Five things to enjoy, ignore or digest (if you’re still hungry) as the Vikings get set for Sunday’s game against Chicago.
1) Running wild: Usually we try to stay away from duplication between this blog and items in Sunday’s paper but there is no ignoring this one in either place. Running back Adrian Peterson has averaged 141 rushing yards in three games against the Bears and has seven touchdowns. It’s no wonder Bears coach Lovie Smith called Peterson “the best player in the league” during a conference call with reporters this week. In the first game between the teams this season, Peterson rushed for 121 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns, including a season-high 54-yarder. That was the second of four consecutive games in which Peterson rushed for 100 yards. The only game in which Peterson did not get 100 yards against the Bears came in the Vikings’ 20-13 victory last December at the Metrodome when he had 78 yards on 20 carries and scored twice. There is no doubt the Bears will have eight or nine men in the box Sunday whenever Peterson is on the field.
2) Fast starters: After sitting around all day Sunday waiting to play, the Vikings are going to need to be sharp at the outset of this one. That’s because Chicago has scored 75 first-quarter points to rank fourth in the NFL behind Atlanta (88) and the New York Giants and Jets (78 apiece). The Vikings, by comparison, have scored 66 points in the opening quarter; Minnesota has given up 61 points in the first 15 minutes. Overall, Chicago is outscoring teams 75-44 in the first quarter.
3) A primary focus: In the Bears’ 48-41 victory over the Vikings on Oct. 19 at Soldier Field, Chicago tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark were key parts of the passing game. Olsen had a team-leading six receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown and Clark had three catches for 59 yards. Clark is battling a knee problem this week but Olsen is healthy and ready to go. This isn’t good news for a Vikings linebacker corps that has seen a few tight ends have big days this season. Houston’s Owen Daniels (11 catches, 133 yards) and Tampa Bay’s Jerramy Stevens (six catches, 84 yards) both led their teams in receiving against Minnesota. Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner is likely to have quarterback Kyle Orton look to Olsen throughout Sunday’s game or at least until the Vikings prove they can take him out of the equation. Don’t be surprised if safety Madieu Williams, who missed the first meeting at Soldier Field, plays a key role in covering Olsen.
4) An improved Orton: There is no doubt Kyle Orton is a far better quarterback this season. His performance against the Vikings in October (21 of 32 for 283 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions) resulted in a 114.5 quarterback rating. The Vikings likely will be hoping two factors impact Orton in this one. First, he suffered an ankle injury on Nov. 2 against Detroit. While he only missed one game, it’s likely Orton is still feeling the impact of that injury and the Vikings will try to take advantage by getting to him with their pass rush. Defensive end Jared Allen had two sacks against Orton the first time these teams met but that was it for Minnesota. The Vikings have 22 sacks in five home games and only eight in six road games. Four of those came last Sunday in Jacksonville. The other factor would be the noise in the Metrodome. Given that it’s a soldout game on a Sunday night, the decibel level figures to be pretty high. This can make it tough for opposing offenses to work. It will be interesting to see if the Bears come out the same no-huddle look they used against the Vikings in the first meeting. Chicago scored on its opening drive in that game, with Orton hitting Greg Olsen with an 18-yard pass.
5) Still looking: Vikings safety Darren Sharper might have had his first interception of the season last Sunday in Jacksonville but nickel back Benny Sapp knocked the ball away from his teammate. That’s the way Sharper’s season has gone when it comes to interceptions. Could this be the week the drought ends? Sharper loves playing in prime time and he has eight career interceptions agianst the Bears in his career. His last pick, in fact, came against Kyle Orton in the Vikings’ 20-13 victory over Chicago last December in a Monday night game. That was 13 games ago.