The Chicago Bears (6-3) will host the Minnesota Vikings (5-3) in the first of two meetings this season. The Bears are coming off of a convincing win over the division rival Detroit Lions while the Vikings are coming off of their bye week. Through nine weeks the Bears and Vikings look like the front-runners to win this division so this game will give us a better idea of who is for real and who is not.
This is no doubt the biggest game of the season for both of teams because it will place the winner in first place in the division and ultimately the driver’s seat moving forward. The Vikings will be the Bears biggest test thus far and the same can be said for the Vikings as far as the Bears defense is concerned.
I took a deeper look at what the Vikings do offensively and came away with some of the things the Bears should be on the lookout for.
It all starts with Kirk Cousins, the $84 million man that the Vikings signed this offseason after coming up short in the NFC Championship a year ago being led by Case Keenum. This is clearly an upgrade, but we’re still wondering if it was a big enough upgrade to put them over the hump.
Cousins is having a very solid year with 2,685 yards, 17 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. He has a rating of 102.2, good for ninth in the league with quarterbacks with a minimum of 50 attempts. He is also boasting a completion percentage of 71.3, good for third in the league behind just Drew Brees and Derek Carr. After Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, this will be the best quarterback the Bears have faced.
The Vikings will likely have Dalvin Cook back 100% after being able to rest him during the bye. He is the most explosive back they have to offer, but Latavius Murray is no slouch behind him. Cook will lineup all over this offense while Murray is more of a traditional running back. Murray has gotten most of the carries in this offense thus far because of Cook’s injury. He is having a solid year with 417 yards and five touchdowns.
The receiving corps is where this offense really gets scary. The Vikings arguably have a top-five duo with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen started the season with eight straight games of at least 100 yards, an NFL record. That streak was snapped against the Lions where Darius Slay was able to hold him to just four catches for 22 yards. He still was able to find the end zone, however. He is tied with Michael Thomas for the league lead in receptions with 78. He is third in yards with 947. Thielen combines superb route running with fantastic hands. If the ball touches his hands, he is more than likely to come down with the ball. This short clip says it all:
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) October 29, 2018
Diggs should not be overlooked though. He is another superb route runner that defenses need to be aware of at all times. He missed their game before the bye against the Lions recovering from a rib injury he suffered the week prior against the New Orleans Saints. He has vowed to suit up this week against the Bears so the Vikings will have their two best receivers on the field. Diggs is still in the top ten in the league in receptions but has dropped to 24th in yardage.
The tight end position is strong with Kyle Rudolph. He is not on the athletic level of Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, but he is a quality tight end that can get the job done. He provides a nice threat over the middle while defenses are forced to pay most of their attention to the outside with Thielen and Diggs. He is top ten in receptions with 34 and top 15 in yards with 349. Again, he is not going to take the top off of a defense, but he can be a threat in the short/intermediate passing game.
The offensive line from left to right that saw the field against the Lions is as follows: Riley Reiff, Danny Isidora, Pat Elfien, Mike Remmers, and Brian O’Neill. This line has seen a handful of shifts and replacements since the beginning of the season due to injuries. Nick Easton was lost for the season during training camp and the Vikings have definitely felt it. O’Neill is a rookie who can be taken advantage of with power.
Riley Reiff signed a five-year deal worth $58.7 million this offseason but has struggled mightily this season. In fact, is their surprising loss to the Buffalo Bills in week 3, Reiff was responsible for 12 pressures on his own. Khalil Mack is foaming at the mouth. As a whole, this line has given up 24 sacks this season which is right around the middle of the league. The bottom line is that they are not a brick wall, but aren’t revolving doors either.
HC/OC: Mike Zimmer/John DeFilippo
DeFilippo is in his first season as the Vikings offensive coordinator after being be hired this offseason. He was the quarterback coach of the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles where we had Carson Wentz playing at an MVP level before tearing his ACL and then helped Nick Foles become MVP of the Super Bowl. He even interviewed for the head coaching spot of the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears.
The Vikings will primarily come out in 11 personnel, meaning one running back, one tight end, and three receivers. They come out in this package 65% of the time and the look will feature Thielen, Diggs, and Laquon Treadwell at the receiver positions, Rudolph at tight end, and either Cook or Murray at the running back spot. However, you can also see Cook lined up at receiver with Murray in the backfield to mix things up. They lean more on the pass out of this personnel grouping as they pass 78% of time versus running the ball only 22% of the time.
The Vikings will also come out in a 12 personnel, which is one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers for a handful of plays. They come out in this formation 22% of the time and is where they look mainly to run the ball as they will rush 55% of the time here. The Vikings, similar to a majority of the NFL, do not utilize a fullback. Instead, they rush out of single back formations where they often run stretch plays and outside zones. This will lead the way to play action where they like to get Cousins on bootlegs and rollouts.
The Bears defense faced a primarily man up blocking scheme from the Lions last week, but this week the Vikings will bring zone blocking to the Windy City. Dalvin Cook is an excellent zone-blocking runner, so with him being back healthy, it is fair to expect a heavy dosage of zone blocking thrown at the Bears front.
The play action pass is a staple of this offense as Cousins can sell the run as good as anyone. The Vikings were heavy on the play action a year ago under Pat Shurmur and that has not changed much with the arrival of DeFilippo. Wentz used play action more than most last year and that has continued in Minnesota.
This play action will pave the way for double moves on the outside with Thielen and Diggs. This is put on full display here against the Cardinals:
Kirk Cousins to Thielen Out of 21 personnel. (Double move out) Y Solid pic.twitter.com/tidlF2YRGZ
— Quarterback Film Room (@QBFilmRoom) October 20, 2018
The Vikings use play action as well and efficiently as anyone and it is something the Bears will have to be on their toes for. It is huge for them to contain the run because if not then it will really open up that play action game.
All in all, this will be a huge test for the Bears. Talent wise, this is the toughest team they have seen on offense. Yes, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are two of the best to do it, but they are not surrounded by the same level of playmakers that Kirk Cousins is. It is going to take a great performance on all three levels of the defense to hold this Vikings offense in check, but if there is a defense capable of doing so it is Mack and company.
Matchup the Vikings can exploit: short precise route running vs. aggressive Bears defense
It is difficult to find an area of weakness on this Bears defense, to say the least. They have a very good pass rush, linebackers that fly around the field, and defensive backs taking the ball away more than any team in the league. However, there is a common issue in all three of the Bears losses this season and that is the short passing game.
Teams have found success in the short game to keep the pass rush quiet. Thielen and Diggs are two of the better route runners in the league so they can create separation often and early. If the Bears pass rush is unable to get home, it can become tough for Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara to stay with the Vikings stud receivers for long.
Matchup the Bears can exploit: front seven vs. banged-up offensive line
This can essentially be a matchup the Bears like every week regardless of who the offensive line is. However, with the Vikings line battling some nagging injuries, this can play out very well for the Bears this week. Reiff, in particular, is battling a foot injury so Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd can look to attack him. Floyd is coming off his first sack of the year against the Lions so this can be a perfect game for him to keep that production moving. We have all seen the mistakes Cousins is prone to when he has to hold the ball for too long or is pressured.
Bottom Line & Prediction
The Vikings lost to the Buffalo Bills and the Bears dominated them. Therefore, the Bears can dominate the Vikings. That’s how that works right? The Minnesota Vikings will be the most complete team the Bears have seen this season and it will be a tough task to come away with a win.
On the other hand, the Bears are just as much of a complete team as the Vikings. I think this game will be close, but the Bears are hot right now and playing at home, so I think they pull off the win and take control of the NFC North.
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