed all of the preseason, so he's still working back into game shape. That transition needs to happen quickly, otherwise AP could run wild.

DE Julius Peppers vs. LT Matt Kalil
Peppers did not have a sack last week but don't worry guys, the sky isn't falling. On paper, he faces a tougher task this week against Pro Bowler Matt Kalil, one of the best young offensive tackles in the game. Yet Kalil struggled in the preseason, as well as in the opener. Something isn't right with the second-year blocker, which could be just the thing Peppers needs to get back on track. Kalil had his worst games of 2012 against Peppers, so if he doesn't quickly right the ship, Chicago's future Hall of Fame defensive end could have a field day.

LB James Anderson vs. TE Kyle Rudolph
The Bears used a lot of base defense last week, lining up in nickel for just 18 snaps. The means Anderson will see a lot of time 1-on-1 with Rudolph. This will be a matchup to watch near the goal line, where Rudolph is most dangerous. He had nine touchdowns last year, most of which came in the red zone. He's also a threat on third down, as 34 of his 53 receptions last year resulted in a first down. Anderson looked very good in coverage last week. If he can blanket Rudolph and keep him out of the end zone, it will go a long way toward shutting down Minnesota's already-mediocre passing attack.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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