I picked three Vikings players to watch against Chicago in Sunday’s game while pinpointing four key Bears players who would be crucial to the game’s outcome.
The Vikings came out on top in the divisional battle, registering their fourth win of the season. Here’s how the players I selected fared during the game.
Dalvin Cook and Garrett Bradbury Dominate on the Ground
There was a particular reason for the first two Vikings players I selected. I believed the Vikings needed to dominate on the ground to win this game. Kirk Cousins carved up the Bears defense precisely, and Justin Jefferson ran amok in Chicago’s secondary.
However, the run game is vital to setting up the passing game. With run defense a glaring weakness for the Bears, they stacked the box to try and take away Cook. Much like recent Bears defenses have done with success. This time it didn’t work.
Cook rushed for 94 yards off 18 carries at an average of 5.2 yards per carry, hitting pay dirt for two touchdowns in the process. Unable to slow Cook or cover Jefferson, the Bears found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Bradbury and his teammates played a huge part in the success of the offense on Sunday — not just on the ground but through the air as well. Consider the level of performance we have been used to in Minnesota over the past few years, and the PFF grades for the five Vikings linemen made for staggering reading, especially Bradbury’s pass protection score of 85.1.
The Vikings defense stayed true to form and didn’t get as much pressure on Chicago’s quarterback as I’d hoped. I spotted Za’Darius Smith hobbling several times, suggesting he was playing through the pain caused by a knee injury that has kept him to limited practices over the last couple of weeks.
Smith didn’t have much effect over large portions of the game, but typical of the year’s Vikings defense, he showed up with a big play on the final drive. He got to Justin Fields, along with DJ Wonnum, for a sack, and the ball was jarred loose. Unfortunately, a Bears player recovered the football.
Key Players on the Bears Offense
Justin Fields had his best game of the season. However, it still wasn’t hugely impressive, and the Vikings defense contained him enough to ensure victory. Fields threw for over 200 yards for the first time this season and made his first touchdown pass since Week 1. His 71.43 completion percentage was the highest of his career to date.
My biggest fear was whether the Vikings defense could limit him on the ground; they did so by only giving up 47 yards on eight runs. Although, a penalty flag on former Viking Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a block in the back chalked off a long touchdown run from Fields that would have made things look dramatically different.
The much-maligned Vikings run defense stopped the Bears rushing attack in its tracks. David Montgomery (who was questionable for the game with an ankle injury) played but had little effect on the ground—rushing 12 times for 20 yards at a measly 1.7 yards per carry. He did, however, run straight up the middle for a 9-yard touchdown toward the end of the first half. Montgomery had more joy through the air, with a couple of big pass plays on his way to 62 yards from 4 receptions. Khalil Herbert only managed 11 yards on his four rushing attempts and didn’t register any catches.
Key Players on the Bears defense
My two key players on the Bears defense were Eddie Jackson and Roquan Smith. Neither could do much to stop the juggernaut that was the Vikings offense in the first half. Still, the Bears defense did manage to slow the Vikings down for a while. In the 4th quarter, when Cousins marched his team 75 yards down the field for the game-winning score. The Bears defense looked overmatched once more.
Jackson made an impressive touchdown-saving tackle on Cook on the final drive. Cook looked to be strolling into the corner for his third touchdown of the day when Jackson managed to get enough of him to bring him down one yard short. That was one of eight tackles for Chicago’s safety. No Bears player had more. Smith managed five tackles of his own but didn’t make any significant plays. He was most noticeable when Jalen Reagor made him miss on his way into the end zone for his first Vikings touchdown.