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Hub Arkush: Bears aim to deliver knockout blow to Vikings on Sunday

December 29, 2018

There are countless reasons Sunday’s meeting between the Bears and Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank stadium is impossible to predict.

The Bears are playing for the slimmest of hopes of improving their position in the impending playoffs, for pride and to try and stay well-tuned but healthy.

The Vikings are playing for their playoff lives and their futures.

No matter how committed Bears coach Matt Nagy is to playing to win, it is unlikely he or his players will be as willing to compete on the razor’s edge as the Vikings.

Yes, Minnesota is 8-6-1, but the tie is with a Packer team the Bears split with, and five of those losses are to the playoff-bound Rams, Bears, Saints, Patriots and Seahawks, respectively, with three by one score and four of them on the road.

The Vikings are 5-2 at home, and their defense has given up 23.3 points per game on the road and 16 points per game at home.

Three of the Bears’ four losses are to losing teams – Green Bay, Miami and the Giants — and they are only 4-3 on the road, where two of those wins were squeakers over the lowly Cardinals and 49ers.

The Bears have been the better team these past 16 weeks, but these are not the same Vikings the Bears beat six weeks ago much more convincingly than the 25-20 score suggests.

Entering that game, RB Dalvin Cook had played in just four of the Vikings’ first nine contests because of a balky hamstring, rushing only 46 times for 187 yards.

DE Everson Griffen also missed five of the Vikes’ first nine games with personal issues and was ineffective.

Most notably, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was still struggling to find his own version of Matt Nagy’s RPO-based offense learned under Doug Pederson and Andy Reid before being fired three weeks ago.

With quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski now the interim coordinator and play-caller, and head coach Mike Zimmer more involved in the offense, the Vikings have been a different team the last two games.

The biggest change is that while they averaged 40.3 passes and 21.1 rushes per game in their first 13 games, with Stefanski calling plays they’ve averaged 34 rushes and 24.5 passes the last two weeks.

Of course that was fine in their two wins over the Dolphins’ 31st ranked run ‘D’ and the Lions — who are 15th — but it could be a recipe for disaster against the Bears’ No. 2-ranked run ‘D,’ which limited them to 22 yards on 14 carries (1.6 YPC) in Chicago.

It gets better. In many respects these teams are near mirror images of each other.

Kirk Cousins, the most expensive player in the game today, has put up huge numbers in recent seasons but failed to deliver in most big games and was horrible in the loss to the Bears.

Mitch Trubisky is lacking in big-game experience, had one of his weakest games of the year against the Vikings in Chicago and how he will play is an unknown.

Both teams’ ground games have solid potential but have been underused and erratic.

The Vikings’ top three receivers – Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph — rate an edge over the Bears’ best, but Chicago’s group is much deeper and more versatile.

Both offensive lines are average at best and have struggled at times this season, the Vikings a bit more than the Bears.

Minnesota and Chicago boast two of the best defensive lines in football, with the Vikings offering more star power, and both secondaries are loaded with Pro Bowlers, although the Bears’ been a bit better this year.

The one clear edge goes to the Bears at linebacker. Not that Minnesota’s are bad, but the Bears’ have been great of late, and both special teams units are explosive but problematic.

If the Bears can match the Vikings’ intensity, the win Sunday will almost certainly go to the team that runs the ball better, takes better care of it and the quarterback who best handles the other club’s pressure.

Hopefully it will be a good one because the odds suggest we’ll be doing this all over again a week from Sunday in Chicago.

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