Joniak: Keys To Bears-Vikings

November 16, 2018 - 6:26 pm
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By Jeff Joniak--

(WBBM Newsradio) The Bears (6-3) host the Vikings (5-3-1) at 7:20 p.m. Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are my keys to the game.

Offense

Staying ahead of the chains and on schedule is one of the biggest keys to the game for the Bears offense. First-down yards-per-play production on the ground or through the air has to be on point against the Vikings. The whole reason relates to how stingy Minnesota is on third down, as the Vikings defense is the best in the league in that regard. The Vikings are the only team in the NFL to permit fewer than 30 third-down conversions this season. On the road, they're allowing only a 22-percent conversion rate on third down. The average yards-to-go on third down for Vikings opponents is an astounding 8.6. 

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Blocking the Vikings’ big four up front is a challenge in the running game. The Vikings have allowed only two runs longer than 15 yards and none for more than 20 yards. Overall, the Vikings are fourth in the NFL in allowing only 3.4 yards per rush, and they're sixth in average yards per drive allowed at 27.7. Additionally, the Vikings are an outstanding zone blitz team. This is a big test for the Bears' offensive line and for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to diagnose, scan and deliver against one of the premier defensive units in the league. The screen game will serve the Bears well to diffuse some of the Vikings' pressure.

Defense

The Bears defense is every bit as talented and productive as the Vikings'. Chicago's front seven will be a tough challenge for a Minnesota offensive line that has started eight different blockers due to injury and performance issues. Favorable matchups for Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd give the Bears some juice in this game. 

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is one of the most accurate passers in the league, but inside pressure has caused him some problems, including with ball security. Bears linebackers will be tested by underneath damage that Cousins can cause by getting the ball to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, who are two of the most dangerous playmakers in the league. Finding a way to defend Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is also a big key. He has damaged the Bears to the tune of 40 catches and four touchdowns in his career. Stopping the run and the now-healthy duo of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray will be a prerequisite for the Bears to get the pass rush revved up. 

Special teams

With wind chills expected to be in the upper teens during the game, the weather and difficult winds of Soldier Field will certainly have a say in the success and failure of the kicking game. All eyes will be on Bears kicker Cody Parkey as he works to overcome four missed kicks against the Lions last Sunday. Given how stubborn the Vikings are in giving up yards and field position, Parkey’s leg may well become a key component to the Bears offense. The Vikings defense has turned teams away in the red zone with the second-lowest touchdown percentage in the league, resulting in the second-most field goals made against them. Equally important is the right leg of Bears punter Patrick O’Donnell given the continued excellence of Vikings return man Marcus Sherels. Field position will be critical given for the Bears given the strength of the Vikings defense.

Intangibles

Some are calling this "separation" Sunday. The Bears own a half-game lead in the NFC North, while the Vikings are the defending division champions. Both teams have playoff-caliber defenses. Both teams have weapons of significance on offense. And both teams have played well lately, with the Bears winners of three straight and the Vikings victorious in four of their past five games. On a mission to continue to own their home field, the Bears' inner belief and fiery competitiveness needs to take root early against a well-coached and resilient Vikings outfit. Embracing the big-game feel of this matchup will bring out the best in everyone, and that type of approach is necessary in a game that could come down to one small mistake that results in one major swing.  

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.​