The Bears (2-2) travel to the Twin Cities to take on the 3-1 Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Noon.
The Vikings can win their second NFC North game of the year and continue to keep pace with the Packers (3-1) and the Bears look to win their first divisional game this year. Let’s see how the Vikings match up with the Bears:
Quarterback: We have all conversations about Kirk Cousins and his career earnings, his inability to win primetime games, and his famous “You Like That!” sound bite. But when you strip all of that away, during his four years as the starter for the Vikings he has had more than 30 touchdown passes in three of the four seasons, has started all but one game and has more career wins since 2018 than Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson.
However, the question that plagues him and this franchise is: Where are the playoffs wins? The Vikings have only had one playoff win during his four years as a starter and have not won a division title since 2017. With the hiring of new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell, Cousins could be in his last days as a Viking. In the offseason, he signed a one-year deal that could keep him a Viking through 2023 but the Vikings receive some trade interest this offseason for him and depending how this season could play out both the general manager and coach could be looking to end the Cousins era in Minnesota.
The Vikings have started out well but Cousins will be judged on his ability to get this team to the playoffs and make a deep playoff run.
Running Back: Dalvin Cook is the starting running back for the Vikings and is coming off his third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance and third 1,000-yard rushing season. This year, he has gotten off to a slow start as he currently ranks 13th in the league in rushing. The Vikings have the 8th fewest rushing attempts so far and their longest rushing gain has been 17 yards. The Bears have been a disaster stopping the run this season (ranking last in the league) and this could be the week that Vikings fix some of their running the ball issues against this porous rush defense of the Bears.
Offensive Line: The star of this offensive line is tackle Christian Darrisaw who according to ESPN had the highest run block rate as a tackle this past week. Darrisaw was a first round draft pick of the Vikings in 2021 and has started to live up to his first round selection. He has not allowed any sacks this year and has only allowed three quarterback pressures.
The other members of this offensive line that deserves some recognition is center Garrett Bradbury and right tackle Brian O’Neil. Both players have constantly graded in the top 10 in pass and run block rate according to ESPN this year. Last week vs the Saints, this group did struggle allowing Cousins to get sacked four times and four hits which was the most they have given up this year. In my opinion, the Vikings would be the best offensive line that the Bears have faced this season because of the success so far this season of Darrisaw, Bradbury and O’Neil. Can the Bears be disruptive against a quality offensive line? We shall see on Sunday.
Wide Receivers: The man to be concerned about is wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Jefferson has been the entire offense for the Vikings this season. The Vikings have ran 40 plays involving Jefferson and gained 396 yards which equates to 9.9 yards per play. On the non-Jefferson plays, the offense is gaining 3.9 yards. The Vikings are 11-5 in Jefferson’s career when he has over 100 yards receiving.
However, that is not to say that the other two wide receivers Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn should be ignored. The Vikings have had 100 receptions so far this season and 87 percent of those receptions have been made by this group. This is the best wide receiver group the Bears have faced all season and it is not a good week for top CB Jaylon Johnson to nursing a quad injury. If the Bears stand a chance they must be ready to stop this explosive wide receiver core.
Tight End: Irv Smith Jr. is the starting tight end for this team and is trying to return back to form after missing the entire season last year when he tore his meniscus in his knee. In 2020, he had 365 yards receiving and 5 receiving touchdowns. Cousins will look to Smith and he is on third on the team in targets this season as team focus on this explosive wide receiver core providing him opportunities underneath. The Bears pass defense will be tested by not only the wide receivers but Smith Jr as well.
Defensive Line: The entire defense for the Vikings has been disappointing so far this season but this unit in particular has been underwhelming. The Vikings currently rank 30th in pass rush win rate according to ESPN. Coming into this season, the Vikings were expecting defensive end Danielle Hunter to return to the from that he had in 2018 and 2019 when he had a total of 29 sacks in those two seasons. So far this season, he has only had 8 pressures and 1 quarterback hit which is his lowest total in 4 games since 2015. Hunter is trying to work himself back into form after missing the last 10 games in 2021 with a torn pectoral muscle. The team is ranked 22nd in pressures and 31st in quarterback knockdowns. Can the Vikings assert itself against this Bears offensive line that has been inconsistent this year?
Linebackers: Linebacker Za’Darius Smith is third in the league for tackles for a loss this season and has resumed the high level play that he had in 2020 when he played for the Packers. The other linebacker that is making plays for this linebacking core is Jordan Hicks. Hicks has the 9th most tackles in the league and is playing for his third team after being released by the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. Hicks is having a career season and has been a pleasant surprise for the Vikings. All four of the teams that the Vikings have played have rush for 100 yards against them so Khalil Herbert and possibly David Montgomery (Montgomery status for the game on Sunday is in doubt at the time that this article is being published) should be able to find some room to run on Sunday.
Secondary: The unit has only had two interceptions this year and has given up the 7th most passing yards in the league. However, as many yards as they have given up in the passing game they only have allowed 3 receiving touchdowns and no receiver has had a 100 yard game against them. The star of this secondary is safety Harrison Smith who continues to be a tackling machine that he has been his entire career and is 2nd on the team in tackles this season. The Bears have the worst passing attack in the league but maybe they can take advantage of the “bend but don’t break” philosophy of this secondary and improve on Justin Fields 155-yard passing effort vs the Giants last week.
Kicking: Kicker Greg Joseph is coming off a game winning 47-yard field goal to beat the Saints in week 4. He has made 80 percent of his kicks so far and is tied for 8th in most field goals made this year. Punter Ryan Wright has had an unspectacular season ranking 16th in average yards per punt.
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