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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Bears?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) head to Soldier Field on Sunday night to take on the Chicago Bears (6-3) in a matchup that could ultimately determine the NFC North. Here’s how the two teams match up, position by position (all stats from Pro Football Focus and Pro-Football Reference)

Quarterbacks

Should Kirk Cousins be more aggressive?

Vikings starter: Kirk Cousins

The first nine games of the Kirk Cousins era in Minnesota have been a roller coaster. From incredible passes to turnovers, from a shocking loss to Buffalo to a big win in Philadelphia to a Sunday night meltdown by the Vikings against the Saints. NFL NextGen stats tell the story on Cousins’ ability to make impressive throws: He is No. 2 in the NFL in completion percentage versus expected completion percentage — meaning that many of his passes would normally be high-difficulty. However, turnovers and rough situational football have plagued him. He has eight fumbles, five interceptions. The Vikings rank 24th on percentage of drives with points, 18th on third down and Cousins ranks 18th in yards per attempt on third-and-long.

Bears starter: Mitch Trubisky

Can Mitch Trubisky handle the Vikings’ blitzes?

Chicago’s top 2017 draft pick is a fascinating case. His traditional stats give the impression that the former North Carolina quarterback has taken a Jared Goff-like step in Year 2. Trubisky has a 101.2 quarterback rating, averages 7.9 yards per attempt and has 19 touchdowns in nine games, nearly triple his rookie year total. However, Trubisky’s Pro Football Focus grades suggest he’s left a lot on the table. He ranks 27th of 29th in his PFF grade, which scores each throw. Issues with inaccuracy, especially when blitzed, have plagued Trubisky throughout the season. Still his ability to run — 320 yards on 41 carries — combined with playmakers abound and Matt Nagy’s system have helped boost the Bears’ offense to one of the best in the NFL despite some ups and downs from the QB position.

Advantage: Vikings

Running backs

Vikings starter: Dalvin Cook

It didn’t take very long for Cook to show that the Vikings’ offense is simply more dangerous with him in the lineup. In his return against the Lions, Cook bolted to a 70-yard touchdown run and set the mark for the fastest speed with the ball reached by any NFL player this year. He also caught four passes and came close to breaking a big gain off an early screen. Latavius Murray will still be a factor, but he can’t offer the same dynamic element as Cook. With Chicago’s pass rush mauling opponents, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cook get a number of targets on Sunday night.

Bears starter: Tarik Cohen

Both teams have impressive running back duos. Jordan Howard is the Bears’ leading rusher, but only averages 3.4 yards per carry. Cohen is much more of a hybrid playmaker with 244 yards rushing and 435 receiving. He has been remarkably efficient in the passing game, averaging 11.8 yards per catch while Trubisky has a 74.0 percent completion percentage when targeting Cohen.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Wide receiver/tight ends

Vikings starters: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph

With Diggs out of the lineup last week, Thielen totaled just 22 yards, but the Vikings found other ways to take advantage of the lowly Lions. This week, Diggs will be back to 100 percent — though Thielen was on the injury report as “limited” in practice. Combined they have 136 receptions for 1,531 yards. Despite the fact every team knows the Vikings are going to throw their way, Cousins’ completion percentage is 76.5 percent when targeting Thielen and 74.4 percent throwing in Diggs’ direction. Rudolph hasn’t come away with huge catch totals, but Cousins has a 118.4 rating when throwing to him. The Vikings also may have found some secondary options in Aldrick Robinson and Chad Beebe (though it’s unclear if Beebe remains active with Diggs returning).

Bears starters: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton

This offseason, the Bears completely revamped their group of weapons, paying out top dollar for Robinson, who has 31 receptions in seven games for 13.5 yards per catch. Chicago drafted Miller and quickly threw him into the mix. The former Memphis standout has emerged recently, making 10 catches for 171 yards over the last two weeks. Burton offers a unique threat as a tight end with his speed and quickness. He has lived up to expectations with 33 catches and a team-high five touchdowns.

Advantage: Even

Offensive lines

Vikings starters: Riley Reiff – Tom Compton (?) – Pat Elflein – Mike Remmers (?) – Brian O’Neill

How will the Vikings slow down Khalil Mack?

With two offensive linemen questionable, the Vikings could have their hands full with Chicago’s monstrous front seven. Getting Reiff back to full health after the bye will will be important a he battled a foot injury throughout the first half of the year. He and rookie Brian O’Neill will each get to see their fair share of Khalil Mack. Against the Saints, O’Neill struggled against Cameron Jordan, but did not give up a sack. He is likely to get plenty of help from tight ends and running backs on Mack.

Bears starters: Charles Leno Jr. – James Daniels – Cody Whitehair – Bryan Witzmann – Bobby Masse

Chicago’s offensive line has struggled to run block for Howard and Cohen this year — and that is unlikely to improve against Minnesota with Witzmann now starting for Kyle Long. They have, however, done a good job of protecting their inexperienced quarterback. Leno Jr. will have quite the challenge with rejuvenated Everson Griffen lining up across from him, but thus far, he has been the Bears’ rock on the O-line, allowing just two sacks all year. Massie has only given up one sack. That could change as he goes up against league leader Danielle Hunter.

Advantage: Slight edge to Bears

Defensive lines

Vikings starters: Everson Griffen, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter

Griffen’s return made a massive difference against the Lions. He had two sacks and tied for the team lead with six pressures. With him back, the Vikings now have an incredibly deep defensive line that can mix in Tom Johnson and Stephen Weatherly to give their stars a rest. Hunter is at the top of the NFL in sacks and Richardson is top 10 in pressures by an interior defensive linemen. Unsurprisingly the Vikings are a top run-stuffing defense with Joseph in the middle.

Bears starters: Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack

Nobody in Minnesota will be writing thank-you letters to Jon Gruden for trading Khalil Mack to the NFC North. He has been every bit as dominant as the Bears hoped when they made the deal, picking up seven sacks in seven games with 30 pressures in just 210 pass rush snaps. Hicks is an under appreciated superstar. He has 27 QB pressures and has given the Vikings’ O-line nightmares in the pat.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Linebackers

Vikings starters: Anthony Barr (?), Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon

The Vikings have survived Barr’s absence over the past two games, but against a team filled with playmakers, they could use him back in the lineup. Last year’s game at Soldier Field was arguably Barr’s best of the 2017 season — the Vikings could use a performance like that again. Kendricks will also be important when it comes to defending against a complex offense that uses the slot receiver and tight ends routinely.

Bears starters: Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd

Chicago’s top draft pick has added another element to a team that was already stacked in their front seven. Floyd has been a thorn in the Vikings’ side in the past and Trevathan is capable of rushing the passer and excelling in coverage.

Advantage: Bears

Defensive backs

Vikings starters: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris

Overall the Vikings’ group of defensive backs have not put up a similar performance to 2017 — though there have been more injuries. Mostly healthy now, we are likely to see Rhodes lock up on Allen Robinson. Alexander’s assignments won’t be easy with the Bears switching up formations and personnel to work the middle of the field. Harris has done a terrific job filling in for injured Andrew Sendejo. He’s only allowed one completion against in 95 coverage snaps.

Bears starters: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Adrian Amos Jr., Eddie Jackson

The Bears’ reputation as a turnover machine is fueled by a terrific secondary. All five starting defensive backs are allowing a passer rating below 80 when they are targeted. Jackson has become a dangerous playmaker and the Bears have not regretted matching an offer sheet for Callahan this offseason.

Advantage: Even

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Bears? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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