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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Bears will provide big-time test for Vikings’ fumble-prone Cousins

By Judd Zulgad

Kirk Cousins has done plenty of positive and productive things in the first season of his three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings.

The quarterback is seventh in the NFL in passing yards (2,685), third in completion percentage (71.4) and ninth in passer rating (102.2). But as has been the case since Cousins became starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins in 2015, he has continued to be plagued by one very important thing — fumbles.

Cousins has lost an NFL-high six of eight fumbles this season, or five more than Case Keenum lost in 15 games and 14 starts for the Vikings last year. That brings Cousins’ fumble total to 39 with 17 lost in his past 57 games. This season, Cousins have 11 turnovers, including five interceptions, in nine games.

There are some who want to ignore Cousins’ turnovers, pointing to the fact the Vikings’ faulty offensive line is more at fault than the quarterback and that, for whatever reason, any criticism of Cousins is unfair. This, of course, makes no sense. Cousins needs to limit the turnovers if the Vikings are going to win the NFC North for the second consecutive season and secure a home playoff game.

Sunday night in Soldier Field would be a good time to start.

The Bears (6-3) are currently sitting in first place in the NFC North ahead of the Vikings (5-3-1) but a Minnesota victory would change that. The difficult part about this is that Chicago is so good at forcing turnovers. A defense that added outstanding linebacker Khalil Mack just before the season is second in the NFL with 24 takeaways, including eight on fumble recoveries. Mack is tied for the NFL lead with four forced fumbles and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has forced three.

The Bears are fifth in the NFL with 30 sacks — one behind the Vikings — and Mack has a team-leading seven of them.

It’s not realistic to think that the Bears are going to get to Cousins a few times on Sunday — right guard Mike Remmers is questionable because of a lower back injury and left guard Tom Compton continues to battle a knee issue and is questionable — but he will go into the game fully aware of how dangerous the Bears can be. The important thing will be what Cousins does when the pocket collapses and the pressure means making a play is no longer possible.

On one hand, Cousins is being paid big money to help the Vikings win games and take them a step beyond where Keenum led them, which was the NFC title game. On the other, Cousins has to be smart about how he accomplishes this and trying to be a hero in certain situations will only lead to bad things.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer often mentioned his concerns about Keenum, but he has gone the kid gloves route with Cousins. Asked about the importance of ball security against the Bears, Zimmer said: “Their points off turnovers are huge. I think second in the league. We are going to have to do a great job of possessing the ball and keeping it. Making sure that we do a good job with being patient in a lot of ways.”

It’s not hard to figure out that when Zimmer says “we” he is referring to Cousins.

Coming off their bye week the Vikings aren’t facing a must-win Sunday, but it’s an incredibly important game that figures to set the tone for the remainder of the season. The Lions (3-6) are back to being a dumpster fire. The Packers (4-5-1) are coming off a Thursday night loss at Seattle and it appears they might be very close to hitting the reset button after the season and firing coach Mike McCarthy.

That leaves the Vikings and Bears to battle it out for the NFC North title, and while Chicago is a much-improved team under first-year head coach Matt Nagy it’s the Vikings who should be the class of this division. Minnesota has won the North two of the past three years and has a great chance to make that three of four. The Vikings’ seven remaining opponents have a .527 winning percentage, while the Bears’ remaining seven foes are at .464.

Minnesota is entering a four-game stretch in which it will play at Chicago, play host to Green Bay on Sunday night, then play at New England and at Seattle in a Monday night game. Getting back-to-back victories over the Bears and Packers would be huge and although Minnesota is 4-14 on the road against the Bears since 2000, the Vikings have won two of the past three at Soldier Field.

The test on Sunday night will be even more difficult considering the Bears’ improvement, but if Cousins can hold onto the ball and play a smart game, and Minnesota’s defense can continue to play as well as it has in recent weeks, there’s no reason the Vikings shouldn’t depart Chicago holding first place in the division.

The post Zulgad: Bears will provide big-time test for Vikings’ fumble-prone Cousins appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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