Following their disappointing 23-17 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Chicago Bears look to bounce back this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Bears beat the Vikings 28-10 less than two weeks ago at Soldier Field but understand that the Metrodome in Minneapolis is a difficult place to play.
In order to stay notonly in the race for the NFC North, but also the Wild Card, the Bears will need to bounce back for a victory in Minnesota.
Here is my list of five players to watch this Sunday:
Week in and week out, the Bears offensive line has gotten its fair share of criticism, particularly left tackle J’Marcus Webb. Amidst the injuries and changes amongst the offensive line in recent weeks, Webb has gone out and performed fairly well in the last few weeks, excluding the team’s overall terrible performance in San Francisco.
Sunday, he will once again match up against Jared Allen, who has given him fits in the past, but Webb was able to keep him at bay in Week 12.
Allen had 1.5 sacks last Sunday against the Packers and has 8.5 on the season.
The fast turf in the Metrodome will be of great benefit to Allen, and Webb will have to use good footwork and hand placement on him if he wants to keep quarterback Jay Cutler off the turf.
With the news that came out on Tuesday that Brian Urlacher will likely miss at least the next three weeks (h/t FOX Sports) with a hamstring injury, veteran Nick Roach will take over the middle linebacker position in his absence.
Roach has experience with the position, having filled in for Urlacher in 2009 when he was out with a wrist injury, as well as taking most of the reps during training camp and the preseason while he was recovering from a knee injury.
Roach has been playing well this season, and his play has fallen under the radar with guys like Urlacher and Lance Briggs along side of him. However, given Urlacher’s decline because of the knee injury this season, Roach may be an upgrade.
Stopping running back Adrian Peterson will be at the top of the Bears’ to-do list, and Roach will be an integral part of that. He will have to be able to shed blockers to get to the ball carrier and will at times be forced to match up with Peterson in the passing game.
His football smarts and knowledge are not on the same level as Urlacher’s, but his physical traits and tools will be more than enough for him to be successful not only this Sunday, but hopefully in the weeks ahead.
Brought in as extra depth this offseason, veteran Geno Hayes looks to get his first start of the season this Sunday against the Vikings. Hayes will likely take over the strongside linebacker position with Nick Roach’s move to middle linebacker in replacement of Brian Urlacher.
Hayes spent four seasons in Tampa Bay, starting 43 games, before his move to Chicago. He played mostly the weakside linebacker position but does have experience on the strongside.
He struggled at times last season in Tampa playing on the strongside which ultimately led to his departure this past offseason.
He is known as a quick and athletic guy, with a good nose for the football, and a solid tackler. He has struggled in the past in pass defense and will likely get tested by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph a lot on Sunday afternoon.
The Bears will likely try and give him some safety help over the top early in the game against Rudolph until he can prove he can match up with him consistently.
After signing the long-term deal that he had been clamoring for this offseason, Matt Forte has not had the same effect on the field as he has had in the past.
His decline in play can be based off an offensive line that is not run blocking as well as it did last season as well as the addition of a more than capable backup, Michael Bush, who has helped lighten the load for Forte.
The biggest decline in Forte’s game has been the lack of targets and receptions in the passing game. The past two seasons he has averaged 50 catches and nearly 500 yards per season, but this year he’s sitting on 30 with 214 yards.
Injuries have hampered the Bears wide receivers all season, with Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, and Alshon Jeffery’s statuses for Sunday still up in the air.
The Bears may try and use Forte more as a receiver out of the backfield, or even try and split him out wide to try, and take advantage of a mismatch against a linebacker.
After two solid performances following a concussion that caused him to miss the Week 11 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, Jay Cutler will once again need to perform at a high level.
Two weeks ago in his return against the Vikings, he went 23-31 for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception. While not spectacular numbers, he played one of his more consistent games of the season. He looked poised in the pocket, stepped up when sensing pressure and rolled out of the pocket to avoid sacks. He even ran the ball to pick up extra yardage.
He kept the momentum going this past week with a 17-26, 233-yard and two-touchdown game against the tough pass defense of the Seattle Seahawks.
Sunday’s game is important in both the NFC North and NFC Wild Card playoff standings, and Cutler will have to be just as sharp then as he has been in the last two weeks. He has relied heavily on Brandon Marshall for much of the season, and Sunday likely will not be any different.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.