Back when the 2018 schedule was released, few imagined a week 11 game in Chicago would have such high stakes applied to it. Yet, here we are, with the Bears in first place, the Vikings a tick behind and both appearing postseason-inclined.
Star performers litter this battle of NFC North top dogs, some new, some old. Here are three of the key matchups we are looking at as Minnesota travels to the Lakefront.
Vikings Defense vs. Tarik Cohen
Cohen is the Bears’s X-factor. They use him all over the place, much like how Kansas City utilized Tyreek Hill under Matt Nagy last season. Given that Cohen lines up in the backfield frequently, it is inevitable that the Vikings’ linebackers will end up in mismatches with him from time to time. But it is paramount for Mike Zimmer to limit these situations. Cohen merits a safety spy at the very least whenever possible, and perhaps a good amount of action from Xavier Rhodes or Trae Waynes when Cohen splits out wide. Regardless of where he is, the Vikings need to always have him in their sights, as he has been their big-play guy all season long.
Kirk Cousins will be on the run early and often if the Vikings leave O’Neill or Reiff one-on-one with Mack too much. Yes, O’Neill has been strong in his rookie season and has athleticism to match up reasonably well with Mack. But the Bears’ linebacker has feasted on tackles all year, even when he has been chipped by tight ends. Just look at this play from last week:
So the Vikings will be chipping with Rudolph and Morgan a lot. Ideally, it would be close to every play, and they have to be strong, impactful chips, unlike what happened in the above video. Some games, slowing Mack just is not possible, but throwing more men at him can only help the situation.
Hunter is having his breakout in year four, currently second in the league in sacks with 11.5. The Vikings as a whole are finally finding their pass rush footing as well, as they enter week 11 tied for the most sacks in football. The Bears, on the other hand, are top-10 in sacks allowed having surrendered just 18.
As profiled yesterday, much of Mitchell Trubisky‘s struggles have come when he abandons the pocket too soon. When he gets in a rhythm with clean pockets, he can find open receivers and put up huge numbers. However, he is quick to feel the rush, and not in a good way. His athleticism is among the best at his position, and he loves using it, but that has often caused more issues than it has solved. If Minnesota can get Trubisky looking in front of him rather than downfield early on, the explosive Bears offense will come back to earth a bit more.
On paper, the Vikings have favorable matchups on both ends of the line. Massie and Charles Leno are solid, but unspectacular tackles matching up with star defensive ends in Hunter and Everson Griffen. But Hunter gets the slightly larger focus here, given his high sack totals and the fact that he is face side on Trubisky. That means that Trubisky could be quicker to leave the pocket and make ill-advised throws should Hunter win his battles with Massie.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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