By Bryan Dietzler
The Chicago Bears, fresh off a loss to division rival Green Bay, will host the Minnesota Vikings in their only Monday night appearance of the 2017 season. The Vikings are coming off a loss as well, 14-7 at the hands of division rival Detroit. They are desperately looking for a win. They come in with a record of 2-2 while the Bears have won just one game this season.
By now everyone knows that rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will start Monday night. He replaces someone who could never quite do what the Bears needed him to do in Mike Glennon. The future is now, and it’s time they start to move forward. And with such a heavy investment in Mitch, it’s about time they did.
With this game being Trubisky’ s first start it will be a tough outing for the Bears’ passing game. It was already anemic and mistake-ridden air attack anyway so why not move forward instead of keeping it in neutral. That must have been what the Bears’ decision makers thought when they decided to put Mitch in.
We won’t talk about the Bears pass offense rankings. You can throw all that out now that Trubisky is in the lineup. The rookie will be facing the league’s 24th ranked pass defense so there will be some opportunities for them to pass the ball if they can get him going.
And if Mitch can throw the ball well hopefully his receivers will be there to not only catch it but hang onto it.
Mitch may want to rely on some of the team’s strongest pass catchers, their tight ends. Guys like Zach Miller and Dion Sims could help the rookie gain some comfort, and they could be a safety outlet when the heat is on. Trubisky needs to find a receiver he can rely upon and one of the tight ends would be a great outlet for him to throw the ball too.
When it comes to pass protection, the Vikings defense can get to the quarterback. They have 11 sacks in four games and their leader in sacks is Everson Griffen with five. Griffen will present many problems for the Bears’ offensive line. He will be going up against the likes of Charles Leno Jr., who, despite his critics, is one of the better offensive left tackles in the game.
Leno will have his work cut out for him on Monday night though.
The secondary for the Vikings has some great players in it. There is Bear “killer” safety Harrison Smith. Chicago fans know him all too well. He and two other teammates have one interception a piece this season so Trubisky better be wary of where Harrison and those guys are. If he finds them too often, it will be a long night.
The Vikings do play well against the run. Coming into the game, the Vikings are ranked third in the league allowing 71.2 yards per game. The Bears must run the ball to win and they could find it difficult Monday night. But having all of their offensive linemen healthy and ready to go will go a long ways to ensuring that they can run the ball. Chicago will see some success running the ball against the Vikings.
Remember last Halloween?
The Bears rushing offense is gaining an average of 117.5 yards per game which is 12th in the league. The Bears can win games on the ground so if they can run the ball well, they can win. But will the Vikings let them?
Minnesota’s best linebacker is Anthony Barr. Barr has recorded 26 total tackles this season and can make plays anywhere on the field. The Bears have to be wary of him. Taking care of Barr, who plays on the outside, will be the job of either Leno Jr., Massie or a tight end when the Bears run the ball.
Hopefully, those blockers will be able to take him out of the picture and free up some running room.
The will also need to worry about the Vikings leading tackler strong safety Andrew Sendejo. He can make plays in the secondary and will sneak up to play the run. Every blocker the Bears have available on Monday needs to be wary of those Sendejo and the aforementioned Smith. They can dominate any game.
Going back to the passing game, I don’t want to sound like a broken record but the Bears receiving corps is anemic. There is no star in that group and no one has stepped up to be their number one wide receiver. And with a rookie quarterback that makes his development even more difficult.
Aside from the tight ends and running, is there any other receiver who can step up?
The Bears have gotten some good play out of their defense and they can help Chicago win games if their offense can limit the mistakes.
The defense has been rocked by injuries as the linebacker and safety groups have seen starters go down. Of course, we all know that Jerrell Freeman is gone for the season and Nick Kwiatkoski is a few weeks away from coming back. Strong safety Quintin Demps will be out as also. And now outside linebacker Willie Young has been added to the injured reserve list.
Danny Trevathan will miss the game due to a suspension but even though the Bears’ defense is hurting they can still play and play well.
It’s not yet known who the Bears will face at quarterback for the Vikings. At last check, Sam Bradford was still a day to day decision. Case Keenum has been a good game manager and had a nice game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but Chicago needs not to let him repeat that performance. They can prevent that with a solid performance from their pass rushing defense.
The Bears pass defense is ranked 15th against the pass allowing 220.8 yards per game. Minnesota’s passing offense is gaining an average of 263.2 yards per game which is 8th in the NFL. The Bears will have their work cut out for them. But not knowing who will play quarterback makes it a little hard to prepare.
The Vikings receivers are pretty good. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are two very capable wide receivers. Diggs already has four touchdowns this season and is difficult to cover.
The Bears must shut him down.
Chicago’s secondary has its slip-ups, but overall, they can be solid. They have some strong players at the cornerback spot and use a three-man rotation to help keep things fresh. Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller, and Marcus Cooper are the starters. Bryce Callahan comes in as a nickel back and has done well this season.
There is a lot of talent in this group.
But the pass rush is the key component for making sure the Vikings can’t pass the ball all over the field. Chicago’s defense currently has nine sacks this year. Their leaders there are Pernell McPhee and Willie Young with two apiece. When you compare that to the top team in the NFL in sacks (which is Jacksonville with 18) that’s not great at all.
The Bears must get pass pressure on whoever the quarterback is for Minnesota. And now that Willie Young is out for the year, rushing the passer will get tougher.
Chicago’s most capable pass rushers are Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, and Pernell McPhee. They will go up against an offensive line that has allowed just five sacks all season.
Getting a sack on Monday night is going to be difficult for the Bears. But even if they can’t get sacks, they can hurry the quarterback and make him rush his throws. That could help generate turnovers which the Bears will desperately need to stay in this game.
Stopping the run hasn’t been difficult for Chicago. They’ve allowed just 85.5 yards through four games which is good for sixth in the NFL. The Vikings have rushed for 108 yards on average which is ranked 17th. Remember that their leading rusher, Cook, is out for the year. So, facing a new running back may either be good or bad for Chicago.
When it comes to points scored per game, Minnesota is ranked 19th scoring 19.8 per game. Chicago is allowing a whopping 26 points per game which is ranked 27th. The Bears need to turn that around and start holding opponents to fewer points.
Maybe they can start against the Vikings? If they want to win they must that and this is the game to start a new trend.
When it comes to special teams, the Bears have some trouble in the kicking game with Connor Barth. Their dissatisfaction with Barth showed this week as they brought in some other kickers to try out. However, as this article is being written, the Bears have not signed a new kicker.
Barth is two of four on field goals this year which is disappointing. Compare that to Vikings kicker Kai Forbath who has made all but one of his field goals this season (six of seven). The edge here goes to the Vikings. The problem is if the game comes down to a field goal kick the Bears may not be able to win the game or trust Barth to win it.
The Vikings leading kick return specialist is Jerick McKinnon and he has a 26.1-yard return average. Chicago’s kick return teams are allowing an average of 17.5 yards per return. They must not allow McKinnon or any other special teamer make a mockery of them on Monday night.
The team that plays the best on special teams may win the game as a mistake on special teams could help swing a close game in one team’s favor.
The Bears leading kick return specialist is Deonte Thompson with a 23.3-yard average. Minnesota’s special teams are allowing 22.6 yards per return the numbers are even. Maybe the Bears can get something going here.
Pat O’Donnell has been solid this season. His average is 48.6 but the most important thing is that he has dropped eight punts inside the 20. The Bears should be very comfortable with him punting the ball. Minnesota’s special teams units feature Marcus Sherels who is averaging a lowly 5.6 yards per return. The Bears’ punt coverage teams, which are allowing just 8.7 yards per return so they aren’t getting killed there.
The Vikings punter, Ryan Quigley, has a 42.7-yard average with seven placed inside the 20. The Bears punt return specialists are averaging 8.7 yards while Tarik Cohen leads the way with 7.8 yards per attempt. Chicago needs someone to break some long returns and either get good field position or get into the end zone.
That will help them win this or any game.
The coaching staffs for both teams are very experienced. When it comes down to the head coaches and what they have to offer, Fox may have an advantage over Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer in years being a head coach. However, Zimmer is a smart coach who makes good decisions.
They match up well with against one another.
Anytime these two teams get together; the outcome is difficult to predict. Last year, in their first game, no one expected the Bears to beat the Vikings. At that point, Minnesota was having a strong season while the Bears were struggling like they are now. But Chicago derailed the Vikings so anything is possible on any given day in any game between these two teams.
This being Mitchell Trubisky’s first start, it will be a tough outing for the Bears. But I hope I am wrong. Every Bears’ fan hopes that Trubisky will be able to play a strong first-ever game. Coupled with a strong rushing attack and opportunistic defense, maybe he can help the Bears win.
But they won’t win it. It will be close but they will fall just short. Trust me; there will be better days ahead for the Bears.
Score Prediction: Minnesota 24 Chicago 17
Follow me on Twitter @bdietzler
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