By Jeff Joniak–
(670 The Score) — The Bears (5-10) are on the road to face the Vikings (12-3) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Protect Trubisky
Just like last week, nothing is more important than keeping rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky healthy. A late-season injury would be a progress stopper and development buster for the start of next season. He must be protected well, play smart and work with a thriving run game. It’s difficult to throw on the Vikings, who have allowed fewer than 200 net passing yards nine times this season. In this recent four-game stretch, Trubisky has completed 71 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating over 90. He’s building to a good finish, but he needs some help. Minnesota owns a dynamite defense front to back, with an impact player at every level of the unit. U.S. Bank Stadium gets loud, and the Bears aren’t healthy up front, so avoiding mistakes and penalties will be paramount.
Defense: Finish strong
No matter what the obstacle, somehow the Bears defense has survived an array of injuries and some powerful offenses for the most part. The Bears are eighth in yards allowed, sixth in sacks per pass play, ninth against the run, eighth against the pass and 11th in first downs allowed. And most importantly, they’re 10th in points allowed. The Bears still aren’t a takeaway machine, but they make opponents work for every yard. Against the pass, the Bears defense has kept the damage to a minimum, allowing just over three yards after the catch to top receivers this season. Getting off the field will be critical. The Vikings rank third in the league on third downs. There’s some momentum with this defense.
Special teams: Field position
Field position created by an outstanding return game for the Vikings is something the Bears have to defend. The Vikings are sixth in punt return average and fourth on kickoff returns. It will be one of the biggest tests of the season for the Bears. The Vikings lead the league with 79.2 percent of their kickoff returns gaining 20-plus yards. It’s a bit deceiving, because they have returned only 24 kicks and 19 of them have hit for 20-plus yards. The Bears have an NFL-high 43 returns, and 58.1 percent have gone for 20 or more yards.
Intangibles: Turnover ratio
The Bears are 2-9 when they have two or fewer takeaways in a game this season. The Vikings are 10-3. It’s an interesting stat given that the Bears have forced 22 turnovers, while the Vikings have forced 19. The Vikings make up for it by securing the ball on offense with just 14 giveaways, leading to just 54 points. The Bears’ 22 turnovers have cost them 74 points.
Numbers: Where do the points come from?
The Vikings are 10-1 in their last 11 games, catching fire after their win over the Bears on a late field goal on Oct. 8. The Bears are 4-7 during that same stretch. The Vikings defense is dominant. They’re tied for fifth in the league in forcing three-and-out drives with 47. The Vikings’ red-zone defense is second, and they’ve only permitted 23 offensive touchdowns, which is the best mark in the NFL. Interestingly, the Bears have permitted only 25 offensive touchdowns, which is tied for second-fewest in the league with the Jaguars. Despite all their injuries, the Bears have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league offensively with 262, which is 29 points behind the league-leading Jaguars. The Vikings are second, permitting 240.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.