MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-2) AT CHICAGO BEARS (1-3)
KICKOFF: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 52-57-2. The Bears have won eight of the last nine at Soldier Field, including a 20-10 game in 2016 on Halloween last year, a Monday night game. The Vikings are 22-31-2 at Chicago.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings have big questions in the backfield. Quarterback Sam Bradford has missed three games with a knee injury, and coach Mike Zimmer has played coy about when he might return. Case Keenum might continue to start.
At running back, rookie Dalvin Cook was lost for the season last week when he suffered a torn ACL. The Vikings will look to Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon to carry the load this week and beyond.
If Bradford is unable to return, a zero-turnover night is a must. The defense needs to shut down the running game, something it didn’t do while being upset in prime time a year ago at Soldier Field. Jordan Howard is priority No. 1. If the Vikings take him out of the game, they’ll be able to go after rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in his NFL starting debut.
The Bears’ offensive game plan will look quite different with Trubisky behind center. In preseason, the moving pocket, the rollouts and bootleg passes and even the occasional read-option run were suddenly in play with Trubisky at quarterback. The Bears might be more horizontal in their approach with the pass and will want to get Trubisky outside.
Defensively, the Bears should take a good look at how Pittsburgh mixed up blitzes to get pressure on Case Keenum and force mistakes. Most of the pressure came off the edge, whether it was from a linebacker or blitzing slot corner. Confusing Keenum by keeping him off balance is the best approach. He has mobility but isn’t strong running to his left and throwing. The delayed blitz is another option against the Vikings.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Bears RT Bobby Massie vs. Vikings DE Danielle Hunter. Massie hasn’t allowed a sack the last two games. Hunter recorded both his sacks in last week’s 14-7 loss to Detroit. Hunter had 12.5 sacks last year and was graded the No. 1 edge run stuffer in the league by Pro Football Focus. Massie’s size makes his strength blocking the run. The outside zone blocking scheme will be big in this game for the Bears, with Jordan Howard trying to wear down the edges, and Hunter is also going to be challenged. Also helping Massie in this battle is Mitchell Trubisky’s bootleg ability and speed to the outside.
–Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph vs. Bears LB Christian Jones. Without Jerrell Freeman, without Nick Kwiatkoski and most likely without suspended Danny Trevathan, the Bears are scraping the bottom of the linebacker barrel for coverage of Vikings tight ends, receivers and backs coming over the middle. Jones isn’t much better than John Timu and Jonathan Anderson, the other available inside linebackers. Rudolph struggled against the Bears initially; but, in the last two years, he has had their number, with 20 catches for 191 yards and a TD. Usually it’s been the seam routes that are a strong point for him, but he won’t have to go far downfield in this one.
–Out: T Rashod Hill (knee), LB Dee Ford (back), C Mitch Morse (foot)
–Questionable: QB Sam Bradford (knee), S Jayron Kearse (knee)
–Doubtful: LB Nick Kwiatkoski (chest), LB Willie Young (tricep)
–Questionable: DB Marcus Cooper (back), OL Hroniss Grasu (hand)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings RB Latavius Murray. He joined the Vikings as a free agent from Oakland and was considered a key signing, but he recovered so slowly from offseason ankle surgery that rookie Dalvin Cook zoomed past him as the team’s top back. The plan to share the load with Murray was scrapped. But Cook went down for the season last week and Murray was thrust into the role of No. 1 back. He still doesn’t look like he did last year when he rushed for 12 touchdowns. He says it will take time for the ankle to reach the point where he’s as good as he was before. But he says he’s getting close. Now would be a very good time to prove that.
FAST FACTS: Vikings QB Case Keenum has 588 passing yards, three TDs and no interceptions in his past two starts in place of Sam Bradford. Bradford has 478 yards, four TDs and one interception in the past two meetings. … Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon had 110 scrimmage yards and two TDs in the last meeting. RB Latavius Murray ranks sixth in the NFL with 18 rushing TDs since 2015. … Vikings WR Stefon Diggs leads the NFL with 391 receiving yards and is tied for second with four receiving TDs. He has four TD catches in three games against Chicago. … Vikings DE Everson Griffen ranks second in the NFC with five sacks. He has 4.5 sacks in his past six road game vs. the NFC North. … Bears RB Jordan Howard is tied for second in the NFL with four rushing TDs. In two career meetings, he has 288 rushing yards and a score. … Chicago rookie RB Tarik Cohen is aiming for 100 scrimmage yards for the third straight home game. He ranks fourth among rookies with 331 scrimmage yards and leads NFL RBs with 24 receptions. ..Chicago LB Pernell McPhee has two sacks and a forced fumble in his past two home meetings.
PREDICTION: The Vikings’ stout defense will make it tough on the Bears’ rookie QB.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 24-17.
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