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5 Vikings-Bears Storylines: Ground Games & Opportunity for 'Rushmen'

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings (6-7) and Bears (4-9) will meet under the lights of Soldier Field in Week 15 for Monday Night Football.

It's becoming quite a tradition, as it's the fourth time since 2016 that Minnesota has traveled to Chicago for a Monday game since 2016. The Vikings lost that contest but won games at the venue in 2017 and 2020.

All teams have had their bye weeks, and every team has played 13 contests, which means a four-game finish awaits.

The Vikings entered Week 15 as the eighth overall team in the NFC, a spot out of the seven-team playoff field, and needing a victory at a place that's been problematic.

According to analytics site fivethirtyeight.com, the Vikings have a 28-percent chance of making the playoffs, which increases to 45 percent with a victory, regardless of what else happens. The Bears have a 0.2-percent chance of making the playoffs and will be eliminated with their next loss.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bears.

Matchup to watch: Vikings rush defense vs. Chicago's ground game

The Vikings run defense has had room for improvement for much of 2021. Minnesota has allowed 1,684 rushing yards (129.5 per game) and 12 scores on the ground this season. Those totals rank 27th and 16th, respectively, in the NFL.

Since allowing 208 yards on the ground at San Francisco (while shorthanded on the defensive line), Minnesota has allowed a combined 206 rushing yards in its past two games.

Welcome back, Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson.

Even when those two defenders have been in to plug the middle, opponents have found success reaching the perimeter.

Chicago ranks seventh in the NFL with 1,638 rushing yards and 21st with 10 scores on the ground. The Bears have rushed for at least 112 yards in 10 games, including 188 in a win against Detroit and 143 in a victory at Las Vegas.

David Montgomery (144 carries, 608 yards, four touchdowns) leads the Bears, and Khalil Herbert has added 392 yards and a touchdown on 95 carries. Rookie QB Justin Fields adds to the dynamic, having gained 385 yards and scored twice on 65 rush attempts.

Here are five storylines of interest this week:

1. Keep gaining ground?

The Vikings are coming off a wildly effective night of running the football against the Steelers.

Dalvin Cook rushed for 205 yards and two scores on the way to earning FedEx Ground Player of the Week honors. His 153 before halftime broke a Vikings all-time record in a first half and were part of 176 rushing yards on 18 attempts before Flo Rida took the stage.

That's an average of 9.8 per pop. The Steelers made a couple of adjustments and limited the Vikings to 66 yards on 18 carries (3.67 per rush) in the second half.

Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks hasn't played since Week 9 but was designated for return from Injured Reserve on Tuesday. Hicks has wrecked games in the past, but Chicago will be without bulky nose tackle Eddie Goldman and edge rusher Khalil Mack.

2. First impressions of Fields?

Fields will be the 13th different quarterback — and the 11th former first-round pick — the Vikings have faced this season.

The 11th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft has shown some innate playmaking, but he's also thrown 10 interceptions against six touchdowns and completed just 57.6 percent of his passes.

Fields' interception rate of 4.3 percent ranks 32nd among qualifying passers this season.

3. Opportunity for 'Rushmen'

Part of Fields' downfalls could be connected to Chicago's struggles in pass protection. He's been sacked 33 times in nine starts. The Bears protection issues have gone beyond a rookie quarterback, as Chicago suffered nine sacks total in the four games started by veteran Andy Dalton.

The Bears have a sacks-per-pass-attempt allowance rate of 10.9 percent, which ranks last in the NFL.

That means there's an opportunity for Minnesota's "Rushmen," the name that Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson uses to describe his defensive linemen.

That group has greatly missed Danielle Hunter (torn pectoral muscle in Week 8) and Everson Griffen (on Non-Football Illness list since Week 12 because of a personal matter). It has welcomed pressure by linebacker Eric Kendricks, who has a career-best 5.0 sacks this season, and safety Harrison Smith, who matched his best for a season with his third sack of 2021 last week.

The Vikings lead the NFL with 41 sacks this season.

4. Jefferson moving on up

Justin Jefferson already has 12 career games with at least 100 receiving yards, including both outings against Chicago as a rookie in 2020.

Jefferson could break the record of 15 games in a player's first two seasons that was set by Odell Beckham, Jr., by going on a four-game streak to close the season. Anything seems possible for the budding star, but perhaps a more realistic milestone will be the most receiving yards in a player's first two seasons.

Jefferson has 2,688 so far, which is just 39 shy of passing Randy Moss for the most by a Viking in his first two NFL seasons and 68 short of breaking the record of 2,755 set by Beckham in his first two seasons.

5. Unique transition

Minnesota has never gone from a Thursday game to a Monday game, so it will be interesting to see if this extended gap provided meaningful rest — and if the team was able to avoid any rust from settling in during the late-season break.

The closest previous spans in franchise history were a Friday-to-Sunday in 1967 and Saturdays-to-Mondays in 1981, 1994 and 1995.

The Vikings emerged from their Week 7 bye and appeared a little rusty on offense, putting up 16 points at home in a final-minute loss to the Cowboys. That's the second-lowest total all season and one of three times Minnesota hasn't put up at least 24.

Freshness should be helpful for this game, but then Minnesota will have a quick turnaround in hosting the Los Angeles Rams.

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