Why stopping Justin Jefferson is key for Bears win vs. Vikings

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Why stopping Justin Jefferson is key for Bears win originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Sitting at 4-9, the Bears don’t have much to play for on Monday Night, if they play Monday Night, other than developing their young players, and bragging rights against a divisional opponent. That doesn’t mean the team won’t be playing hard. Several players and coaches on Friday said they still take pride in their work, and playing to the highest abilities. If the Bears want to pull a little closer to second place in the division, here are three keys that can help them get there.

HELP O-LINE ALONG EDGES

Just when the Bears thought they were finally settling in at tackle, the position was disrupted again. Jason Peters has been a steady force at left tackle, but when he suffered a high ankle sprain against the Packers, rookie Teven Jenkins was thrown in with almost no practice under his belt at all this season. On the right side, Larry Borom had played at a high level in relief of Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson. But now, Borom is on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Ifedi and Wilkinson are back practicing for the Bears, but Ifedi hasn’t played since Week 5 and Wilkinson hasn’t played on offense since logging one snap in Week 9. The Bears will have to scheme ways to make sure the line isn’t beaten repeatedly at the edges, whether it’s through chips and slams, by moving the pocket, or some other means.

FIND A SECONDARY, FAST

Believe it or not, the Bears’ defensive back room is even thinner than the offensive line. As of Monday morning, every single starter in the secondary is on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Making matters even worse the Bears also lost a couple of backups to injury last Sunday: cornerback Xavier Crawford and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson. So who’s left? Deon Bush is a reliable backup and could end up leading the secondary at safety. Kindle Vildor started much of the season as the defense’s second cornerback, but he was benched for numerous coverage breakdowns. Marqui Christian has played some this season, but he’s been benched for rough play, too. Other options could include Teez Tabor, or even rookie Thomas Graham. The sixth-round pick has spent all of this season on the practice squad, but defensive coordinator Sean Desai said there’s a chance he could get some play time over the last four weeks of the season. The Bears also signed DBs Michael Joseph and Thakarius Keyes to the practice squad last week.

DO BETTER AGAINST JUSTIN JEFFERSON THAN YOU DID AGAINST DAVANTE ADAMS

For one quarter the Bears were able to contain the star Packers wide receiver. But once Green Bay started moving Adams around the field, making it tough for Jaylon Johnson to shadow him, Adams was able to make a big impact in the passing game. Desai said on Friday that he expects the Vikings to do the same with their star, Jefferson. After a magnificent rookie season, Jefferson has flourished in his second year with the Vikings. He leads the league in 20+ yard catches. He’s top-10 in total receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Guarding Jefferson is a handful for the best secondaries in the NFL. Given the Bears’ struggles defending the passing game一 and all their absences due to COVID-19 and injury一 they’ll need to be at their best to contain him.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION

The Bears have historically played well against the Vikings during Matt Nagy’s tenure, and under normal circumstances this would be a great opportunity for them to get back in the win column. But with so many injuries, and so many players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the Bears may simply be too short-handed to pull off the upset.

Vikings: 27, Bears: 20

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