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Lunchbreak: Containing Hicks, Mack Will be Key for Vikings in Week 17 

The Vikings lost to the Bears by just five points (25-20) in their first meeting this season, when the division rivals faced off at Soldier Field in November.

Minnesota struggled early on in the game more than the score might suggest before rallying late. The Vikings will get a rematch against the Bears to cap off the regular season – and if they win, they’ll be in the playoffs.

Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com delved into the Vikings first matchup against the Bears earlier this season and pointed out five things that Minnesota’s offense can improve from that meeting. Coller wrote:

If the Vikings are going to beat the NFC North champions to earn a spot in the postseason, [Interim Offensive Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski will not only have to bring the elements of the offense that have pushed them to big numbers over the last two games, he will also have to find ways to prevent Chicago’s stars from ruining his game plan.

Coller started with Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who led a shutdown of the Vikings run game in Week 11. Coller included video clips that showed various ways the Vikings worked against Hicks and then compares with the way the Giants found a way to run against the Bears in Week 14, recording 141 yards on the ground.

Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur served as the Vikings Offensive Coordinator in 2017, and Coller opined that Shurmur “clearly influenced Stefanski.”

The Vikings should consider running to the edges on pitch plays. As good as the Bears have been against the run this year, according to Football Outsiders, they rank 14th in yards per carry off the left tackle, 11th off the right tackle and 15th off the right end.

[…]

Over the last two games, the Vikings have seen Dalvin Cook rack up 209 yards at 6.0 yards per carry. Many of those runs came on outside zone plays that could work for creating cutback lanes inside Chicago’s outside linebackers.

Whichever way they do it, we know the answer to creating a successful run game is not stuffing the ball up the middle in Hicks’ direction.

Coller also said that Minnesota should avoid 1-on-1 situations with outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who has become a dominant force for the Bears since they traded for him in early September. Coller argued that the Vikings “did not pay him the attention he deserved,” pointing out that Mack – who occasionally has been triple teamed “in key situations” – was able to wreak havoc on the Vikings by pressuring quarterback Kirk Cousins consistently and forcing a fumble by running back Dalvin Cook in the red zone.

Seattle Times spotlights Keith Millard’s football, family journey

Keith Millard is well-recognized by many Vikings fans, particularly those who closely followed the team in the 80s.

Drafted 13th overall by the Vikings, Millard was a standout on Minnesota’s defensive line from 1985-90 before closing out his NFL career with Green Bay and Seattle (1992) and a season in Philadelphia (1993).

Seattle Times writer Scott Hanson recently wrote an in-depth feature on Millard that followed his journey from troubled home life as a youngster to now full-time father and, currently, a stay-at-home dad. Hanson wrote:

It would have been hard to picture two decades ago when Millard, the former Washington State star with the bad-boy reputation, was terrorizing NFL offenses with off-the-chart intensity as a defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and was the 1989 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

But after decades of football, Millard, a father of six, has found happiness at home. Two of his kids are still at home in Dublin, California, and he tends to them while wife Paula works.

Hanson comprehensively walked through Millard’s story, sharing his experience in high school, during which he moved out of his family home and lived with a brother. He played high school football but was kicked off the team a few games into his senior season in 1979.

Millard told Hanson that he “had an attitude” and contributed to the problems.

That could have been the end of Millard’s football career. But one day a Washington State football recruiter was at his school to look at another player. One of Millard’s teachers, George Baljevich, intercepted the recruiter before he could speak to the coach.

“He told him my story and said, ‘You need to look at film of this guy,’ ” Millard told Hanson. “They brought the film to coach (Jim) Walden and everything kind of took off from there.”

The move to Pullman changed everything for Millard, and he credits Walden “for saving my life.”

Hanson shared about Millard’s college experience and then moving to the next level, where he played a season for the United States Football League before joining the Vikings in 1985. Following his playing career, Millard worked as a coach at the collegiate and NFL level. In 2013, Paul “had a talk with Keith” about consideration a transition away from coaching full-time.

“She said, ‘You really need to quit. You are getting old, your kids are getting older, you’re missing a lot of time with your family. You need to stop,’ ” Millard told Hanson. “So I did. I started getting back into my kids’ lives and feeling pretty good about it.”

To read Hanson’s feature in entirety, click here.

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