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Game Notes: Bears lock down Vikings for 16-6 victory

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Even without the starting quarterback, the Bears picked up a crucial divisional win to improve to 3-1.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Chase Daniel stepped in at quarterback and helped the Bears pick up their third win of the year.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In the face of adversity, the Bears picked up their biggest win of the 2019 season to date on Sunday.

Mitchell Trubisky suffered a shoulder injury six plays into their matchup against the Vikings, forcing backup Chase Daniel into action. With the likes of Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Taylor Gabriel and Kyle Long already out due to injury, losing their starting quarterback figured to be the last thing the Bears could afford.

Nevertheless, their defense didn’t miss a beat and their offense gelled nicely with Daniel under center, resulting in a 16-6 victory for Chicago at Soldier Field. With the win, the Bears improve to 3-1 on the season and sit atop the NFC North with the Packers, to whom they suffered their only loss.

Here are some of the takeaways from this week’s action.

Offense

Though the severity of Trubisky’s injury is unknown as of this writing, the Bears could be in good hands with Daniel for the time being if this week was any indication.

Like his teammate last week in Washington, Daniel was not asked to do too much, but what he was asked to do he executed well. The veteran finished 22-for-30 with 195 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Though Daniel only threw five passes that traveled 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, four of them were completed, including a 37-yard dart to Javon Wims. Daniel looked comfortable in the offense, natural in his progressions and able to look past his first read. He lacks the athleticism and arm strength that Trubisky has, but the backup was more intelligent and poised.

Daniel worked with Bears coach Matt Nagy for three seasons with the Chiefs before signing with Chicago, and that experience was apparent on Sunday. He won’t torch defenses with his skillset, but with the win over a difficult divisional opponent, he has shown that he can play well enough to help the Bears win if called upon.

Allen Robinson led the team with seven receptions for 77 yards, and his dominance was on display in spades in the first half. His physicality, athleticism and body control helped him torch the Vikings early on, and he served as a specialist on vertical and out-breaking routes throughout the day. With 24 receptions and 280 yards through the first four games of the year, Robinson is on pace to top 1,000 yards and has been a clear No. 1 target in the Bears’ offense.

With Taylor Gabriel out, the Bears had to rely on their other receivers to step up, and one player who especially did so was Javon Wims. The 2018 seventh-round pick totaled four catches for 56 yards, including the aforementioned 37-yard catch. He burned Trae Waynes with a hesitation and used his speed to blow past him on the vertical route.

Outside of Wims and Robinson, no other Bears target had more than 20 yards on the day. Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen each caught two passes, but none of them were able to make much noise. Riley Ridley was active this week but was not utilized in the offense.

David Montgomery was relied upon often in the second half, as he finished the game with 21 carries with 15 of them coming after halftime. He only finished with 53 yards—a total which saw him end up with only 2.5 yards per attempt—and was guilty of dancing in the backfield too often. Still, the Bears’ offensive line didn’t do a great job of opening up holes for him, and he flashed the agility and contact balance that he has shown in spurts to start the year.

Overall, though, the Bears’ offense executed their game plan and were able to move the chains pretty well. They didn’t exactly light up Minnesota’s defense, but as has been the case for most of the year, they played just well enough to not hold their team back.

Defense

Khalil Mack is still very good at football.

The All-Pro edge rusher finished the game with 1.5 sacks and was a force of nature against Minnesota’s pedestrian offensive line. He brutally overwhelmed the likes of Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill, and he picked up a strip sack for the second week in a row. His raw power, picture perfect technique and ability to turn the corner proved to be a difficult task for the Vikings to handle. With 4.5 sacks through four games, he is on track to have a monster year.

When Minnesota focused heavily on Mack, they allowed some of Chicago’s other brutes to wreak havoc. Nick Williams had a stellar game in place of Akiem Hicks, notching two sacks, two tackles for a loss and seven total tackles. He played a big role in the Bears’ shutting down Dalvin Cook, who led the NFL in rushing heading into the game but put up just 35 yards on 14 carries.

Williams has shown significant improvement from his 2018 campaign, playing with tenacity and a high motor on his way to four sacks in the past three games. Considering he had yet to get a sack since he was drafted in 2013, his hot start to the year has been a welcomed surprise.

Speaking of replacements, Nick Kwiatkoski also played lights out this week. With 10 tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble, Kwiatkoski stepped up after Roquan Smith’s sudden absence to put forth a fantastic showing. He absolutely manhandled Dalvin Cook on a blitz for his sack, and he was a physical force who sniffed out plays before they developed throughout the game.

Roy Robertson-Harris—who himself is technically a replacement for Bilal Nichols—also played very well. He finished with 1.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss, and his speed on the interior often proved to be too much for the Vikings to handle. Danny Trevathan finished the game with eight tackles, while Kevin Pierre-Louis came away with four tackles in limited playing time, spelling Kwiatkoski in certain passing situations.

Kyle Fuller didn’t have a consistent game in coverage, as he proved to be a bit too cushiony in his off-man coverage. Still, he finished with six tackles and showed off impressive physicality and instincts as a tackler. He had an impressive pass deflection on a Kirk Cousins pass to Adam Thielen. Though he hasn’t played quite as well as he did last year so far, he has been able to make plays in flashes for the Bears.

As was the case last year, Chicago rattled Kirk Cousins and shut him down for much of the game. With their stellar performances through four weeks, an argument can be made that the Bears have the hottest defense in the league right now.

Regression who?

Three and out

3. The unsung hero of the Bears’ coaching staff has to be defensive line coach Jay Rodgers. This year marks his fifth year with the team, and he has been able to get fantastic results out of his players since joining the organization.

Akiem Hicks developed into a Pro Bowl talent under his watch. Eddie Goldman is one of the best nose tackles in the league. Roy Robertson-Harris turned from an undrafted edge rusher into a physical freak of nature. Bilal Nichols made an impact right away last year as a fifth-round rookie from Delaware. It now appears that Nick Williams is the latest to join that prestigious group, as he has transformed from a journeyman defender into a powerful force worthy of defensive reps.

Kudos to you, Jay Rodgers.

2. Chicago now heads off to London to take on the Raiders, who sit at 2-2 after upsetting the Colts this week.

The Bears have a chance to improve to 4-1 heading into their Week 6 bye week with a victory across the pond, but they also can improve their draft positioning with one of their second-round picks. Oakland gave up their 2020 second-round selection in the Khalil Mack trade, and the pick currently sits in the back end of the round with the team’s surprising start to the season.

Trubisky will presumably not play next week, but there remains a chance that at least some of Hicks, Smith, Gabriel and Long could return. Though the Bears enter the matchup as the favorites, they cannot afford to fall victim to a trap game with the difficult part of their schedule coming after the bye.

1. If this week showed the world anything, it’s that the Bears have the potential to be legit.

Their first two wins came against below-average teams, but their win over the Vikings proved they are a true playoff threat, even in the loaded NFC North. The Bears’ defense is playing as good as any unit right now, and as long as the offense functions well enough, they could hold their own against most, if not all, of the league.

Chicago faces an obstacle to the playoffs in the form of their difficult schedule, but they have the talent to overcome it and potentially win their division for a second straight year. The performance of their offense the remainder of the year will tell if they can be a true Super Bowl contender, but their performances to date show regression is likely not in the cards for them.