Vikings focused on cutting turnovers against Bears, who force a ton
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Chicago Bears defense led the NFL with a staggering 30 take-aways in nine games entering Monday's visit to San Francisco.
So, it's no surprise the Bears' next opponent emerged from its bye week with turnovers among the areas of emphasis.
"They're very opportunistic," Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said after Monday's practice. "Obviously, a lot of turnovers -- we saw what they did against Dallas (forcing five turnovers in a 34-18 win on Oct. 1) and other teams.
"They're creating a lot of turnovers and they're scoring a lot of points on defense. We know they're going to be tough."
No team has more interceptions than the Bears, who have 19. Only the New England Patriots have more fumble recoveries (14) than the Bears, who have 11.
Perhaps most incredible, the Bears have returned seven of those 19 interceptions for touchdowns. They're 5-0 when scoring a defensive touchdown this season and 20-2 since 2005.
The Bears have turned over the ball 16 times for a plus-14 turnover margin that ranks second to New England. The Vikings rank 23rd at minus-4, having forced only 12 turnovers (five interceptions, seven fumble recoveries) and turned over the ball 16 times (eight and eight).
Ponder said that was a "big thing" coaches discussed when players returned to Winter Park on Monday to resume for a three-game stretch at Chicago, at Green Bay and home against Chicago again that well may decide the fate of the season.
Also raised was red-zone offense, in which the Vikings rank 17th with 17 touchdowns in 33 trips inside the 20-yard line (51.5%).
"Obviously, there's two things that we've got to work on, especially with our schedule stacked up," Ponder said. "There's things we have to perform at a high level on."
The Vikings haven't won since Oct. 14, 2007, at Soldier Field, where the teams meet on Sunday. In the four consecutive losses since, the Vikings have committed 11 turnovers to the Bears' five and won the turnover battle once -- in a 39-10 blowout on Oct. 16, 2011.
Chicago is on pace for 53.3 take-aways. The NFL record is 66 by San Diego in 1961. No team has forced more than 56 turnovers since Seattle forced 63 in 1984.
Bears cornerback Tim Jennings leads the league with eight interceptions -- three more than any other player. Fellow cornerback Charles Tillman has forced seven turnovers.
Even veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher had a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Bears' 51-20 rout of Tennessee on Nov. 4. And their Tampa-2 scheme hasn't changed much since Lovie Smith took over as coach in 2004.
"The good thing is their defense, you kind of know what you're going to get," Ponder said. "They're not exotic. You see a lot of man coverage on third down, some Tampa-2, some Cover-3 mixed in. But they don't have to do a lot because they're a good team.
"They're a sound, disciplined team and we'll just have to find plays and make them."