What a difference a year makes, the Bears come into week four with an equal 2-1 record that they had a year ago, but there is a lot more uneasiness among the fanbase this time.
Expectations will do that. This team was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender with a third-year quarterback coming into his own, young exciting playmakers and the best defense in the league returning 10 starters.
But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. There’s a lot that the Bears need to prove, especially offensively and certainly from Mitchell Trubisky. Even a three touchdown performance on Monday Night Football couldn’t stop the hate. But it was hardly an overwhelmingly positive performance.
The Bears’ opponent this week, the Vikings, also has issues of their own and things they need to prove. They beat up on the Falcons and Raiders, two 1-2 teams that haven’t looked strong at all, and lost to the Packers in a game where the Packers jumped out to a 21-0 lead.
Sunday’s game will go pretty far in showing where both teams are at and where they stack up in the early season NFC North.
SB Nation site: Daily Norseman
Game day/time/TV: Sunday, 3:25 p.m., CBS
Record: 2-1, third in the NFC North
Last week: 34-14 win over the Raiders in Minneapolis
Bears all-time record against: 54-60-2 (including postseason)
Historical match ups: The Vikings and Bears have met just one other time in week four, when both teams had a winning record.
Back in 1987, the Bears came in 3-0 to play the 2-1 Vikings at Soldier Field. It was a strike game, so MIke Hohensee was the quarterback, Glen Kozlowski caught seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown and Chris Brewer rushed for a touchdown. The Bears won 27-7.
Last meeting: In week 17 the Bears went up to Minneapolis and kept the Vikings out of the playoffs with a 24-10 win.
Jordan Howard rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns. The defense sacked Kirk Cousins four times and the Vikings went into their offseason.
Injury report: The Vikings listed eight players on their Thursday report, but only two were limited in some way:
Full participation: LB Anthony Barr, CB Mackensie Alexander, DT Shamar Stephen, S Jayron Kearse, LB Ben Gedeon and DE Everson Griffin
Limited: LB Kentrell Brothers (wrist/hamstring)
Did not participate: G Josh Kline (concussion)
Offense: The Vikings come into the game ranked seventh in offensive points and 15th in yards per game.
Their passing offense ranks ranks 31st in yards but their rushing offense ranks second.
The Vikings offense is clearly trying to hide their $84 million man Kirk Cousins, as he ranks dead last in pass attempts with 63. He’s completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 502 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Catching those passes are Adam Thielen (11 rec./173 yds./2 TDs), Stefon Diggs (6/101/1), multipurpose RB Dalvin Cook (9/79/0) and TEs Kyle Rudolph (4/20/0) and Irv Smith (4/59/0).
Cook enters the week as the NFL’s leading rusher (57 att./375 yds./4 TDs) and is also the leader in scrimmage yards with 454. Spelling Cook is Alexander Mattison (25/132/1).
Cook is also fourth in the league in touches with 66. It’s not exaggeration then to say that shutting down Cook is the key to slowing down the Vikings. Even in their week two loss to the Packers, the Vikings stuck with the run and Cook still had 20 carries for 154 yards and kept them in the game as the Packers’ offense sputtered.
Cousins’ pass attempts, on the other hand, have kind of gone the opposite. In their two wins, he had 10 attempts in week one against the Falcons and last week against the Raiders he had 21 attempts. In their week two loss to the Packers, he threw 32 passes.
Defense: The Minnesota defense ranks fifth in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed.
Their passing defense ranks 11th in yards in allowed and their rushing defense is 13th.
The defense boasts Danielle Hunter (15 tkls/3 sacks/5 QB hits/5 TFL) and Everson Griffin (10 tkls/2 sacks/6 QB hits/2 TFL) up front rushing opponents’ QBs.
They also have LB Eric Kendricks (21 tkls/3 PD/1 QB hit), S Harrison Smith (1 INT/4 PD/1 FF/1 FR/1 TFL) and CBs Trae Waynes (1 PD/1FF/1 TFL) and Xavier Rhodes (1 PD/1 TFL) are roaming the defensive backfield.
And don’t forget about S Anthony Harrison (2 INT/2 PD/1 FF) and DT Linval Joseph (2 sacks/4 TFL/3 QB hits), who are also making plays.
The Vikings rank sixth in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 29.4 percent of their third down attempts. However, they rank 25th in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 71.4 percent of their red zone trips.
Key match ups: The Bears front seven against Dalvin Cook. That is going to be the biggest factor in this game, at least for the defense. Cook is the cog that gets the Vikings going and if the Bears can contain him, they should be a lot closer to victory.
For the offense, it’s going to be about getting Mitchell Trubisky in a rhythm to keep drives going. David Montgomery and the running backs are going to have to get going a lot better than they have.
I expect this game to have a 1990s feel with both teams running a lot and a ton of hard hits and big defensive plays. Both defenses are very good on third down, so staying out of third and long is going to be important for the Bears’ offense.
What to watch for: I hate to say that a week four game is a must-win, but really, if the Bears are going to be serious contenders this season, make a postseason run and shut down the regression narrative, this is a must-win game.
Being in an 0-2 at home against the division hole would be very, very difficult to dig out of. With the play we’ve seen so far from the rest of the divisional opponents, it could almost be insurmountable.
This isn’t going to be an easy game by any stretch, but it’s going to be a really early season test for which of these teams is for real and which is going to be an also ran.
Key stats: Kirk Cousins is 20-36-2 as a starter when attempting over 30 passes.
He’s 16-2 when attempting 29 or fewer passes.
The Bears haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since week 13 last season against Saquon Barkley.
Last season Cook rushed for 51 yards against the Bears, combined.
The last rushing touchdown the Bears allowed was to the Packers’ Jamaal Williams in week 15.
In 17 seasons that the NFC North has existed, no division champion has lost two home games inside of the division.
12 of 136 (nine percent) division winners have lost two divisional home games since realignment in 2002.
Only seven times in the last 30 years have the Bears ended September with three (or more) wins.
Will the Bears be able to defend their home turf? Will Mitch Trubisky keep his positive momentum going or will the Bears have to rely on a rushing attack?