The Vikings are set to play their first divisional game on Sunday at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears.
Though the team will be without star receiver Justin Jefferson for the first time since he was drafted, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Minnesota is focused on finding a way to win.
"It's been a back-to-work mentality. We have our mindset on, regardless of the circumstance, to respond, do your job one step at a time," O'Connell said. "All the things we do, regardless of the results previously, it's about our process to prepare for the games. It's about us staying true to doing the things we need to do to take on the challenges."
One of the biggest challenges for the Vikings will be remaining explosive without Jefferson. The team has scored at least 17 points each week and averages 37.3 yards per drive, fourth-best in the league. However, Jefferson has been a significant contributor, accounting for 15 of the Vikings 21 plays of 20 yards or more.
He also averages about 11 targets per game. That target share will likely be redistributed to tight end T.J. Hockenson and receivers K.J. Osborn, Jordan Addison and Brandon Powell.
To win, the Vikings will need to protect the ball and find first downs. The Bears have generated the sixth-fewest takeaways and have allowed a league-high 57.4 percent of third-down conversions.
"Maybe we aren't going to see some of the Justin [Jefferson] coverages that we've seen," O'Connell said, "but we still have execute, read things out in rhythm, give [Kirk Cousins] good protection, move the football and score."
Matchup to watch: DJ Moore versus Byron Murphy, Jr.
The Vikings are preparing to face one of the most explosive players in the NFL.
Through five games, Bears receiver DJ Moore ranks fifth in receiving yards with 531. He trails only Tyreek Hill, Rams rookie Puka Nacua, Jefferson, and A.J. Brown.
Moore has looked like the top-flight receiver the Bears hoped he'd be when he was included in the blockbuster trade with the Carolina Panthers for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Last week against the Commanders, Moore had a career night. The 26-year-old receiver caught eight passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns, the second-most receiving yards in a game in Bears history. He became the first Bears player with 200 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage in a game since Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton in 1979.
Moore was electric against a Commanders defense that played a lot of man coverage and single-high shells. He recorded 141 yards after the catch, the most by any Bears player since ESPN began tracking YAC in 2006.
Despite 43 percent of his season yardage total coming last week, Moore has accounted for 47 percent of the Bears receiving yards this season, the highest of any player in the NFL. His 531 receiving yards and five touchdowns are already more than any Bears wide receiver accumulated during the 2022 season.
But those games came against the 29th-ranked (Commanders) and the 32nd-ranked (Broncos) pass defenses, respectively.
Cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., and the Vikings secondary are focused on limiting explosive plays on Sunday against Moore and quarterback Justin Fields.
"We see a really good skill group," safety Josh Metellus said. "As defensive backs, we have a challenge this week to limit explosive plays. We are 1-4, and they are 1-4. We still think we are a pretty good football team, and I'm sure they do, too."
Six Points: Memorable Week 6 Quotes
QB Kirk Cousins on how he built chemistry with rookie Jordan Addison:
"There was a similar question when Justin [Jefferson] was doing his thing as a rookie, and I would say it's pretty easy to build chemistry when guys are pretty good. I'd love to tell you, 'We did this' or, 'We did that' – and certainly there were times when we were communicating and working. But when you see him run routes at workouts and OTAs, you're like, 'OK, I think he can play.' And certainly in training camp, as well. Justin was the same way. It's similar to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs when I first got here. It's like, 'Hey, let's build chemistry.' And then you throw and are like, 'I think the chemistry will be there. They're pretty good.' I think Jordan's the same way."
Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips on how Jefferson moving to IR will impact position group:
"No one is happy about Justin not being there, including the guys in that room. But I do think guys are excited about opportunities they're going to get, and some guys playing more than they've played. Or even the guys who have been in there welcome those types of opportunities to potentially be more featured."
WR Brandon Powell on receivers stepping up in Jefferson's absence:
"Like [Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell] said, it was, what, 15 targets a game [for Justin]? So that's 15 opportunities you've gotta find somewhere else. Everybody in the receiving room has been on their details. Everybody's trying to get those extra 15 opportunities. We know what 'Jettas' brought to the team, so we all have to step up in our room, and we'll do a good job of that."
O'Connell on Vikings adding QB Sean Mannion to the practice squad after placing Nick Mullens on IR:
"Sean's football IQ, his ability to go in there and run our offense and make sure all the other 10 guys in the huddle know exactly what to do. The checks, we can basically run our offense as is with Sean from a perspective from the quarterback's role mentally. Clearly, he hasn't had the reps with our group that we would call it like that. I think you can't underestimate the impact of his role in the quarterbacks room. He's an aspiring coach. He works like that. He takes notes like that. I think he is a great support system for Kirk over their time together. So, I was excited to get Sean back in the room. I think it will be great for Jaren [Hall] as well, to be around a guy like Sean."
Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores on teams more often opting for fourth-down attempts over punting:
"I think that's been the case over the last, probably, five years. Some people are celebrating [after a third-down stop], but I think we all know that basically once [the opponent] crosses the 50-yard line, it's four-down territory. You've gotta have calls ready. I think that's a change that's happened from, let's just call it 10 years ago, to the last five years, where you didn't necessarily have as many third- and fourth-down and 2-point calls; now, that menu is probably a lot larger than it was 10 years ago. So, I think you should celebrate a third-down stop; you've just gotta get ready for the fourth down. That's the type of message we try to give to our guys. To move on to the next play. But yeah, fourth down is obviously a possession down – and something that can change the tide of the game one way or the other. We've been on both sides of that. … It's something that's happening for every team, every week, and we've got to be ready to perform in that moment – which means moving on from third down to fourth down."
Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels on Vikings designating Kene Nwangwu to return from IR*:
* Note: Nwangwu is currently within the 21-day practice window
"It's exciting. A lot of guys were just talking about, you've got a lot of speed back on the field now with Kene coming back and Dan Chisena getting [signed] back to the practice squad. I think it's important to make sure, to see how Kene progresses with his injury. He has a 21-day window, so we're excited to get him back and make sure he's well-conditioned, make sure he's got his feet back on, making sure he is feeling very confident in his ability to go out and do his job at a high level. So with that, we'll kind of continue to ramp him up and progress him as needed and as tolerated, as he works his way back into playing football again. … We're excited to get him back."
Danielle Hunter has recorded at least one sack in four of five games this season, boosting his career total to 77 in 78 games started (107 played). Hunter needs 3.0 more sacks to pass Everson Griffen for seventh in franchise history (rankings include Vikings Legends who played before sacks becoming an official stat in 1982).
Five of Harrison Smith's 34 career interceptions have occurred against the Bears. If he can snag one in Chicago, it would tie for his most against any team (Packers).
A wide assortment of thoughts from fans this week, with some looking ahead for positives and others lamenting things that have landed the Vikings at 1-4 through five weeks.
When we beat the Bears and probably lose to the 49ers, we play five games against teams we should beat. We could be 7-5. Why isn't that being talked about instead of all the negativity?
— John Cobb
Players and coaches have definitely mentioned a belief in there being so much of the season remaining on the schedule.
The 1-4 start with all five games decided by one score and with Minnesota being in the negative turnover margin likely have something to do with the current focus.
Baseball seems to be the ultimate marathon, but it turns out often that the teams playing well at the end of the season can upset teams that have more regular-season wins.
Football has much fewer opportunities than baseball, which makes every game feel so important, but it is a long season that can be thought of in chunks. After a 1-4 start, it's probably good to split the season into a from now until the bye and set a goal of winning as many by then as possible.
But every game the Vikings go without solving their turnover problems makes the "if" in the "if they just do this" a bit bigger. Not impossible to turn things around, but stringing together wins and eliminating mistakes that have kept the Vikings from winning will be so important for the team to have a chance.
I watched the replay of the game just to watch that play. I think that may be the worst call I've ever seen. Harrison Smith veered to the side to miss [Marquez] Valdes-Scantling and the receiver reached out and grabbed him around the neck. I have no idea how that is defensive pass interference.
As has been said, recently, "Hard to play the receiver and the refs."
— Gary from Florida
We see a similar version to this almost every week across the NFL, where a receiver with no or very little shot at an underthrown ball initiates contact with a defender and reaps the rewards.
Because of the window Valdes-Scantling found in the defense, Smith had to run as fast as he could an was unable to get his head around to find the football.
There's a certain art to a receiver executing this, and chances are, if the defensive back doesn't get his head around in some capacity, then officials are likely to flag and correct under the rules of the game.
Time has run out to clean up the too-common negatives. Teamwide issue. What skill player hasn't fumbled, dropped a pass, pre-snap misalignment? First-quarter turnovers resulting in starting from behind on the scoreboard, one less offensive series. Poor clock management resulting in wasted time or timeouts. Forget about the officiating. … Mindset seems off. Focus on just playing a solid game. Too much talent on this team for the overall embarrassing quality of performance.
Good thing is we play the Bears this week. Bad thing is we play the Bears this week. If we lose to a low tier team and NFC North foe it will be a bad reflection on the inner strength, determination, perseverance of this team. Hope and believe that this week will be the beginning of a resurgent Viking team that will bring respect within and outside of our fan base.
Viking Sisu. SKOL!
— Noel in Bayfield, Wisconsin
It seems like quite a few players have had a turn at making a major mistake. The Vikings almost need to create a tunnel vision within each play to make sure each player is doing his job to the fullest.
I do think there has been resilience from the team that shows in the fact that point margins have been small, even when turnover margins have been lopsided.
The Bears definitely enjoyed snapping their losing streak in Week 5 and have played better in each of the past two weeks than they started.
No game is easy in the NFL, especially it seems, when the Vikings are involved.
There is no such thing as good or bad luck, curses, near misses, rigged refereeing, or any other nefarious, hidden element at work in the NFL preventing the Vikings from winning that elusive Lombardi Trophy! Nobody 'cares' if a call goes 'for' or 'against;' at least, fans of good teams don't give a damn!
The Vikes are simply not good enough…not enough talent…not good enough on offense…not good enough on defense…not good enough at the QB position. Our 'near misses' this year are nothing but what we have come to expect from the previous 62 seasons of Viking football (with isolated exceptions): mediocrity.
I've been a fan since 1970 and I no longer devote much 'energy' to my childhood team. I love them, I root for them and wish them the best. Unfortunately, they ain't good enough.
In reality, there was one legitimate team that had a real chance to 'win it all:' the 1998 team. But [Gary] Anderson's missed FG screwed up that one legit chance. The four Super Bowl losses were to far better teams (or, in the case of the loss to the Steelers, a much better defensive team).
So cheer them, love them, know that they want to win as much — hell — more than the fans do! They just aren't good enough. It will take a more talented team … to lead us to the promised land and our first ever Super Bowl title.
— Mark Johnson
Even though people downplayed the team's successes in 2022, winning 13 games is winning 13 games.
I've seen plenty of fans from teams with better records complain about calls, including Chiefs fans in the past couple of weeks. Some calls can have great magnitude on the outcome of a game (Drew Pearson's push-off on the first Hail Mary probably rings true for a lot of people), but it's generally better if a team can create greater margins against opponents so a call's magnitude is reduced.
The NFL really tries to ensure as much parity across the league as possible. The best teams are able to execute their way beyond the gravitational pull to the middle.
Disappointed but not giving up on the Vikings.
The bad luck and missed calls can't or shouldn't continue for the rest of the season.
Last year, breaks went the Vikings way in the regular season, this year not.
Still time to turn the season around.
— Richard Plumley in Amherstview, Ontario, Canada
Whether you are of the variety like Mark (above) who doesn't ascribe to good or bad luck, or more aligned with Richard, I think we can all agree the football can bounce in mysterious ways.
It did so majorly twice against the Chargers. The first was Akayleb Evans getting both hands on the football before it bounced off, then skipped off his helmet and played pinball with multiple appendages of Joshua Palmer before the receiver secured the long touchdown. The second was the ball that bounced off T.J. Hockenson's hands at the goal line and upward, resulting in an interception.
It's what I said before the beginning of the season, the line is the same, no protection. You have to understand without mobility at quarterback, and his release is slower, and routes take too long.
— William Hicks
If Cousins knows the route the go-to receiver is gonna run, instead of waiting and getting sacked or pressured why couldn't he throw the ball where it's going but throw it right away when he gets it but throw it higher up so the receiver has time to get under it. Do you understand what I'm saying, by throwing it higher and right away would save him from getting hit so many times and throwing it higher would give the receiver time to get to where it's going? It's a timing thing that for sure would need a lot of practice but I'm thinking it would work, just my thoughts, but maybe??
— Tony Vernier
Cousins has stayed tough in the pocket numerous times and made some nice improvisations against Kansas City, although one was negated by a penalty.
Different points in the game and spots on the field require different types of play from the quarterback. Individual routes call for unique techniques of "driving" the football or using more touch. Timing routes can really take effect in the red zone.
Cousins is reading defenses within the construct of the offense. He knows before the snap on some that there's a possibility of getting walloped, even if things go as smoothly as possible. That's why I personally think he doesn't quite get the credit he deserves for his toughness. Fewer QB hits are always preferred.
Now this team has what it takes. The problem I see is the belief. The intensity comes when the organization believes. It isn't about getting by or just getting the win. The mentality needs to be that we are going to demolish the [other] team. Each player needs to look at the person in front of them and believe that every play they are going to win their matchups. Full hearted. That no situation or circumstance is too big. That's what the team had last year. It didn't end how we wanted, but you could feel that. Things are going to happen in the game that are out of your control. Control the controllables. Kirk is a beast. I want him to have a Super Bowl with us. Justin Jefferson is beyond great. These other guys on the team need to be built up. They need to know how great they are and they are a part of the best. Believing is seeing. #SKOL.
— Kenny Bartholomew in Austin, Texas
Even though it's been a much different first five games of 2023 than it was in 2022 for the returning Vikings and O'Connell, the head coach has remained positive in his approach toward trying to bring the best out of his players and the team.
It's much easier to build confidence in times of success.
The season is not lost in my eyes. Yes, J.J. will be missed but the team drafted another receiver, that given the increased workload could possibly have a rookie season like J.J. had. The defense is getting better each week and that is all you can ask for in a new defense and coaching staff with practically the same players as last year. The team still hasn't played anyone in the division yet, Lastly the coaching staff is in place to turn things around. I really like O'Connell. Sometimes I think he's too nice to be a coach, but he doesn't berate his players on the sidelines and any dissatisfaction he has with players stays in the locker room. For the rest of the season, I'm expecting the Vikings to win. Maybe against the Niners I'll be hoping the team wins, they have to win one game at home, right? Let's go Bear hunting!
— Al Lindberg in Denmark, Wisconsin
The Vikings have had one the most difficult schedules in the NFL thus far based on their opponent's current record. The combined record for the Vikings foes in their four losses is an incredible 15-4. If we assume that they beat the Bears and lose to the 49ers, the combined record for those teams beating the Vikings becomes a staggering 20-4, yet they were all one-score games that could have gone either way. So the Vikings have been playing at or near the level of their really tough opponents, save the Panthers. By contrast, the combined records of the undefeated Eagles and 49ers are 9-15 and 10-15 respectively, a much easier path to 5-0. I think we all would agree had the Vikings not turned the ball over and over and over, their record would be quite different. I think the points off turnovers this season is something like 44 points and their net points is only minus-12. This gives me optimism beyond the 49ers game. Currently, the combined record for the rest of the season is a not-so-difficult 29-29. If you throw out the two games against the 4-1 Lions, it becomes 21-27. Pretty darn easy the rest of the way. Of course, cold teams can get hot and hot teams can get cold, but I think after five games it's a big enough sample size to at least make some general observations that may not be too far off.
So maybe there's reason to be optimistic.
— Tim in Chesapeake, Virginia
Thought it would be good to close with some perspective from Al and Tim. The Vikings have a coaching staff and players who can turn things around, even with Jefferson set to miss time.
The first opportunity is Sunday, and the Vikings must laser focus on the Bears as the next opportunity to get a win.