Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
In their ill-fated 2021 season, the Vikings had 14 games decided by one score, with a 6-8 record in those games. After close comeback victories over the Lions and Saints, the Vikings have started this season 2-0 in one-score games (3-1 overall), so they’re winning games that they often lost last season—at least through Week 4–which bodes well for a playoff push this season.
Next up for the Vikings is hosting a Bears team that is 2-2 but winless on the road, losing to the Packers and last week at the Meadowlands against the Giants. The Vikings are favored by a touchdown, but there are no gimmes in the NFL, especially in divisional matchups. And this Bears team did upset the 49ers in their opener, albeit in heavy rain.
The Vikings swept the Bears last season, including a one-score 17-9 win in Soldier Field. It was a nice change for the Purple after struggling for several years in the series when the Bears defensive front seven dominated the Vikings offensive line. But with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, and Eddie Goldman gone, a less fierce Bears D is coming to Minnesota.
I’ve got a lot of strong memories from Vikings-Bears games during my Vikings front office years—including Walter Payton’s 275-yard rushing day in a 1977 road loss for us; Archie Manning getting sacked 11 times as we fell in Chicago to the outstanding mid-80s Bears D; Mike Ditka’s sideline meltdown after Jim Harbaugh threw a game-changing pick-six that ignited our rally from a 20-0 deficit to a 21-20 win in 1992, and Warren Moon’s 65 yard TD pass to Cris Carter in OT for a 1994 home win at the Metrodome — and so many more exciting clashes with our second biggest division rivalry (after the Packers of course).
Here are my keys to the Vikings beating Da Bears:
1. Don’t have a hangover from the London trip: The Vikings have had a bye week following their two previous London games but requested that not to happen this year with the game so early in the season. The players need to adjust by catching up on their rest this week, and I think they’ll be able to handle it.
2. Pretty basic this week—run the ball and stop the run: The Vikings and their top back, Dalvin Cook, have not been great in the run game thus far, ranking 19th in the league. The Bears have been awful in run D, ranking last in the NFL and coming off a game in which they gave up 246 yards rushing to the Giants, including 146 for Saquon Barkley.
This should be the week Cook breaks loose, but we thought that would happen last week against the Saints’ No. 26 run D, and the Vikings gained only 81 yards on 25 carries (a 3.2-yard average). The Vikings must be better in run blocking with the onus on the offensive line with help from the tight ends and receivers, along with C.J. Ham as one of the league’s top blocking fullbacks (probably a good week to give him more snaps on offense).
On defense, it’s a big challenge for Minnesota’s inconsistent run defense that allowed New Orleans to pound it on the ground for 73 yards in the second half. And the Bears have the third-ranked run game thus far with a speed back in Khalil Herbert, who leads the team with 317 rushing yards and an impressive 6.1 average per carry. David Montgomery is the starting back, but he missed last week’s game with an ankle injury and has been limited this week in practice. The Vikings need Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks to spy on the mobile Justin Fields and limit his big runs.
3. Kirk Cousins avoid the bad interceptions and keep the Bears D from loading up against the run: The late first-quarter pick Cousins threw last week changed the game as the Vikings led 7-0 and had the momentum until that turnover. The Vikings new offense is obviously a work in progress (as is the defense), and Cousins will need to make enough plays in the passing game with his talented receivers to keep the Bears D honest.
Chicago is better statistically in pass defense (ranked 4th), but that’s largely due to teams running so much. Safety Eddie Jackson is a two-time Pro Bowler with three interceptions this season, so Cousins should throw away from him. The Bears best cover corner is Jaylon Johnson, and he is questionable after missing practice with a quad injury. That will be good news for Justin Jefferson if Johnson is out. And the Vikings need to handle defensive end Robert Quinn who had 18.5 sacks last season but has only one in the first four games, and Roquan Smith, who leads the NFL with 46 tackles.
4. Score TDs instead of kicking field goals: It was a frustrating day for the offense in London, with Greg Joseph kicking five field goals as the offense bogged down in Saints territory, including three times in the red zone. This is a good week to change that narrative (as Cousins would say) and score TDs when the opportunities present themselves, as too many field goals often result in a loss.
5. Pressure Justin Fields and contain his scrambling: Fields has struggled in the passing game with a suspect pass-blocking O-line, and he has a bad habit of holding the ball too long. He’s been sacked 16 times, and the Vikings need to get their pass rush in high gear this week to put the heat on Fields and force him into turnovers. Danielle Hunter has been relatively quiet as a sacker so far this season. He and Za’Darius Smith should have opportunities in this game before they head to Miami and the Dolphins high powered passing game next week.
Corner Cam Dantzler had one of his best games last week, and if he’s able to play with a hip issue, he will be tested by a good receiver in Darnell Mooney, as the Bears will likely stay away from Patrick Peterson, who is playing well. The Vikings need Andrew Booth Jr. to recover from his quad injury for this game or the Miami game so that he’s available to relieve Dantzler if his hip bothers him or he has one of his inconsistent games. And Cam Bynum needs to step up his play at safety after a rough outing last week.
6. Keep the special teams special: Coach Kevin O’Connell says the Vikings need to be more consistent on offense and defense, but “the special teams have been huge for us.” Lots of praise is deservedly going to special teams coordinator Matt Daniels as the kick coverage has been outstanding, but he will be missing one of his key players with Lewis Cine out due to his leg fracture. Joseph was terrific on field goals, including the clutch 47-yard game-winner last week, but his missed extra point almost resulted in an overtime game. And Ryan Wright is having a stellar rookie season punting, plus his fake punt conversion against the Saints.
Jeff’s Prediction: As Jethro Till once sang, Nothing is Easy (which is almost always true in the NFL), but this should be a game the Vikings win by double digits against a Bears team in rebuilding mode with Fields not seeing the field well and lacking weapons at receiver beyond Mooney. I see the offense taking a step forward while the defense forces a couple of Fields turnovers. The Bears defense is not what it was back when they tormented Cousins and the O-line. Vikings win 27-17 for an important win before facing a tough road test in Miami.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. Not a great slate this week, with the game of most interest locally being the Packers following the Vikings to London to face the Giants. I think the Giants are not as good as their 3-1 record, and the 3-1 Packers will get after a banged-up Daniel Jones, but the Green Bay run D has been shaky, so Saquon Jones will be a factor. Aaron Rodgers says he wanted to get to London earlier for sightseeing—wow, he loves to make waves. Green Bay by 10.
2. Another good matchup—Cowboys at Rams. L.A. looked bad on offense against the 49ers. They need Odell Beckham to help Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, and they face a tough Cowboys D. I just think Aaron Donald and the Rams defense will take the wind out of backup QB Cooper Rush’s sails. In a low-scoring game, I’ll pick the Rams by a field goal.
3. Bengals at Ravens on Sunday night is another interesting game between divisional rivals and should be fun to watch with top QBs, Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson. The Ravens can’t hold a lead, and the Bengals have won two straight but aren’t playing great on offense. However, Joe Burrow and Cincy crushed Baltimore in both meetings last season, so I think they’ll get this big road win.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl