Vikings Must Treat The Bears Like Contenders

October 6, 2022
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A lot of Vikings fans that I know would prefer it if we were flying under the radar. But at 3-1, this Vikings team is the favorite against the hapless Bears. Regardless, you have to play the games, so the Vikings need to block out all of the stats and speculation, and carry their London momentum back into Minneapolis.

Vikings Need To Play Like The Favorites They Are

As I mentioned, all signs point to this being a relatively comfortable win for the Vikings. They are seven-and-a-half-point favorites, and the game is at home. The Bears are a respectable 2-2, but their wins are against a bad Houston Texans team and the 49ers in a swamp battle.

The Bears are a team that has an exciting young quarterback in Justin Fields, but not a lot around him, and the Vikings need to assert themselves early. They need to ensure they don’t let the Bears hang around late and take advantage of their opportunities.

Keys To The Game: Red Zone Efficiency

The Vikings settled for too many field goals against the Saints in London. While Greg Joseph impressed and the game was exciting, the Vikings have to find ways to get into the endzone. The Vikings are posting a 46.67% touchdown rate when they get inside the 20, and that has them near the bottom of the league rankings at 25th.

It’s still early in the season, though, so I suspect that number will rise. I would love to see more Justin Jefferson hand-offs, play-actions, and other misdirections to help get us to paydirt. Or, we could always opt for the good, old-fashioned fade routes to either Jefferson or Adam Thielen. Regardless, redzone inefficiency is the easiest way to let a bad team think they can compete, and so I want to see 21 points on the board before Greg’s first FG attempt.

Keys To The Game: Stop The Run

For all of the Bears’ offensive ineptitude, they rank third in rushing offense. They are averaging a ridiculous 177.3 yards per game. And while their passing game is dead last in yards per game, they have shown that they will run regardless of score or game script (see the game against the Packers). Further, Justin Fields is a threat to run, posting 52 yards and 47 yards rushing in his past two games.

The Vikings’ defense ranks 23rd in rush defense, though at times it has felt worse than that. I’m watching this match-up for obvious reasons. The Vikings need to stop the run and make Justin Fields try to win with his arm. It is such a cliche in the NFL to say this, but it’s because it’s how to win in some games. We want to fluster Justin Fields, make him want to escape the pocket early, and then obviously contain him while he scrambles.

Keys To The Game: Pass Protection

The chatter surrounding the Vikings’ offensive line has been generally positive this season. Rightfully so, Christian Darrisaw has been receiving glowing grades from PFF, and even Garrett Bradbury appears to be holding his own, which was not the case coming out of training camp. Further, the five offensive line starters played 100% of the snaps last week against the Saints, and consistency to me is almost as important as individual talent.

But if you look closer at our lines’ grades, they are better in run blocking than in pass protection. And while they have been fine in pass protection, Kirk Cousins has still found himself facing immediate pressure on plenty of dropbacks this season. While the line in general needs to keep improving in pass protection, I think it’s especially important against the Bears.

While the Bears are only 31st in blitz rate, they are fourth in pressure rate at 33%. The Vikings need to force the Bears to blitz to pressure Cousins, and then he can exploit the young secondary of the Bears. Starting rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker have looked good at times for the Bears, but they are still rookies. The Vikings’ line needs to give Kirk time to carve them up.

An Opportunity Too Good To Be True

After the Vikings’ season-opening destruction of Green Bay, I confidently dubbed them the best team in the NFC North. I was promptly reminded by people on Facebook that it was only one game and that I should calm down. I’ll admit, I was a little worried after the poor showing in Philadelphia.

But then the Vikings outlasted the Lions, and now have an opportunity to beat the Bears and claim head-to-head supremacy over all three of their divisional opponents. This game is at home, and on paper, we are a much better team, so let’s not squander this perfect opportunity.

Key Contributors: Players I’m Expecting To Continue Positive Momentum

Cameron Dantzler: Dantzler had three passes defensed against the Saints and five tackles, one of them a tackle-for-loss. He has looked much more aggressive this season, and I think we’re witnessing him taking that next step in becoming an above-average starting CB in this league. This week he has a great opportunity to continue this momentum against a putrid Bears passing attack. I want to see a pick-six this weekend, Cam!

Ryan Wright: The Vikings have had great special teams all around this season, and the rookie punter has been a big reason why. Nine of his 16 punts have been downed inside the 20, and it has looked automatic in-game. And then to add to his stellar rookie campaign, he completes a 13-yard pass on a fake punt to convert a first down. Keep it up, rookie!

Dalvin Tomlinson: I thought Tomlinson played well overall last week against the Saints. He looked like a force en route to recording four tackles, one sack, and two QB hits. He also had a forced fumble. In a game where we will need to stop the run, I’m looking for the Vikings to make a statement and hold the Bears to under 100 rushing yards. I believe you’re up to the task, Dalvin!

Call Me Crazy; I Have A Hunch

Last week Jalen Reagor did not record a catch, and he only has two total catches as a Viking. While I don’t think he is all of the sudden going to break out this week, I get the feeling that the Vikings have a few plays drawn up for him.

This is all pure conjecture of course (that’s why they call it a hunch?), but something tells me he breaks off a big run against the Bears on Sunday. I don’t expect him to crack the top three receivers on our team or anything, but I want to spend next week speculating on whether or not his role will increase.

Here’s a bold prediction for ya: Jalen Reagor has three offensive touches, goes for 70 all-purpose yards, and either a run or short pass ends up in the endzone. Feel free to call me out if he doesn’t even see the field, but I can’t ignore my gut instincts, can I? And while we’re on the topic, let me know what you have for bold predictions!

Injury Report (as of 7 pm, 10/6)

Andrew Booth, Za’Darius Smith, Jalen Nailor, Cameron Dantzler, and Ben Ellefson were all listed as limited participants at Thursday’s practice.

After Friday’s practice the only player ruled Out for Sunday’s game is Ben Ellefson. Still Questionable are Andrew Booth Jr. and Jalen Nailor. Za’Darius Smith and Cam Dantzler will be active.

On the Bears’ side, most notably to me were the fact that RB David Montgomery was a limited participant, and that CB Jaylon Johnson did not practice on Thursday. Johnson has not played since Week 2, and he would be a welcome addition to the Bears’ secondary if he were able to go on Sunday. He did practice Friday, but was limited.

Prediction

I’m sure my bias is getting annoying since I pick the Vikings every week, but the Vikings are 3-1, and honestly, I do not want to picture how badly we have to play to lose on Sunday to the Bears. I do think the Bears will get their running game going pretty well, and I think Justin Fields will account for some points by using his magic.

But I think the Vikings take this one. Last season, Kirk Cousins threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns. I’ll be looking for a similar stat line in this one, and I think our offense will look crisp. I like the Vikings 27 – 14 over the Bears, and I love the position we’ll be in at 4-1.

How do you think Sunday’s game will go? What are your keys to the game? Let me know, @Jlime8 on Twitter. Also, be sure to stay with The Daily Skol for other great Vikings content, and follow us all on Twitter for commiserations and celebrations throughout the season!

SKOL!