By Bryan Dietzler
The 3-12 Chicago Bears will travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota to finish up their dismal 2016 campaign against the flailing Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings come into this game with a record of 7-8. They played the Bears earlier this season and ended up losing 20-10 in what many considered to be a surprise loss. The Vikings started out the season on a five game winning streak but stumbled and have moved themselves out of playoff contention.
With nothing to play for, this game promises to be one that is played for pride more than anything else. You can also consider it a job interview for several players who are second and third stringers on both teams. Not only will they be auditioning for these two teams but they will be putting on a show for other NFL franchises. So this game shouldn’t be a “lie down and die” type of game but rather a showcase of second and third tier talent.
After last week, predicting that the Bears should or could win has become almost impossible. Everyone expected a better game out of them last Saturday and they fell flat. This weekend, they play a division rival and games between the Bears and the Vikings are always tough. This one should be very tough and hard fought.
Let’s look and see whether or not the Bears have a shot of winning their final game of the season. Four wins would look a lot better than three that’s for sure and it would be nice to close out the season with a victory.
There had been some talk that the Bears may start David Fales over Matt Barkley but that doesn’t appear to be happening. Barkley is a bit of an enigma with Bears fans right now. He was doing so well before the Bears’ game against the Packers two weeks ago and then he fell completely apart against the Redskins. Now people are saying he’s not a starting quarterback. Perhaps they are right but he could use a little more work to get to the point where he could be a viable option at the positon in the future. But will the Bears allow him to get to that point?
For this game, Barkley needs to keep his head level and not make mistakes. One of the reasons (perhaps the biggest) he made so many mistakes against the Redskins was because the coaching staff was putting the onus on him to win the game. They did not give him much help. Had they run the ball more often and taken some of the pressure off of him, both the quarterback and the Bears might have had more success.
The Bears can easily run the football with their star running back Jordan Howard but how well can they do it against the Vikings defensive line? Remember that the Vikings had one of the NFL’s best defenses to start the season but they have gone downhill a ways ever since. In fact, the Vikings defense was exploited heavily by the Bears in their first game. That helped start the decline of the Vikings.
For Minnesota, guys like Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen are tough on that left side. On the right, they have Danielle Hunter and he is solid. The offensive line of the Bears features talent that is rated at about the league average. The two “studs” in the center, Cody Whitehair and Josh Sitton should help open up some holes for Howard and protect Barkley. The rest of the group can hold up but may get beaten. Still, this line has performed well this season.
The Bears are averaging 103.5 yards per game on the ground which is ranked 19th in the NFL. The Vikings are allowing teams to rush for an average of 101.9 yards per game and are 15th in the league. There is a good chance that the Bears can run the ball well in this game and so they need to take advantage of this and use Howard often. If they can control the ball and the clock then they have a good chance of winning.
Chicago’s wide receivers have had a lot of opportunity to catch the ball lately as Barkley has been putting it up a lot since becoming the starter. The group went through a period of a couple of games where they struggled to catch the ball and that easily cost them at least one win. They looked better last week and hopefully that continues.
Cameron Meredith has been the star of the Bears’ pass catching crew as of late. He has become a reliable target and is putting up some decent numbers. The guy who you would think would be the number one receiver, Alshon Jeffery, missed four games due to a suspension and has fallen behind. Guys like Deonte Thompson are reliable and tight end Daniel Brown have been steady.
But they will face a better than average secondary. The Vikings have such talented as Terence Newman and Harrison Smith and they can not only cover well but create turnovers. Barkley and his pass catchers will have to beware of these guys.
Hopefully Barkley will be able get the ball out to his receivers and not hand it over to the Vikings defense. This game will be a big test for him.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has received praise from some circles but he has not been as effective as an NFL offensive coordinator. He has to realize that the Bears needed run the ball more to find success. They could have won more games had he been able to figure this out. He cannot put the entire game on Barkley’s shoulders. If he does that they will lose.
Here is this week’s injury report for the Bear’s offense:
Tight End Daniel Brown was had a full practice despite having a shoulder injury.
Quarterback David Fales was limited with a right thumb issue. He is questionable for the game.
Erick Kush, a guard, practiced fully after coming out of the concussion protocol.
Tackle Bobby Massie was limited with a toe injury and is questionable.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery missed Thursday’s practice because of an illness but practiced in full Friday.
Running back Bralon Addison missed practice with an illness earlier in the week but practiced in full at week’s end.
The following is a list of players on the Vikings defense who are on the injury report this week:
Safety Harrison Smith was limited in practice with an ankle injury to start the week but practiced in full Friday. It looks like he will play Sunday.
Andrew Sendejo did not practice due to a knee injury and is out for Sunday.
Chicago’s defense has been shredded in the running game the last two games. As of now, the Vikings status at the running back position is undecided. Their star, Adrian Peterson, will not play this game so that leaves Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata to play. They aren’t barn burners so the Bears have that going for them. But Chicago cannot allow them to turn into superstars this Sunday. They must stop the run.
Chicago’s rushing defense is allowing teams to gain an average of 121.7 yards per game which is ranked 27th in the NFL. The Bears had been doing well against the run to start the season but the last couple of games have been brutal.
The Vikings, without Peterson, have been averaging a low 72.1 yards per game rushing. That puts them dead last in the NFL. Hopefully the Bears can clamp down on the Vikings rushing attack and shut it down. If they can’t stop the NFL’s worst rushing attack then the defense is much worse off than anyone could have thought.
Some of the problems that the Bears have had stopping the run have been due to injuries they have suffered on the line and at linebacker. Their star on the line, Eddie Goldman, has missed a bulk of the season with an ankle injury and is now on IR. The Bears have one “star” left on the line, Akiem Hicks and he is supported by a bevy of second and third string defensive lineman. That equates to the Bears not being able to stop the run.
The Vikings offensive line has one very good player in guard Joe Berger. After that, the talent drops off. If the Bears can get through these guys and get to the Vikings running backs at or behind the line then they should have some success.
Chicago’s inside linebackers have been bolstered by the return of Jerrell Freeman who completed his four game suspension and came back for the game last Saturday. He picked up where he left off in being the Bears’ best defender. The other starter at the inside position is rookie Nick Kwiatkoski. For a rookie, he’s been playing well. He earned his starting role due to injury.
Look for both Freeman and Kwiatkoski to have a good game against the Vikings leading the team in tackles and making good plays.
It appears as if the Bears might have some trouble getting their two best pass rushing outside linebackers healthy in time for this game. Both Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee did not practice this week. Floyd is dealing with a concussion (suffered last Saturday) and is out. McPhee’s has a shoulder issue and he is questionable.
If, for some reason, McPhee can’t play, the Bears are going to have a difficult time rushing the passer. Willie Young may even miss this game as he is questionable and hasn’t practiced all week. Who will rush the passer for the Bears’?
The Bears’ pass rush could be non-existent Sunday.
Injuries have rocked the secondary and they could struggle with what they have left on Sunday. The cornerback position should see Cre’Von Leblanc back but Tracy Porter may be out. The nickel back, Bryce Callahan may also be out for this game. That leaves guys like Jonathan Banks, Deondrie Hall and Demontre Hurst, among others, left to play. We saw what a depleted secondary can do to the Bears last week and if it’s like that this week this team could be in trouble.
Chicago will face a slightly above average group of wide receivers and quarterback but the Vikings passing attack has not been too proficient. They average 239.1 yards per game which is 18th in the NFL. The Bears pass defense, despite the fact it was dinged last week, has been allowing 223.2 yards per game which is ranked sixth. The Bears’ near stellar pass defense will be hampered by injuries, however, and it could crumble under the weight of these missing men and guys like Stefon Diggs (may not play) and Adam Thielen.
We may get chance to see some of the younger talent on the Bears in this game (especially at cornerback). A glimpse into the Bears’ future could be what fans get this Sunday.
The safety positon could be at half strength Sunday. Adrian Amos is healthy but his counterpart, Deon Bush, has not practiced and could miss the game. That means we could see guys like Chris Prosinski and Harold Jones-Quartey lining up in the backfield. These guys are adequate backups but they are not starting caliber players. Jones-Quartey, in particular, is adequate in run support but not a good cover safety.
With the secondary in the shape it’s in, the pass rushers hurt and the defensive line missing its key starter, the Vikings offense may have an easier time of it than they did in the first game against the Bears.
Bears’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is one of the best in the business and he has done some wonders with what he has had to work with this season. He will be very limited in what he can do for this game because of the injuries that have depleted the defense. Hopefully he can put something decent together and get some nice execution out of his starters. If the Bears defense can clamp down like they did in the first meeting between these two teams, this will be a close game. But that will be difficult.
The following defensive players, for the Bears, were listed on the injury report this week:
Safety Deon Bush did not practice until Friday due to an ankle injury. He is questionable for Sunday’s game.
Nickelback Bryce Callahan was limited with a knee/hamstring injury. He is questionable this Sunday.
Leonard Floyd, the Bears’ rookie pass rusher, did not practice due to a concussion suffered against the Redskins. He is doubtful (they say he will be out) against the Vikings.
Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc was limited with a knee injury. He is questionable.
Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee did not practice because of a shoulder injury. He is questionable for Sunday.
Cornerback Tracy Porter was limited in practice with a shoulder/knee issue. He is listed as questionable.
Outside linebacker Willie Young did not practice this week until Friday due to a knee injury. He is questionable for Sunday.
The following is a list of offensive players for the Vikings who were listed on the injury report this week:
Center Joe Berger was limited to start the week with an elbow injury but practiced fully as the week went on. He will play Sunday.
Guard Alex Boone has not practiced yet with a back injury. He is doubtful for the game.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs has a hip injury and has not practiced this week and is doubtful for Sunday.
Guard Brandon Fusco has been limited in practice with a concussion but practiced in full on Friday and could play Sunday.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson was limited in practice with a knee injury. He is questionable.
Running back Zach Line was limited with a concussion but practiced in full on Friday. He may play Sunday.
Adrian Peterson, the Vikings star running back did not practice due to a groin and knee issues. He is out.
Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell didn’t practice due to an ankle injury. He is doubtful for Sunday.
Special teams for the Bears has been hot and cold all year. Punting has been decent while kicking has gotten better after a rough first few games. The return teams have been inconsistent and have suffered since the loss of Eddie Royal (on punt returns). Thompson hasn’t been that consistent on kick returns. You aren’t going to see a lot of dynamic run-backs out of this group.
The portion of special teams that will be the most tested will be the coverage units. The Vikings have Cordarrelle Patterson and he is dangerous. The Bears will want to keep this game close so they cannot allow someone like him to change the game by adding a special teams score. Chicago has had decent coverage all season so hopefully they can finish the season strong here.
John Fox has been less than mediocre since coming to the Bears. He hasn’t really inspired this team to win this season but he has had his hands tied with injuries. Hopefully he will have his team fired up and ready to play this game and win because closing this dismal season out with a win would be much better than ending it with a loss. And he could be playing for his job. You never know.
This game, like last week’s, is too close to call but for a different reason. Both teams are heading downhill and have injury plus performance issues. Also, this is a division game which means you can throw just about all the statistics out the door and call it even. Everything changes when two division rivals play one another.
Both teams are out of playoff contention so the only thing to fight for is pride. They don’t want to end the season on a low note so these two teams might just play hard and fans could get to see a decent game.
So, call this game even because these two teams are even. This could be an exciting game to close out a horrible Chicago Bears season.