Key matchup: DEs vs. weak tackles

Jared Allen (Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire)

The Vikings will have to take advantage of the weak offensive tackles trotted out by the Bears. The sacks surrendered by each of the tackles and the replacement moves on the offensive line tell the story, putting Jared Allen and Brian Robison in the spotlight for big games.

For a team that has had one of the best records in the league, the Chicago Bears offensive line is an absolute mess. Players have been injured, demoted and even quit, only to have a change of heart and learn that the team has moved on. After being exposed by the San Francisco 49ers Monday night, the Bears are in panic mode at 7-3, fearing another collapse like they suffered last when a suspect offensive line led to Jay Cutler getting injured. As the Bears try to get back on the right track, they will need to keep the Vikings' pass rush at bay, making the battles between Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison against offensive tackles J'Marcus Webb and Jonathan Scott this week's matchups to watch.

There is no questioning that Webb is among the worst left tackles in the NFL. He has allowed seven sacks, three quarterback hits and 22 QB pressures in the first 10 games of the season. In last year's regular-season finale, he was schooled by Allen, who recorded 3.5 sacks to finish a half-sack off of the all-time single-season sack record. He has been pounded and hounded and was once again exposed Monday night, allowing three sacks as part of a six-sack massacre the 49ers laid on backup Jason Campbell, who was playing because starter Jay Cutler was out with a concussion.

It was thought that during the offseason, the Bears were going to address the left tackle position. Yet, they didn't. Instead, the felt they could stick with Webb at left tackle thanks to the individual work offensive coordinator and former O-line coach Mike Tice was doing with him. The hope was that Webb could remain a stop-gap until 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi was ready to take over. However, the problems on the right side have been worse than the problems on the left side of the Chicago offensive line, leading to Carimi being demoted this week.

On Wednesday, the Bears announced that both right tackle Carimi and right guard Chilo Rachal were being demoted. Carimi's demotion was backed up by the numbers. Despite consistent votes of confidence from Tice, Carimi has allowed seven sacks, nine QB hits and 28 quarterback pressures. He has been as big a sieve as Webb and was pounded the last two weeks by J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith, who used the Bears to help vault themselves to the top of the sacks list. In their early-season loss to Green Bay, Cutler was sacked seven times and pounded into the Lambeau Field turf. Monday night against the 49ers, Campbell was sacked six times and hit a dozen more times after getting rid of the ball or being forced to scramble and run for his life.

Hearing of his demotion, Rachal abruptly quit the team on Wednesday. He had a change of heart Thursday, but the team didn't take kindly to it – putting in him the non-injury/left-team list, effectively ending his 2012 season and, most likely, his career with the Bears. Carimi told the Chicago media he didn't see his demotion coming but accepted it. He is being replaced at right tackle Sunday by Scott, a journeyman with 28 career starts in six seasons, including stints with Detroit (2006-07), Buffalo (2009) and Pittsburgh (2010-11) before joining the Bears this season.

The Vikings' success this season on defense has been due in large part to the defensive line getting a pass rush that has killed drives. Allen and Robison are the keys to that success. Seeing Webb lining up opposite Allen and Scott line up opposite Robison could be the critical advantage the Vikings need.

Much like the Vikings were viewed as a Super Bowl contender heading into the 2009 season with the glaring exception of quarterback, the Bears in many ways are seen in the same jaded view in 2012. They have the defense. They have one of the most versatile running backs in the league in Matt Forte and one of the league's most productive wide receivers in Brandon Marshall. When he's healthy, they have one of the better quarterbacks in Cutler. However, the offensive line has been so consistently bad in protecting their quarterbacks that it's hard to imagine the Bears being able to make up a double-digit deficit if things don't go their way early because the O-line simply can't hold up. They turn bad situations into worse situations, and in the process leave their quarterbacks open to taking big hits, which can help explain why the Bears enter Sunday's game with Cutler attempting to return from a concussion and Campbell nursing injured ribs.

The Vikings haven't enjoyed much success at Soldier Field in recent years, but for the first time since 2009 they enter the post-Thanksgiving portion of their schedule controlling their own playoff destiny. If they are to continue their rise both in the NFC North and in solidifying their playoff positioning, snapping their current losing skid at Chicago, the Vikings will have to pressure the Bears quarterback – whether it's Cutler or Campbell. Given the state of flux the Chicago offensive line is currently in, it will be up to Webb and Scott to keep safe whoever the starting quarterback will be. Allen and Robison will be the ones looking to continue the offensive line woes and, in the process, continue the Bears' current losing streak – making this a key matchup with an awful lot at stake.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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