It was a wild ride for the NFC this weekend, and the Bears and Vikings are up next.
Minnesota will face Chicago tonight at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football, and all eyes will be on Dalvin Cook after his outstanding performance against the Steelers.
NFL.com's Jelani Scott posted three things to watch for in the prime-time matchup, starting with, "Will Dalvin cook the Bears?" Scott wrote:
If the NFL is indeed a week-to-week league like everyone says, Dalvin Cook spent Week 14 looking like the best running back on the planet. After missing the previous game due to a shoulder injury, Cook returned in a blaze of glory to lift Minnesota to victory over Pittsburgh on a short week. The bruising back's 27-carry, 205-yard, two-touchdown effort also helped him maintain his No. 3 ranking in total rush yards, which he's earned despite missing three games. Cook's power, combined with a solid run-blocking O-line expecting Christian Darrisaw back, figures to create an ample opportunity for him to feast once more against a banged-up unit that's struggled to defend the run all year.
Scott also asked if Kirk Cousins will "continue his clean play" for Minnesota.
Save for a shoddy showing in Week 14, the Vikings quarterback has been on a roll as of late, tossing 11 touchdowns and one interception while completing [more than 60 percent] of this throws in Weeks 9-13. On Monday night, he'll face a back end that's given up eight TD passes over their last three and will be without six key pieces, including Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson (COVID list). The lack of depth makes them prime targets for Cousins and Justin Jefferson, a.k.a. the league's best downfield passing tandem. The star receiver ranks first in receptions (45) and yards (1,002) on passes of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats.
As for the Bears, Scott is wondering if rookie QB Justin Fields will notch his first prime-time win. Tonight's Week 15 contest will mark Fields' third prime-time appearance.
His Week 14 return from a two-game absence produced a mixed bag big enough to make up for the lost time. Facing a game Packers defense at Lambeau, Fields again flourished (18-of-33, 224 yards, two TDs) in some moments – and flopped in others (fumble, INT, pick-six) – as Chicago lost its seventh game in eight tries.
With [Bears Head Coach Matt] Nagy back to calling plays and a postseason berth out of reach, the Bears are essentially playing with house money against a D that's given up 28 or more in [the Vikings past] four. Despite his recent struggles, Darnell Mooney will likely draw extra attention from a secondary that lost one of its starters over the weekend, which could allow Fields and David Montgomery to exploit Minnesota underneath to great success.
Vikings have 'flustered plenty of rookie QBs' under Zimmer
How will the Vikings fare against Fields?
Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press said that history gives Minnesota the upper hand. He wrote:
Once again, [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's defense will look to fluster a rookie quarterback. […] Since Zimmer took over as head coach in 2014, the Vikings are 7-3 against rookie starting quarterbacks. Taking into account that Zimmer missed a 2016 game with an eye issue, when they lost to Dallas and Dak Prescott, they're 7-2 when he is on the sideline.
Zimmer's Vikings have defeated the following quarterbacks in their first season: DeShone Kizer (with Cleveland) and Mitchell Trubisky (twice with Chicago) in 2017; Josh Rosen (with Arizona) and Sam Darnold (with the New York Jets) in 2018; and Daniel Jones of the New York Giants and Detroit's David Blough in 2019.
The Vikings lost to a rookie Carson Wentz (Eagles) in 2016 and to Josh Allen (Bills) in 2018.
Taken out of Ohio State with the No. 11 pick, Fields is 2-7 as a starter for the 4-9 Bears. He's still finding his way as a passer, with 1,585 passing yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating is an unimpressive [69.3] but … Fields is good on his feet. He has carried 65 times for 385 yards for a sparkling 5.9-yard average.
Fields ran for 103 yards on 10 carries against San Francisco on Oct. 31, and for 74 yards on nine carries at Green Bay on Dec. 13. Both those games were Bears losses.
How well the Vikings can contain Fields in the pocket could play a key role in whether the Vikings (6-7), a six-point favorite, take care of business Monday in their ongoing quest to make the playoffs.
Tomasson quoted Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who told reporters last week Fields is "super mobile."
"You have to be aware that he can extend plays at any given moment just with his feet," Tomlinson said.
Minnesota faced another Chicago rookie quarterback on Monday Night Football in October 2017 in Trubisky, who was making his first NFL start after being the No. 2 pick in the draft. He completed just 12 of 25 passes and threw an interception in a 20-17 Vikings win.
Tomasson said the Vikings will "no doubt have something special in store" for Fields.
"That's part of what we do as a defense, try to disguise things and make the quarterback have to figure it out as he's dropping back to pass, instead of figuring it out at the line of scrimmage," Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson said.