The Bears face a familiar foe in Week 5 in their NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. Fans will recognize big names like Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Kirk Cousins, Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson. But there will be new wrinkles, too, as the Vikings moved on from longtime head coach Mike Zimmer over the offseason, and replaced him with former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell.
Regardless of offensive scheme changes, Kirk Cousins is still Kirk Cousins. He’s still accurate when he needs to be, and he can still be coaxed into making mistakes. One difference is when the Vikings are asking Cousins to throw. This season, he’s throwing a bit more on first down than he was in the past. The big guy he’s targeting is third-year star Justin Jefferson. The Vikings scheme up ways to get Jefferson the ball in favorable positions, especially with pre-snap motion. Just like Sean McVay does in Los Angeles, O’Connell uses that motion not only to diagnose what a defense is doing, but also to see if they can get Jefferson a defensive matchup that he can dominate. Jefferson has also beat defense with a sneaky crossing route that covers practically the entire field. The Bears know they’ll have to be aware of the play, and can’t let him get too much separation. The defense can’t focus entirely on Jefferson however, since that opens things up for Adam Thielen. The 32-year-old may not be as fast as his counterparts, but he’s as savvy as ever and knows how to get open. His 21 catches for 221 yards rank ninth in the league among receivers working as the No. 2 option this year.
The Vikings aren’t ignoring the run game, but they have tweaked that too. According to beat reporters in Minnesota, O’Connell’s scheme focuses less on the wide zone that Klint Kubiak deployed and more on inside zone and power run concepts. Dalvin Cook hasn’t put together any monster games like we’re used to seeing yetー he ranks 13th in the league with 279 yardsー but he’s still effective, averaging over 4.4 yards per carry. The Bears expect the Vikings to challenge them in the run game, considering the Bears defense has allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL to date. They’ll have to do their best to ignore the eye candy the Vikings will throw at them, stay disciplined in their gaps, and do a better job of tackling than they did against Saquon Barkley, or Cook could have that monster game they’ve been waiting for in Minnesota.
With Mike Zimmer out, the VIkings have also tweaked their defensive philosophies with new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Gone are the double A-gap blitzes Zimmer loved to dial up, as Donatell brings pressure less often. Through four weeks, the Vikings have only blitzed on 18% of their plays, which is the sixth-lowest rate in the NFL. Their pass rush as a whole has been middle of the road, with nine total sacks. It’s been a collective effort getting to the quarterback, too, as Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum and Za'Darius Smith are all tied for the team lead with two sacks.
Jordan Hicks is a new addition at linebacker and he’s made an instant impact in all phases of the defense. He paces the team with 38 tackles, has chipped in one sack, and has come away with one interception and one forced fumble, too. The secondary is still headlined by 12-year vet Patrick Peterson and 11-year vet Harrison Smith. Despite being two of the oldest players on the team at 32 and 33 years old, respectively, they’re still two of the Vikings’ most effective players. Videos circulated of Peterson getting beat by Christian Watson in Week 1, creating a narrative that Peterson was over the hill, but in reality he’s having one of his best seasons in recent memory. Peterson has only allowed a 50% completion rate, and 9.7 yards per completion. Each of those numbers are personal bests since 2018 when those numbers were first tracked. Meanwhile, every Bears player used the word “smart” to describe Harrison. Not only does Smith disguise what he’s doing on each snap well, he also diagnoses offensive plays quickly to put himself in a position to make a play. And when Smith makes a play, it’s usually a big one. Smith has earned a reputation for laying some of the hardest hits upon wide receivers and has above average ball-hawking skills. Over his career, Smith has 30 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.
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