Vikings seek bounce back against Bears defense

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 23: Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings run the ball in the second half against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 23, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A lot has changed for the Minnesota Vikings since Week 11, but there’s also a lot of things to clean up six weeks removed from an ugly loss to the Chicago Bears.

It all can be forgotten Sunday with a win at U.S. Bank Stadium. It’s a win that would put the Vikings in the NFC Playoffs a year after being one game away from playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

But first, the Vikings must address and fix what happened Nov. 18 at Soldier Field. With the NFC North Division lead at stake on Sunday Night Football, the Bears dominated the line of scrimmage in a 25-20 victory. The Vikings got late touchdowns from Aldrick Robinson and Stefon Diggs to put lipstick on a pig of a football game.

The Vikings turned the ball over three times, including a Bears’ interception for a touchdown. They ran the ball a mere 14 times for 22 yards. Kirk Cousins was sacked twice and faced pressure the whole night.

“When we turn the ball over, we’re kind of force-feeding them there. We were kind of just feeding into their hands and giving them what they wanted,” running back Latavius Murray said. “We can’t beat ourselves, especially going against a team that’s already good.”

The Bears ran for 148 yards against the now No. 11 rushing defense in the NFL. Most disappointing for the Vikings, Mitchell Trubisky ran 10 times for 43 yards and extended plays with his feet.

“I probably didn’t know he was as fast as he was running. He had some really good runs on us and we had to adjust through the course of the ballgame,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

But it’s the vaunted Bears defense, ranked No. 4 overall in the NFL, that the Vikings will have to figure out by kickoff on Sunday.

Back in Week 11, there were no running lanes for Dalvin Cook or Murray. Cook had nine carries for 12 yards, Murray had one carry for five yards. The screen game didn’t work well, either. Cook had three catches for minus-2 yards.

Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack combined for eight tackles. Hicks added a sack, and Mack forced a fumble. Danny Trevathan added three tackles, and the Vikings never got into a rhythm on offense until they got two scores down and the Bears relaxed on defense.

Mack leads the Bears with 12.5 sacks and is tied for the league lead with six forced fumbles. The Bears also lead the NFL with 36 takeaways, 27 interceptions and 107 points off those turnovers.

“Hicks is a great player. Mack is a great player. I don’t think scheme-wise it’s that much different. It’s just guys making plays,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings will be looking to get back to their bread-and-butter, running the football, on Sunday. They ran for 220 yards against the Dolphins, who are ranked No. 31 of 32 NFL teams in rushing defense.

While last week wasn’t quite as highlight reel worthy, the Vikings still ran for 100 yards against a tougher Lions defense on 28 carries. That’s 3.5 yards per carry, and the Bears are allowing 3.8 yards per carry defensively.

“The last two weeks in general attempts we’ve run the ball more. When you do that, it usually leads to more production. It’s a small sample size, but I think you can look at the production and say it’s been a little different the last couple of weeks,” Cousins said.

The Vikings have also gotten the passing game going in their last two wins. Cousins threw for 215 yards and touchdowns to Diggs and Robinson. Last week, Cousins passed for 253 yards and three touchdowns, two to Kyle Rudolph.

The first score to Rudolph came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. The Vikings struggled most of the first half to move the ball, yet led 14-9 at the break. It was a play that changed the entire momentum of the game. Rudolph’s second touchdown gave the Vikings a 24-9 lead in the third quarter.

It comes down to winning the battle in the trenches, which will be a tall task for the Vikings’ offensive line against the likes of Hicks, Mack and one of the top defenses in the NFL.

“We’ll have to do the best we can to hold up and protect the football, run the football,” Cousins said.

If the Vikings beat the Bears Sunday, their reward is likely a trip to Chicago for the NFC Wild Card Playoffs. Unless the Seahawks lose to the Cardinals, then the Vikings would be heading to Dallas. If the Vikings lose to the Bears, they need the Eagles to lose to the Redskins or their season would be over.