COMMENTARY | For the fourth consecutive time in the Jay Cutler era, the Chicago Bears opened their NFL season with a victory. But don't start making your Super Bowl reservations just yet, the Bears are also in the midst of a three-year losing streak in Week 2 with Cutler under center.
If the Bears hope to run their early-season record to 2-0, there are five keys things they must accomplish in Week 2 of the NFL season.
Containing Adrian Peterson could, in actuality, be all five keys to Sunday's game. The Vikings' offense was little more than the "AP Show" last season, and after touting the rock for all three of their touchdowns against the Lions in Week 1, it's safe to say that Minnesota still goes as Peterson goes.
The good news for the Bears is that this game will be played at Soldier Field. Since 2009, Chicago has held Peterson to just 73 yards rushing per game during his yearly pilgrimage to the Windy City. And despite the fact that Peterson was able to rush for 93 yards in their opener, he ran for 78 of those on his very first carry. The Lions were able to hold Peterson to 0.9 yards per carry the rest of the game.
Another positive sign for the Bears is the fact that Henry Melton was able to get on the field in Week 1 after questions arose about his availability due to a concussion he sustained in the preseason. With No. 69 clogging up the middle, Chicago held the Cincinnati Bengals to a total of 63 yards rushing last week. Another stout performance from the front seven will make all the difference against the Vikings.
Saying Matt Forte is better than Reggie Bush is a quick way to get the "Captain Obvious" title stitched to your jacket, but the Vikings allowed Bush to look a little too much like that formerly-disgraced USC Heisman Trophy winner again when he ran for 90 yards on the ground and added another 101 through the air in Week 1.
Forte is cut from the same cloth in terms for being a dual-threat back. Chicago got him 23 touches against the Bengals, including a one-yard touchdown run, but much of Forte's production came as hard-fought yardage between the tackles.
The Bears need to take a page from the Lions' playbook and find more ways to get their star rusher the ball in space. After the Vikings got dominated by a player who has only averaged 52 yards per game over his eight-year career, expect Chicago to have Forte lining up everywhere in their offensive scheme on Sunday.
Forcing Christian Ponder to make mistakes is another way for the Bears to ensure they start the 2013 season 2-0.
Like most people, I was under the assumption that Ponder's nickname was "If Only." Those two words get brought up so much when referring to the Vikings, as in, "Minnesota would be a good team, if only they had a better quarterback."
After throwing three picks to the Lions in Week 1, "If Only" did nothing to dissuade his gaggle of critics. The three-year starter will now have to face a Bears' defense that ranked No. 1 in takeaways a year ago, and caused three turnovers against the Bengals to open their season.
Recently added offensive toy Greg Jennings only produced three catches for 33 yards in his first game in purple and gold, but Ponder was able to hit Jerome Simpson seven times for 140 yards. Either way, Minnesota's wideouts will be a welcomed sight after having to deal with the Bengals' wide-receiving weapons last week.
First-down defense may be the biggest key for the Bears on Sunday. Don't tell me the score; just tell me the first-down average for the Vikings and I'll know who won the game.
Despite creating three big turnovers against the Bengals last week, the Bears' D got picked apart by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green for much of the afternoon. Green dropped 162 yards and two touchdowns on Chicago's two Pro Bowl corners, and the Bengals went 7-for-11 on third-down conversions.
To get the Vikings' offense off the field without the benefit of the turnover, the Bears have to contain them on first down. Allowing Peterson to gash the D for five or six yards on every opening offensive play will leave Minnesota with easy down-and-distance conversion opportunities and allow them to draw up low-risk pass plays for Ponder.
The Bears want the ball in No. 7's hand as much as possible in third-and-long situations, and an efficient first-down defense is the way to do it.
Dr. Cutler and Mr. Hyde: The Bears' QB is really great, but he is also kind of terrible. Just as quickly as he rips a perfect spiral through a closing window in tight coverage, he'll come back and toss a wounded duck that hits the defensive player between the numbers as though he had been aiming directly for him all along.
I put Cutler's key last because even if everything else goes perfectly right, Cutler is still the closer. He is the ultimate decider of victories and losses every single week.
Against the Bengals he gave the game away on an ugly interception, but he was able to come back and make up for his mistake with a beautiful game-winning TD toss to Brandon Marshall. It should be widely accepted by now that Cutler will always have two sides to his game; whichever one the Bears get more of on Sunday will be the definitive factor in a whether they move to 2-0, or drop to 1-1.
The new-and-improved offensive line can go a long way in helping usher the good Cutler to the spotlight. The O-line did not allow Cutler to be sacked even one time in Week 1. Without having to run for his life all game, Cutler threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns en route to Chicago's 24-21 victory.
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
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