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Cook, Vikings Ground Game Ready for Bears Stout Defense

EAGAN, Minn. — Something has to give Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

It might not happen until the game's final few minutes, but when the Vikings relentless rushing attack goes up against a stout Bears defense, one side will eventually give out.

If there were ever a matchup of strength vs. strength, this is it.

"We know they're going to come in and be hyped. Their fans are going to be involved, the whole home-field advantage thing is going to be involved," said Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. "They're going to make plays, and we're going to make plays, but we're going to see if they can keep that whole energy throughout the whole game.

"It's just staying on schedule and sticking with the run. Or whatever the play call is, just sticking with it if it doesn't get what we want," Cook added. "It's going to be a game of emotions. They're going to have their turns, and we'll have our turns, we just hope that the turns are on our side more."

Cook, of course, paces a Minnesota ground game that ranks second in the league with 581 rushing yards, good for an average of 193.7 per game.

The third-year running back tops the league with 375 rushing yards and 6.6 yards per carry. He is tied for second with four touchdowns.

After 110 yards and a touchdown Sunday against Oakland, Cook became the fifth player in NFL history with at least 110 yards rushing and a rushing score in each of his team's first three games.

The other four running backs to do so are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Emmitt Smith and Curtis Martin.

"Dalvin's special, we know going into each week that we don't have to give him a lot," said Vikings rookie center Garrett Bradbury said this week while appearing on the "Under Center with Kirk Cousins" podcast. "He tells us every week, 'No one says we can't score on the first play of every game.' "

Added Cook: "Give all credit to the guys up front. It's a great accomplishment, so credit to the guys up front and guys blocking on the outside. They've been doing a great job of getting on the right people and giving me holes to run through. I've been trusting my eyes and my instincts and hitting holes, and we've been coming up with some big runs … some 5-yard gains that turn into some long ones."

Rookie Alexander Mattison has added 132 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries (5.3 yards per carry).

But the yards likely won't come easy against a Chicago defense that currently ranks fifth in the league by allowing just 68.7 yards per game.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer highlighted the challenge of running against the Bears, especially to the outside.

"They're a little more aggressive this year than they have been in the past, a few more pressures on early downs," Zimmer said. "It's really the same every week; you've got to get the point of attack blocked and then you've got to hope that you create some seams to cut the ball back.

"But if you don't do a good job at the point of attack, then you're struggling the rest of the play," Zimmer added.

Linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks — both of whom made the Pro Bowl in 2018 — lead the charge for the Bears near the line of scrimmage.

"The Bears have a really tough defensive line," said Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff. "Their front seven is really good.

"[Mack is] a really good player … a complete player. I have a lot of respect for him," Reiff added. "You've got to know where he's at, that's for sure."

Zimmer said of Hicks: "He's powerful. He's a power player, gets under your pads and drives. He's got great lower body strength and is able to do that."

Mack and Hicks help lead a defense that has yet to allow a run of 15 yards so far in 2019. The Vikings, meanwhile, have popped off a dozen runs of 15 yards or more, including eight by Cook.

Maybe the chunk plays aren't there for Minnesota on Sunday, but you can bet the Vikings — who rank third in the NFL with 103 rushing attempts through three games — will stay committed to the ground game in the Windy City.

"When you get in a groove and start running the ball and wearing them down like we talked about and when you get to that third and fourth quarter when they are getting tired you get energy," Bradbury said. "You feed off of their tiredness with their hands on their hips."

Chicago's stingy defense hasn't allowed an opposing running back to eclipse 100 yards at home since Week 15 of the 2016 season.

Furthermore, Chicago only allowed one team (New England) to surpass 100 total rushing yards once at Soldier Field in 2018. It was the one home game that the Bears lost last season.

"[The stinginess] doesn't surprise me," Zimmer said. "They may [allow 100 rushing yards] this week, either, but it's important that we try to run the football.

"Maybe we don't get 100 (yards rushing), but we get 98, so who cares," Zimmer added. "As long as we win the football game, I don't really care."

Added Cook: "They're very good at each position … fundamentally-sound … and I think they really just take care of their responsibilities and play aggressive football. It will be a good challenge for us."

The eyes of the football world will mostly be on Chicago for Sunday's game, as the Vikings try to prove their revamped ground game can withstand the test of the Bears ferocious attack.

Leave it to the man who won't be involved in those plays — Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins — to perfectly sum up the looming battle.

"This is big-boy football. Chicago knows that, too," Cousins said. "We're not going to have any extra motivation that Chicago doesn't have.

"We'll go in there [as] two heavyweights," Cousins said, "and one's going to emerge the victor."