Things are looking up for the Vikings offense. With Kevin Stefanski at the helm, fans have seen an upgraded running game and a more consistently effective passing attack. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are again finding their targets and even Kyle Rudolph is looking like a viable threat to make big plays. And they are clicking at just the right time. While Minnesota still holds possession of the NFC’s sixth seed, the Eagles continue to hang around.
The Vikings’ season–and the general impression of the offense–will ultimately come down to Sunday. Unfortunately for them, their opponent still has much to play for and is unlikely to rest anyone. And with the Bears, that starting unit on defense is about as daunting as they come in 2018.
The Bears corners have been arguably the best duo in the NFC in 2018. Same goes for the two safeties, though Eddie Jackson may miss. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan are excellent coverage linebackers. Chicago’s pass coverage shut routes down early, but also has the elite ball skills to break on ill-advised passes. That is the reason why they currently have seven more interceptions and three more picks-six than any team in football.
Vikings fans saw it up close a few weeks back. The Bears effectively contained Diggs and Thielen, forcing Kirk Cousins into a lot of checkdowns. And as the game progressed, a frustrated Cousins forced throws, allowing the Chicago ball hawks to feast. Since that game, Vikings opponents have followed the Bears’ lead with bracket coverage. As a result, the Vikings’ passing game faltered, ultimately leading to the firing of the offensive coordinator.
The Vikings have re-ignited their offense the last two weeks with Stefanski. However, Chicago is the first great defense Stefanski will face as play-caller, and he will face them in the biggest game of the Vikings’ season. Chances are good that his preferred weapons are going to get considerable attention from the Bears, and he will have to adjust.
Rudolph was the guy against Detroit. He posted season-highs with nine catches, 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, Adrian Amos and Roquan Smith are a bit more steady cover guys than anyone Detroit had. It is tough to expect Rudolph to repeat week 16’s feat. Same goes for Dalvin Cook, though he will still get his fair share of looks on screens and quick passes.
This means that for the Vikings passing game to have the necessary fire power, they are likely going to need some production from the receiver depth. Diggs and Thielen are too good to be completely shut down, but their looks are going to be tougher to come by. That especially takes shape when you factor in the pass rush threat Chicago brings from every angle.
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Quick and play-action passes will factor heavily into the gameplan, on top of the usual run emphasis. Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller break on quick routes as well as anyone, so expect a fair amount of balls to go Aldrick Robinson‘s way. Robinson has primarily been a touchdown machine, with little provided between the 20s. However, his role will have to expand. Same could go for rookies Chad Beebe and Brandon Zylstra, should Laquon Treadwell again be a healthy scratch as he was in week 16.
Rhythm and timing, that is where Cousins thrives. Against the Bears, that is easier said than done, given their elite coverage and pass rush. However, with a little help from unexpected places, those lanes could open up on Sunday.
–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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