The last time Josh McCown was on the field with the Minnesota Vikings he was basically wearing them on his back. Jared Allen was turning J’Marcus Webb around for 3.5 sacks, three of the four Vikings defensive linemen had sacks and the Bears escaped with a 17-13 win. And by then the academic question began of whether Mike Martz had gone to McCown instead of Caleb Hanie after Jay Cutler fractured his thumb, would the Bears have at least gotten in the 2011 postseason?
This time McCown will in considerably better hands behind an offensive line with only center Roberto Garza still on the Bears’ roster. Webb will be on the field Sunday but as a Vikings backup while others from that line are plying their trades elsewhere.
More relevant to McCown, Allen is still a Viking, at least for this year, with a $14 million salary and no full sacks since Oct. 21. He has five for the season but 3.5 of those came in the first four weeks of the season.
[BEARS: Injuries continue to mount]
Allen managed one of his 2013 sacks in the first Bears-Vikings game, taking down Jay Cutler and forcing a fumble that was returned 61 yards for a touchdown by left end Brian Robison.
But the rest of the protection held up extremely well, allowing just three other hits on Cutler while giving Matt Forte enough openings to net 88 yards on 20 runs, plus another net 30 on two end-around’s to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
For rookie right guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills, they are better now than they were then, boding well for keeping backup Josh McCown safe from the kind of harm he suffered on his previous Metrodome visit.
“They’re battling through as they would if they were going to a bowl game,” said offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer. “It’s an extended season for them. And [Long] is continuing to get better and better. So hopefully he can continue.”
What to look for: While the Allen-vs.-LT Jermon Bushrod is a focal point, the run blocking by the Bears’ right side of Long and Mills is critical. The Bears are averaging 4.3 yards per carry, a misleading stat only because the short-yardage and goal-line struggles by Michael Bush have pulled Matt Forte’s numbers down. Forte has averaged 4.6 or better per carry in four of the last five games.
The Vikings, however, have stout run defense from Robison, and veteran tackle Kevin Williams is second-highest rated after Robison and will be lined up over both guards, meaning a matchup with Long, who has dealt with Ndamukong Suh, Geno Smith and St. Louis’ Michael Brockers among others. How he and left guard Matt Slauson handle Williams is the key to the run game.
“I’d say [Long] is a little further behind in the running game and he knows it,” Kromer said. “The more and more he can get run reps, it’ll help him.”