While the Minnesota Vikings can make the case that their defense is one of the best in the NFL, the Chicago Bears’ is in danger of unraveling.
The Vikings can win a third straight game for the first time since 2012 on Sunday, but to do so they’ll need to earn their first victory in Chicago
Minnesota (4-2) just finished off a season sweep of last-place Detroit with a 28-19 win, its first NFC North road victory in nine tries dating back to 2012. If their defense keeps trending upward, the Vikings can end another lengthy drought.
The Vikings have won three of five against the Bears, but they have lost their last seven in Chicago and 13 of their last 14 on the road in this series. The Bears averaged 32.9 points during their seven straight home wins over Minnesota, but a stout defense is the reason for the Vikings’ early-season success.
The win over the Lions marked Minnesota’s fifth game limiting opponents to no more than 20 points. The Vikings are tied with Denver at 17.0 points per game allowed, behind only division-leading Green Bay (16.8).
They held Detroit to 274 total yards and sacked Matthew Stafford seven times a week after the Lions poured 546 on the Bears.
”This team is very hungry. We work our tails off," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "From Monday to Sunday, we’re always working. We’re always in the lab trying to get better."
A season-opening 20-3 loss to last-place San Francisco left concerns about Minnesota’s offense, but Teddy Bridgewater may be starting to silence those critics. The second-year signal caller only threw for 505 yards and one touchdown in the Vikings’ first three games but has totaled 834 and four scores since.
Adrian Peterson only rushed for 23 yards on 18 of his carries against the Lions after battling a stomach illness due to eating shrimp. His one other rush, though, went for 75 yards, one of a handful of glimpses this season of the former MVP of old.
Peterson was held out of Wednesday’s practice, most likely as a precaution, because of injuries to his hip, finger and ankle, but is expected to play Sunday.
Minnesota’s best offensive weapon of late, however, has been a rookie receiver who didn’t play until Week 4. Stefon Diggs has been Bridgewater’s favorite target the last three games, totaling 19 catches for 324 yards. Diggs caught his first touchdown against the Lions while hauling in six of his nine targets for 108 yards.
Despite only being used recently, Diggs is tied for eighth in the NFL with six receptions that have gone for 25 yards or more.
"I was preparing myself since day one, and I knew I was going to have to sharpen my blade when I wasn’t getting any game time," Diggs told the team’s official website. "You’ve still got to work hard, no matter what, and when my time came, I knew I was going to take advantage of my opportunity."
Diggs will face a Chicago defense that is allowing only 220.0 passing yards per game – sixth in the NFL – but is yielding the third-highest passer rating against (108.6) in the league. The Bears (2-4) have recorded just three interceptions while allowing an NFC high-tying 15 touchdowns passes.
Stafford threw four of those as the Lions beat Chicago 37-34 in overtime on Oct. 18 before the Bears’ bye week.
A week of rest would typically help teams regroup, but the Bears instead lost another contributor to a defense that is tied for last in the NFL with 29.8 points allowed per game. Chicago cut defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff after his animated discussion with general manager Ryan Pace was publicized, adding to a depleted unit that lost Ego Ferguson to a season-ending injury the week before.
The Bears signed former Pittsburgh and Jacksonville lineman Ziggy Hood to fill the spot, but coach John Fox’s concern level keeps rising as his team searches for its first division win.
”Everything’s concerning,” he said. ”We haven’t been healthy all season.”
It helps having Alshon Jeffery back. Jeffery had been out since the opener with a pulled hamstring but returned before the bye week to catch eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Chicago totaled a season-high 444 yards with Jeffery back in the mix, 353 coming on the arm of Jay Cutler. The only other time the Bears’ offense exceeded 400 yards was when Jeffery was active in Week 1.
But the Bears still struggled to maximize trips to the red zone, converting just three of eight trips into touchdowns. Chicago (44.4) and Minnesota (42.1) rank in the bottom quarter of the league in red zone touchdown efficiency, though on the other side of the ball the Vikings have been the fourth-stingiest club (44.4) inside the 20.
Peterson hasn’t scored a touchdown in three of his last four games against the Bears, but he totaled 573 rushing yards in those contests.
Matt Forte might not even remember what the end zone looks like when facing Minnesota. He’s had 244 touches in the Bears’ last 11 games against the Vikings and hasn’t scored on any of them.