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Monday Morning Mailbag: Previewing Vikings-Bears on Monday Night Football

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

You can also send Eric a Mailbag question via Twitter.

We are at the halfway point in our season and we have found our identity on offense as a run-first offense, followed by efficient and mistake-free play-action passing game. That is when we are at our best. However, when we inevitably go up against a defense that can contain Dalvin Cook, can the rest of the offense (both coaches and players) win games without the best RB in the league?

— Alex Khang in Austin, Texas

I know we can't seem to win in Chicago at Soldier Field. What are your keys to finally getting a win Monday night?

— Jim Jenkins

Hope everyone had a relaxing weekend and is amped up for tonight's big showdown in Chicago. Both the Vikings and Bears likely feel they should be in contention for a playoff spot by the end of the season, so this battle between NFC North rivals could be a big one when we look back on it at the end of the season.

I combined Alex and Jim's questions because I would have answered them about the same … so off we go.

Alex is spot-on that the Vikings have certainly found their identity in the past two weeks, which involves a heavy dose of Dalvin Cook in the run game, complemented by chunk plays in the passing game from Kirk Cousins and Co.

However, as I wrote about a few days ago, the Vikings are probably facing their biggest test in the run game so far this season. Not only do the Bears have a collection of playmakers on defense — a group that just limited Derrick Henry to minimal damage in Week 9 — but they also have had the Vikings number in that phase of the game in the past two meetings at Soldier Field.

Minnesota has rushed for just 62 total yards on 30 carries in back-to-back losses in Chicago, something that will certainly give the Bears defense some confidence tonight.

But as Alex alluded to — and what my answer to Jim would be — is that if the Vikings can't get anything going on the ground in Chicago, they're going to have to find a different way to win. Cousins might be called upon to deliver a few extra passes, and the likes of Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and Kyle Rudolph will need to help out in the passing game.

The Vikings have shown they know the formula for how they can win in back-to-back weeks, but if the team wants to make a statement on national television, being able to adapt and adjust as the game goes along could go a long way in determining the outcome.

To sum it up, I believe the keys to winning tonight are to be creative on offense if things don't go your way early on. And for the Vikings offense to eliminate big mistakes such as turnovers and avoid getting into third-and-long.

On the defensive side, forcing the Bears to be one-dimensional could help, too, as would getting a few turnovers to help shift the tide at Soldier Field, a venue where the Vikings have four wins in the past 20 trips.

One final note on playing in Chicago, where Minnesota's struggles are well-documented. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is 2-4 in his career at Soldier Field, compared to 4-2 in Detroit and 3-3-1 in Green Bay.

So yes, that's his worst divisional road record with the Vikings. But with the way he has rallied his team in recent weeks, perhaps Zimmer can keep Minnesota's momentum rolling and notch another victory at in a tough environment. The absence of fans could help as well.

Greetings from Italy. Zimmer has proved that he can coach this defense, Cousins has removed turnovers and Cook is a superstar. I have a few questions for the future: Don't you think that our offense is too Cook dependent? Worth it to spend a draft pick on a good backup RB (as we are a mostly "running" offense team)? Thank you! SKOL.

— Davide Pizzetti in Italy

Thanks as always for the support from the other side of the globe, Davide, and for the interesting questions.

To answer the first one, no, I don't think the Vikings rely too much on Cook. As you said, he's a superstar and is likely the league's best running back right now. Sure, the Vikings have to be aware of his workload, but if a player is hot, keep turning to him.

I also don't think the Vikings will be spending a Day 1 or 2 pick on a running back anytime soon, considering they just did that with Alexander Mattison in 2019. He was a third-round pick out of Boise State and has proved to be a solid backup to Cook these past two years.

Is Mattison the same player as Cook? No, but nobody else in the league is either. Mattison runs hard and is more than capable of spelling Cook when needed. Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak said earlier this season that his mindset doesn't change when Mattison is in the game.

View images of the Vikings traveling to Chicago to take on the Bears on Monday Night Football.

Faith! I'm not giving up on my team … they are starting to jell.

— Ruthie Coutu

What a weird season it's been, Ruthie. The Vikings first six games were all over the place, with good performances and bad, but the end result was just a single win.

And if you look back on the national pundits, many wrote off Zimmer's squad as a team that was careening toward a top-five draft pick in the spring.

But much has changed in the past two weeks with solid wins over Green Bay and Detroit, as many of those same experts are now suggesting Minnesota could make some noise in the final eight games in the chase for a playoff berth.

The Vikings currently sit at 3-5, so a win tonight would inch them closer to .500. Even more important, I think, is that a win over the Bears would give the Vikings three straight divisional wins, including two on the road in places that are normally tough to play in.

Put another way, a win tonight means the Vikings would be brimming with confidence as they get ready for a three-game November home stretch, all against teams that are currently under .500.

A loss, of course, would take a little wind out of the sails from the recent surge. But as we've seen so far this season — and throughout 2020 for that matter — it wouldn't surprise me at all if we see a wild game in Chicago that ends with a Vikings win.

Enjoy the game tonight!