Two Pro Bowl linemen — tackle Henry Melton, end Julius Peppers — and all but one member of the Bears defensive line were unable to seriously threaten Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and an offensive line that ranked 25th in the NFL last season in sack rate and 20th in rushing average.
Now that defensive line is tasked with stopping the NFL’s MVP and one of the best running backs in the game’s history. “Challenge” is something of an understatement.
The Minnesota Vikings live on their ability to get Adrian Peterson to the second level, getting to and through a front four with momentum. Peterson is listed at 217 pounds but is beyond most one-man tackles, particularly if he is unimpeded for several steps after taking a handoff from quarterback Christian Ponder.
The Bears operate from a base 4-3 using a simple one-gap philosophy: getting to and through gaps. No penetration or wrong gap and the result can be catastrophic with a runner like Peterson with his ability to cut back and find mistakes.
"The biggest thing is just playing disciplined, gap-to-gap football, and that’s what we have to do to stop him and rally to the ball because obviously he’s a powerful guy, shifty as well,” said defensive end Corey Wootton. “He’s a combination of everything, so you have to ‘population tackle’ him.”
The standard formula of stop-the-run-rush-the-passer applies to the Vikings, but it doesn’t necessarily assure success. Ponder needed to throw just 17 passes, completing 11 with one intercepted, in the Vikings’ home win over the Bears last Dec. 9.
“The running game is going to be huge, but we also have to get pressure on the quarterback, and we know that,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “That’s been a big point of emphasis already this week. We’ve got to generate the pass rush with four. It’s going to be something we’re really going to work on this week.”
The Matchup: Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Vikings LT Matt Kalil
Peppers did not have a dominant game against a quick-release passing scheme of the Bengals and a backup left tackle in Anthony Collins. Kalil was an instant success, a day-one starter at left tackle after coming out of USC as the No. 2 pick of the 2012 draft.
Kalil did not have an especially good preseason, and Peppers was dealing with a hamstring strain suffered during the Soldier Field night practice.
The Bears need a dominant Peppers. The Vikings need their franchise left tackle to play like one.