Joniak: Keys To Bears-Vikings

The Chicago Bears (7-8) face the Minnesota Vikings (10-5) Sunday. 

Jeff Joniak
December 27, 2019 - 6:44 pm
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(WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- As the 2019 season winds down for the Chicago Bears, Jeff Joniak offers these "Keys to the Game" in hopes Chicago can even up their record to 8-8. 

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Offense

-Back in week four, it was a big game. The Bears responded with arguably their signature win of a disappointing season. They played with toughness and resiliency, overcoming injuries with key contributions from players pressed into duty. It left the Bears 3-and-1 at the quarter pole.

-A four-game losing streak followed and spoiled the stew. In the finale against a Vikings team headed to the playoffs, a few ingredients for next season’s menu can start the cooking process all over again.

-Head Coach Matt Nagy embarks Monday morning on the “why” of the offensive regression and collapse. It will be exhaustive and revealing.  He will find an amalgam of issues pertaining to mental errors, lack of focus, communication breakdowns, repetitive mistakes, inopportune penalties and many missed opportunities.

-Sunday’s finale in Minnesota must focus on the Bears not beating the Bears. Execution. Doing the simple things the right way. Having fun. Playing loose. All the pre-requisites Nagy pleads for each week.

-Protecting quarterback Mitch Tribusky from the outside terrors Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin will require significant attention and a run game to take some of the starch out of their pass rush. They may not play much, if at all with the Vikings expected to play it safe with their starters.

-Scoring points has proven to be a tall order in the first quarter, the first half, and the fourth quarter this season for the Bears.  A good start and powerful finish against a division opponent no matter the circumstances would serve this Bears team well.

Defense

-The math indicates the Bears are still a quality defense. They are 5th in scoring, 8th in yards, 6th against the run, fourth in average yards-per-carry. However, it feels different without the takeaways.

-With no takeaways in the last three games, the unit must play bend-don’t-break. They fight hard to keep teams from making big plays and from scoring, and have kept the games close without much benefit from an offense getting them the lead.

-They will have to tackle well no matter who is running the football.   

-The Vikings' offensive line struggled badly against a fierce Packers pass rush on Monday night, and the Bears will hope to do the same against a unit that lost the line of scrimmage. Expected starting quarterback Sean Mannion is not mobile and is known for having a slow set up to throw. The Bears may have some opportunities with pass pressure.

-Getting a few takeaways against the Vikings would release some of the pressure. Mannion has only 53 passing attempts in his five-year career, but at Oregon State he fumbled 30 times and threw 54 interceptions.

-Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs is the star of the passing game, complete with consecutive four-digit yardage after his slow start. Kirk Cousins completes 69% of his passes, so he is finding completions. The Bears corners will need to play physical.

Special teams

-One of the bright spots of the season has been the development of the Bears special teams unit. Led by Pro Bowl returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who doubles as one of the best gunners in the league, there is a good foundation for the future.

-Younger players are developing on the coverage and blocking units.

-The Vikings do not have a go-to return specialist. They cover well on punts, but are 27th in the league on kick coverage, giving up 14 returns of 20 yards or more. 

-They have found reliability in field goal kicker Dan Bailey, who has connected on 15 consecutive attempts, while punter Britton Colquitt has zero touchbacks on 61-punts.  No other punter with more than 40 punts has managed that kind of reliability.

Intangibles

The week four meeting set up as a good old-fashioned black-and-blue division brawl. The Bears were the bully on the block. This game does not offer the same flair, but the Bears need a reset and if it comes in week 16 with an eye on 2020, I am all for it.

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