Chicago Bears and Vikings in prime-time showdown
Can the Bears defeat a team that’s better than .500?
They haven’t yet, but they’ll get an opportunity to do so Sunday night at Soldier Field against the 5-3-1 Vikings in a game that will also decide first place in the NFC North. It’s not entirely the Bears’ fault. They had only played one team with a record better than .500 heading into Week 11.
It will be worth watching to see how Bears QB Mitch Trubisky performs against a quality defense. Like his team, Trubisky has shown the ability to thrive against weak opposition. He posted a passer rating of 148.6 last week in a 34-22 victory against the 3-6 Lions, and he lit up the woeful Buccaneers in Week Four with a 154.6 passer rating and six touchdowns.
But, in the past four weeks, he’s also registered a 76.0 in a 41-9 victory vs. the Bills and a 69.8 in a 38-31 loss to the Patriots.
Trubisky will have to contend with a Vikings defense that is No. 5 in the NFL in total yards allowed, No. 3 in rushing yards allowed and is healthier and playing better than it has all year. But the Bears’ defense is even better. The Vikings’ defense is led by head coach Mike Zimmer, and the Bears’ by coordinator Vic Fangio.
“Both defenses are very similar,” Nagy said. “They’re good at stopping the run. They’re opportunistic, and they take the ball away when they need to, and they’re led by two great people.
“And then there’s the experience of playing together. Our team has a few younger guys here and there, but for the most part, they are defenses that have opportunistic guys in the back end and linebackers that can play as well.”
This division showdown was flexed to prime time, and Nagy has stressed the importance of the game but also that he wants his players to enjoy the reward and the spotlight they’ve earned for playing beyond almost anyone’s expectations.
“If you’re not enjoying the moment, then why are you playing?” Nagy said. “It’s not that hard to me. I like to have fun. I like to have fun when I coach. I like our players to have fun when they play. You’ve got to know where that line is and when you’re crossing the line. We’re in a good spot to take care of business.”
The Bears have struggled mightily to run the ball successfully with anyone other than Trubisky. It won’t be easy for them to get traction against a Vikings defense that was already playing well up front with Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter, and has recently welcomed back Everson Griffen.
If the Vikings are able to make the Bears one-dimensional on offense, it could be a rough evening for Trubisky. The Vikings racked up 10 sacks against the Lions in their last game, two weeks ago, before enjoying an off week.
But Trubisky has only been sacked nine times in the past six games, as an offensive line that has struggled to create space in the run game has provided solid protection. It’s helped that Trubisky has made the O-line look better than it is with his running ability. He’s averaging 7.8 yards per carry, and his 320 rushing yards are second only to the Panthers’ Cam Newton.
The Vikings should also benefit from the recent return of RB Dalvin Cook, who brings a dimension to the offense that Latavius Murray does not, even though he’s averaging a solid 4.5 yards per carry.
“An explosive player,” Fangio said of Cook. “He’s strong but explosive. He can break the big run. He had a 70-yarder here recently against (the Lions), so he’s a threat to go the route all the time. He’s a really good all-around player.”
While Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has relied heavily on Adam Thielen most of the season, his go-to guy has been limited in practice this week by back and calf injuries. Fortunately, Stefon Diggs, who plays Robin to Thielen’s Batman, is expected back after missing a game with a rib injury.