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Embattled Ponder leads Vikings into Chicago
(Sports Network) - It's early but the Minnesota Vikings and embattled starting quarterback Christian Ponder are already squarely behind the 8-ball.
The Viking are hoping for a different result when they hit the road for the second straight week against a NFC North divisional opponent, the Chicago Bears.
Problem is, Minnesota has lost five straight at Soldier Field and 11 of 12 overall.
The Vikings are coming off an ugly 34-24 loss at Detroit in Week 1, while the Bears defeated the Bengals, 24-21, in the Second City during Kickoff Weekend.
Reggie Bush totaled almost 200 yards in his Detroit debut and Matthew Stafford had two touchdown passes in the second half, as the Lions handled an ill- prepared Minnesota team.
Bush, a free agent signing in the offseason, took advantage of the Vikings' cover-2 scheme designed to stop Calvin Johnson and finished the game with 191 yards of total offense and a touchdown. He had 21 carries for 90 yards, while adding four catches for 101 yards and a score.
Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, last season's NFL MVP, appeared poised for a big day as he took his first handoff 78 yards for a score. However, he was smothered by the Detroit defense the rest of the day, gaining just 15 yards on his next 17 carries. He did, though, have two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown to go with four catches for 18 yards.
Ponder had what is becoming his usual tough day behind center as he went 18- for-28 for 236 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, along with losing a fumble for the Vikings (0-1), who went 10-6 last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
"Tough loss for our football team on the road," said Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier. "We didn't do things you have to do on the road to win. Turnovers on the road - at home as well, but on the road in particular - are tough sometimes to overcome."
Things went differently for the Bears when Jay Cutler hooked up with Brandon Marshall for a go-ahead 19-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, as Chicago began the Marc Trestman era on a high note.
Cutler finished 21-of-33 passing for 242 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Marshall hauled in eight passes for 104 yards and the deciding score for the Bears, who also went 10-6 last season but missed out on the playoffs after losing a tiebreaker with Minnesota for the sixth seed in the NFC.
"There were a lot of question marks," Cutler said of coming into the season with a new head coach. "It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, we didn't think it was going to be. We made plays when we had to make plays."
Matt Forte rushed 19 times for 50 yards and a touchdown in the victory, helping Trestman, a Minnesota native, become just the fourth Bears head coach to win his debut contest, joining Hall of Famer George Halas (1920), Neill Armstrong (1978) and Dick Jauron (1999).
After leading the NFL with 44 takeaways in 2012 under ex-head coach Lovie Smith, Chicago got a pair of Charles Tillman interceptions and recovered a fumble against the Bengals.
The Vikings and Bears have played 104 times overall with Minnesota holding a slim 53-49-2 edge. This Week 2 matchup is the earliest between the clubs since 2002 when the Vikings opened up the season against Chicago in Champaign, IL.
Minnesota and the Bears split the season series in 2012 with each squad winning on their home field.
Trestman, who played QB at the University of Minnesota before transferring to Minnesota State Moorhead as a senior, began his NFL coaching career in 1985 with the Vikings as a running backs coach under Hall of Fame mentor Bud Grant. The new Chicago pilot held that position for two seasons and then rejoined the Vikings in 1990 as QBs coach when he worked two seasons with future MVP Rich Gannon.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Bears have dominated the Vikings in the Windy City recently, averaging nearly 36 points per game and forcing 14 turnovers during their five-game winning streak at Soldier Field. Chicago has taken the last three by an average margin of over 20 points.
That doesn't bode well for Ponder, who normally serves up more turnovers than the local bakery even against pedestrian defensive teams like Detroit.
"You have to be exceptional to win those games when you finish minus in the turnover ratio," Frazier said. "We haven't shown that we are exceptional to be able to do that. We will get better."
All of the Vikings' faults manifested in Detroit last week with the most noteworthy being Ponder's inability to carry his own water and take advantage of all the extra attention Peterson receives as well as Frazier's inability to adjust on the fly.
Minnesota's defense went into Detroit with a plan to stop Johnson and stayed in their nickel, cover-2 even after the Lions made it clear they were attacking with quick releases to diffuse the pass rush along with screens, slants and draws.
Despite mounting evidence suggesting Ponder simply isn't a sustainable option at this level, Frazier continued to defend his QB this week.
"Christian, he made some mistakes, but he's not the only reason we didn't have success on Sunday," Frazier said. "Our team did not play well, and that affects the quarterback as well. It wasn't just Christian, it just so happens that he plays the position that's under the most scrutiny."
Fair enough but Ponder's inability to make opposing defenses pay when they load the box to stop Peterson is a problem as is his tendencies to stare down receivers and slide out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble, instead of stepping up and keeping his eyes downfield.
"Monday morning, as you head into the film room you get that bad feeling, and as you watch the game you're like, 'Oh man, that's something that was dumb that could have easily just not happened," Ponder said. "As you watch it, it's a bad taste in your mouth. But at the same time it gives you confidence because, hey, these are easily correctable."
Not of it has been corrected in 28 career starts, though.
For now, teammates remain behind Ponder, at least publicly.
"He can't win the game for us. He can't just lose the game for us. Trust me," veteran receiver Greg Jennings told the St. Paul pioneer Press. "We bear the load -- not one man, not one person, not one individual. It's not fair for one person to get all the stones thrown at him when there were mistakes made by 11 guys that were out there on the field."
Like Detroit, the Bears will try to take advantage of Minnesota's vanilla approach on defense by utilizing Forte in the flats and underneath before taking occasional shots down the field against a typically soft zone with Marshall, who had 22 receptions for 252 yards and a TD versus Minnesota in 2012
Minnesota is simply behind the curve of the modern day NFL, relying on a run first, game manager-type offense and a Tampa-2 defense which can't hold up consistently in a pass-happy league.
Add in a Bears D notorious for taking the football away playing against a QB with absolutely no self-confidence and this shapes up as a rather easy one for Chicago.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 27, Vikings 17
09/13 09:49:25 ET