/Mitchell Trubisky, Bears Boost NFC North Lead with Win vs. Kirk Cousins, Vikings

Mitchell Trubisky, Bears Boost NFC North Lead with Win vs. Kirk Cousins, Vikings

Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson (39) celebrates with his teammates after intercepting and running for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The red-hot Chicago Bears seized control of the NFC North on Sunday with a 25-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.

Chicago won its fourth game in a row and improved to 7-3, while Minnesota dropped to 5-4-1 and further behind in the divisional race. Mitchell Trubisky finished 20-of-31 for 165 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while Jordan Howard added 63 rushing yards.

Kirk Cousins countered at 30-of-46 for 262 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and wasn’t able to provide enough firepower on the road against a stout Bears defense.

          

Khalil Mack, Not Kirk Cousins, Steals the Prime-Time Spotlight

Cousins had quite the message for his teammates before the game:

Unfortunately for the Vikings, his message didn’t resonate. Khalil Mack, and not the quarterback or his teammates, was the prime-time attraction.

Minnesota tried to block the three-time Pro Bowler with just Riley Reiff early in the game to no avail. Mack consistently blew past him, got his hands on passes, flushed Cousins from the pocket and forced him to rush his throws. What’s more, he stripped Dalvin Cook and recovered the fumble to stop a drive after the Vikings moved into the red zone. 

That forced the Vikings to double-team him and leave a running back to provide support on multiple passes, which opened up rushing lanes for other members of the defensive front. As a result, Akiem Hicks stuffed a number of runs, notched a monster sack and knocked down a two-point conversion in an impressive performance.

Leonard Floyd also forced Cousins to airmail a throw—which Adrian Amos intercepted—before halftime.

As if that wasn’t enough, a rattled Cousins threw a pick-six to Eddie Jackson in the fourth quarter on the biggest play of the game after the Vikings had pulled within eight.

The turnovers surely took points off the board and underscored Mack’s ability to impact the game beyond his own stats (one sacks, two tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery).

Whether it was the running back staying in to protect instead of serving as a safety valve or linemen left on an island while two or three blockers were on Mack, he wrecked the Vikings’ game plan multiple times.

That is what prime-time players do.

         

Trubisky’s Legs Are the Secret to Bears’ Success

The Bears tied the long-term future of the franchise to Trubisky’s development when they selected him with the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft, but their immediate future looks bright because of his running ability.

He wasted little time impacting the game with his legs with three runs during Chicago’s first-half touchdown drive. He then rolled out of the pocket and found Anthony Miller in the corner of the end zone before hitting Josh Bellamy for the ensuing two-point conversion on a similar play.

Trubisky entered Sunday’s contest with 320 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and he passed Cam Newton for the most quarterback rushing yards on the season with 43 more.

The yardage told only half the story, as his running helped him avoid sacks and keep plays alive for receivers downfield. His successful read-option keeper early in the game also had a ripple effect because it created a slight pause at the second level of Minnesota’s defense.

Even a split-second hesitation from the linebackers causes problems with the speed of Tarik Cohen and the power of Howard, as they can punish defenders leaning in the wrong direction multiple ways.

Trubisky also forced defenders a bit closer to the line of scrimmage at times, which opened up passing lanes for the plethora of weapons on the outside in Allen Robinson II, Taylor Gabriel, Miller and Trey Burton.

Chicago still faces the Los Angeles Rams, Vikings and Green Bay Packers in its final six games, which are the types of contests contenders make statements in as the playoffs approach. Every team on the Bears’ schedule will have to account for the quarterback’s running and take away defensive manpower from other areas of the field, which can open up big plays elsewhere.

That will set the Bears up for success against the NFC’s best teams.

          

Vikings’ Season Hinges on Resurrecting Dalvin Cook, Rushing Attack

Chicago’s defense deserves plenty of credit for stuffing the Vikings in the game’s most critical moments, but 14 rushes for 22 yards as a team is not a sustainable formula when the weather gets colder and the playoffs are looming.

Cook (nine rushes for 12 yards) and Latavius Murray (four rushes for five yards) disappeared, which forced Cousins to throw 46 times in comeback mode against a daunting defensive line. Not only was he constantly hit, but he also threw two back-breaking interceptions that drastically swung momentum.

While the Bears created some breathing room in the division, Minnesota also has to worry about the wild-card race. The 6-4 Carolina Panthers, 5-5 Dallas Cowboys, 5-5 Seattle Seahawks and 4-5-1 Packers are all in the crowded picture for the two spots, putting additional emphasis on every outing.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier either with matchups against the Packers, New England Patriots and Seahawks in the next three plus a rematch against this Chicago defense in Week 17.

Minnesota must find the rushing attack to keep Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson on the sideline and protect Cousins. If it doesn’t, it will be watching the playoffs from home after reaching last season’s NFC Championship Game.

          

What’s Next? 

Both teams face NFC North foes in Week 12 with the Bears at the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving and the Vikings hosting the Packers next Sunday.