One hell of a four game stretch coming up here for the Vikings. Three will be on the road. Three will feature Super Bowl winning QB's with Rodgers, Brady and Wilson. Three will be in primetime. All will be difficult. Can't win 'em all if you don't win the first one, though, so let's just get pumped for Bears week!
Mike Zimmer is 2-2 at Soldier Field with the Vikings and they've all been somewhat dramatic:
2014: Bears win 21-13 (Teddy attempting game-tying drive, gets Vikings to CHI 29yd line, bleeping game clock in stadium malfunctions with about a minute remaining, Teddy throws desperation pick because he didn't know how much time was left)
2015: Vikings win 23-20 (Diggs with an incredible 40yd catch & score to make it 20-20, D forces 3 & out, WR Charles Johnson's best catch as a Viking for 35 yards with half a minute left to get Blair Walsh into range to kick the game-winner!)
2016: Bears win 20-10 (Sam Bradford was sacked 5 times, Jeff Locke punted 7 times...Bears' Jordan Howard went for 153 and the Vikings were down 20-3 until Diggs got into the endzone for a pity-score with 5 minutes left in the game...not soooo dramatic, I guess. 2016 was fun, right?)
2017: Vikings win 20-17 (Bradford makes his return over Case Keenum, only to be sacked 4 times in the first half...one of which was for a safety. The score was 3-2 Vikings at halftime.....icky....Keenum back in to save the day, Benny Cunningham with a fake-punt TD for Chicago, Rudy snags a score and starts the Duck-duck-Gray Duck/goose controversy, Jerick Mckinnon goes 58yds to the house, Bears TE Zach Miller catches a deflected TD and they convert the 2pt play to tie it up at 17....then Mitchell Trubisky, in his NFL debut by the way, throws a pick to Harrison Smith deep in his own territory...run down the clock, Cobra Kai Forbath kicks the game-winner with 12 seconds left.)
Soldier Field is annoying. The Bears are annoying. Every game has weird twists and turns. It's exhausting. Worst part? The 2018 version of the Chicago Bears appears to be much better than the previous handful of incarnations.
Here are some bits and pieces to mull over as Sunday night inches closer:
Bears average 120 rushing yards a game, but no player has eclipsed 100yds in a game. Jordan Howard leads the team by a mile in carries (137) and yards (460), but his longest run of the year is 18 yards. His 82 total yards in week 1 at Lambeau is the most by any individual player this season, but collectively, they mix in Tarik Cohen well and even Trubisky gets loose on occasion. There's no explosion with this run game, but they'll nickel and dime you all day if given the opportunity. Side note....keep Trubisky contained in the pocket, or one of two things happens: he rolls out and buys time for nice completions, or he moves the chains on the run.
Spreading the Love! The Bears don't have any players with 40 or more receptions (for comparison, Vikings have Diggs & Thielen with 58 and 78). They also don't have a player with 500+yds receiving (again, Stefon & Adam with 587 and 947 in purple). However, the Bears have four guys with at least 30 catches and more than 400yd receiving in Allen Robinson (31/418), TE Trey Burton (33/411), Taylor Gabriel (37/426) and RB Tarik Cohen (37/435). Rookie WR Anthony Miller (24/332) isn't far behind. Trubisky has thrown 3+ TDs to four different players as well.
Tarik Cohen plays everywhere from the backfield, to the slot, to out wide and everywhere in between. He has 93 touches and leads the team in yards from scrimmage. They give him a handful of carries a game, and a handful of passing targets. Might be their best athlete with the ball in his hands, certainly the most versatile. Figure out how to lock him down.
Trey Burton leads the team with 5 receiving scores this season. Four of them are from inside the 11yd line. He's the redzone nookie for Trubisky.
Running the ball against the Bears will be fun! Fun, as in, incredibly difficult. The Saints rushing defense is still boasting the stats in the NFL, but the Bears are right behind them. The Saints stop the run by running up the score and forcing teams to throw. So there's some fraudulence to the bit. Chicago stifles you with their beef-eating defensive line. Guys like Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman plugging the middle along with Jonathan Bullard. LB Danny Trevathan leads the team in tackles and loves attacking downhill. They allow 84yds a game, 3.6yds a carry and have only given up 2 rushing scores all season long.
Please don't give the ball away on Sunday! The Bears have forced 24 takeaways in 2018, second to only Cleveland for the most in the NFL. 16 picks and 8 fumble recoveries. They are +13 in the Take/Give. Meanwhile, the Vikings have forced just 14 turnovers in comparison for a +1 margin. The Vikings are middle of the pack with a total of 13 turnovers this year, but just think about how impactful they've been in games (Buffalo, New Orleans, Laquon tipping Kirk's easy pass to the defense in Packers game..). The Vikings have had just one turnover-free game so far, resulting in a cozy beatdown of the Jets. I love Kirk but we can't have momentary freakouts in this game.
Adversity? Never heard of it...The Bears haven't had to struggle a ton to get their 6 wins this season. Seahawks week 2? Up 17-3, win 24-17. At Cards week 3? Down 14-0 in the 1st Qtr, but Sam Bradford was so awful, they benched him for rookie Josh Rosen while driving to win the game! Bears win 16-14. Chicago put 48 points on Tampa Bay. Up 17-3 on the Jets, won 24-10. Smashed the Bills, then smashed the Lions last week....even in the opening night loss at Green Bay, it required a miracle by Rodgers. First....the Bears are feasting on bad teams (The Vikes have done some of that too). Secondly....getting early leads and taking the ball away help a new offense and young QB. They've only faced one absolute playoff team in 2018, and they couldn't keep up (New England)...are the Vikings an absolute playoff team? I think so.
Yeah, Khalil Mack kicks ass and he'll create problems on Sunday. He missed a couple games with injury, but returned to sack Matt Stafford twice on Sunday. 7 sacks in 7 games, 4 forced fumbles, a pick-6, etc...he's really good. No real news to be reported here, other than that the Dolphins and Patriots were both able to keep him away from their QB's, and both games resulted in L's for the Bears. He has had at least 1 sack in the other 5 games he has played.
Let's get our guys back on the field! Was the bye week good to Anthony Barr's hamstring? How about Stefon Diggs' ribs. Andrew Sendejo hasn't been on the field in a while, either. Having Tom Compton back at LG wouldn't be awful. Maybe that ankle situation with Xavier Rhodes has improved. Dalvin Cook got some rest on his hammy, too, although he looked pretty good in the Lions game. TE David Morgan was hurt in the Detroit game and he's probably not playing. He'll be missed in run/pass blocking situations for sure.
In the end---The Bears haven't faced a defense even remotely close to what the Vikings are bringing to Chicago. They only times they've had to chase or keep pace with an opponent this year, they lost both games. Huge game for Kirk Cousins to do his thing on the road (10TD/1INT ratio, "only" 3 fumbles, opposed to 5 at home). Diggs and Thielen back on the field together will be sweet. The Bears O-Line can be beaten with Charles Leno & Bobbie Massie very pedestrian at the Tackle spots, RG Kyle Long on IR...pressure the kid QB. Figure out a way to eliminate Tarik Cohen from the playmaking equation and put him on a bad game (Mac Alexander can be overpowered, but is Jayron Kearse too big to keep up? Conundrum)….maybe beat them at their own game with Dalvin Cook running routes? Oh, and watch out for the weird stuff, because something funky WILL happen and potentially screw up the game.