By Ross Paul – Chicago Bears Writer
After back-to-back wins on the road, the Chicago Bears return to Soldier Field for a tricky divisional game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Both the Vikings and the Bears sit on a 2-1 record this season, with both their losses coming to fellow divisional rivals the Green Bay Packers. Both teams head into Sunday night’s clash with momentum. Last week, the Bears dismantled the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football 31-15, whereas the Vikings easily brushed aside the Oakland Raiders 34-14.
The two franchises are very familiar with each other. They have faced off 116 times, with Chicago holding the advantage with a 60-54-2 record. Under Head Coach Matt Nagy, the Bears hold a 2-0 record over their rivals, both coming last season. This is a must-win game for both teams. Their aforementioned divisional rivals Green Bay, as well as the Detroit Lions, have started the season incredibly well. The Lions and the Packers have yet to lose in 2019 and could threaten to pull away from whoever loses on Sunday night.
This game sees one player facing their former team. The position flexible Cordarrelle Patterson was drafted by the Vikings in the first round in 2013. After stints with the Raiders and Patriots, he joined the Bears in free agency this summer.
For the first time this season, the Bears’ offence showed up at the FedExField on Monday. A change in the playbook allowed the Bears’ struggling Quarterback Mitchel Trubisky to play to his strengths, releasing the ball early to avoid his much-criticised overthinking on the ball. Trubisky completed a career-high 20 passes in the first half. He finished the game with 25 successful passes from 31 attempts, gaining 231 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
The biggest questions coming out of this game were can the Bears’ repeat this level of performance against a better team and can their quick-release passing style work against teams who are expecting it. I’d expect Head Coach Matt Nagy to call a similar game against the Vikings despite the step-up in competition. The Vikings have conceded six passing-touchdowns thus far. The Bears’ could see that as a more viable way to score compared to the rush, in which the Vikings have only conceded just one touchdown. This being said, Trubisky must work on his consistency whilst converting chances. The former second overall pick has had passes intercepted in the red zone twice in his last three games, including this past Monday. The ever-reliable Wide Receiver Allen Robinson and Tight End Trey Burton will likely be the main targets for Trubisky this week. Taylor Gabriel is likely to miss the game due to suffering a concussion during his three-touchdown performance against the Redskins.
Despite the new-look passing game likely being the primary form of offence, the rushing game has been solid when called upon. The duo of David Montgomery and Cordarrelle Patterson have combined for a total of 44 carries for 209 rushing yards this season. However, the entire rushing unit has only a singular touchdown this season, showing that converting chances may be an issue. Worryingly, the 2018 first-team All-Pro Tarik Cohen’s early-season woes continued on Monday. He totalled negative two-yards for four carries against the Redskins. He also caused controversy after the game by filming inside the locker room and inadvertently exposing teammate Kyle Long. This greatly angered Coach Nagy which, alongside his poor form, could see him have even less of the ball against the Vikings.
The Vikings unstoppable running game vs the Bears’ immovable defence will be one of the most interesting clashes of the week over the entire NFL. It would be no surprise if the Bears’ adjust their defensive gameplan to attempt to nullify Running Back Delvin Cook’s immense threat. Cook is one of the elite RB’s in the entire NFL. He has been dominant thus far this season, leading the league in rushing yards with 375 yards. It would take a monstrous effort to keep him at bay, luckily, the Bears know a little something about monsters.
The Bears’ Monsters of the Midway have been in fantastic form this season. They lead the league in negative yardage plays, with an impressive -116 yards. They are also fifth in the league for least rushing yards allowed per game and have not allowed an opponent to rush for over 20 yards in a single play. The Bears’ rush defence form is not just confined to this season. Over their past 37 regular-season games, they have only allowed one player to rush for over 100-yards. That one player was the then-Vikings player Latavius Murray in 2017. They have also yet to concede a rushing touchdown this season.
The Vikings offence is not one-dimensional. They possess multiple weapons in their passing game too. The Wide Receiver duo of Adam Theilen and Stefan Diggs are the most notable. The duo has a combined 317 receiving yards for three touchdowns this season. The Bears’ defence will ensure Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has the same three-touchdown to two-interceptions record this season as Trubisky, will be under immense pressure as he tries to find his men downfield. Khalil Mack and company will be looking to add to their 11 sacks of the season, which is currently the fifth most in the league. The defence forced five turnovers in their last outing, three interceptions and two forced fumbles, and will be hoping to carry that form over to Soldier Field.
The Bears’ could be without superstar Defensive End Akiem Hicks after he suffered a knee injury against the Redskins. He could join fellow DE Bilal Nichols on the shelf. Nichols’ hand injury will keep him out for a second week running. Eddie Jackson’s training has been limited once again this week due to a shoulder issue but, at this time, he is expected to play.
This game is a real toss-up. It will take a great effort for the Bears’ to walk away with the victory this week, however, the same could be said for the Vikings. Despite the headline-grabbing clash between the Vikings running game and the Bears’ defence, this could very well come down to a quarterback clash. If the Bears have any chance of winning, Trubisky needs to develop even more from last week. Cousins has not exactly been the most reliable gunslinger this season either. If either of these two can put it together on Sunday night, they will lead their team to victory. With the Soldier Field crowd behind them, I believe the Bears will just about edge this game.
(Feature Photo – Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)