EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer constantly preaches that whichever team wins the turnover battle on Sundays is usually the one that walks out of the stadium with a win.
That talking point might be as crucial as ever heading into a primetime showdown against the Bears.
“Their points off of turnovers are huge … I think second in the league,” Zimmer said. “We are going to have to do a great job of possessing the ball and keeping it.
“Making sure that we do a good job with being patient in a lot of ways,” Zimmer added.
Chicago’s defense ranks among the top of the league in numerous statistical categories, as the Bears are second in rushing yards allowed per game (84.0), fourth in total yards allowed per game (319.6) and tied for fourth in points allowed per game (19.4).
But it’s the takeaway numbers that have helped the Bears race out to a 6-3 record while currently occupying the top spot in the NFC North.
Chicago ranks second in the league with 24 takeaways (a league-high 16 interceptions to go along with eight fumble recoveries), and the Bears have cashed in after taking the ball away.
The Bears lead the NFL with 89 total points off turnovers, and the breakdown is below:
-Four defensive touchdowns (tied for the league lead) = 28 points
-Seven offensive touchdowns after takeaways = 49 points
-Four field goals after turnovers by the opposing offense = 12 points
“That’s really big. I think when you have a defense that opportunistic and that gets sacks, changes field position, when they get takeaways, it’s very, very important that you as an offense get production out of that,” said Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy. “You want to start off by definitely getting points, but then we talk about turning the points into 6s and not 3s.
“When you do that, your chances go up so high of winning the game,” Nagy added. “Again, we’ve done a pretty good job of it this year, but there’s a lot of games left, and we still want to keep it going in regards to talking about it and making that happen and working together offensively, defensively and [on] special teams.”
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said there is no doubt Minnesota’s offense is aware of the opportunistic Bears defense that awaits Sunday night at Soldier Field.
“Very much something we talk about and are aware of, I think it’s one of the biggest statistics to point to as to why the Bears are playing at the level that they are,” Cousins said. “When you create turnovers, that is a critical factor in winning ball games.
“I don’t know that I drop back, saying, ‘Don’t fumble, don’t fumble,’ or ‘Don’t throw a pick.’ You still have to play, but you’re aware that this is one of the ways that they’ve been able to win football games, by creating turnovers again and again,” Cousins added. “At this point in the year, it’s not a coincidence or anomaly, it’s because they’re a good defense and that’s what they do.”
The Bears lead the league with three pick-sixes — one each by cornerback Prince Amukamara, linebacker Leonard Floyd and linebacker Khalil Mack.
Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell explained how Chicago’s defense works together to create turnovers.
“They have Mack and a couple other guys, too, so they’re good up front,” Treadwell said. “They play a soft coverage, so it forces the quarterback to get the ball out fast.
“You have to be on top of your breaks because any tipped ball, they can get their hands on it because their front is getting to the quarterback,” Treadwell added. “They play a soft zone and do a good job of not letting you get anything deep.”
The Vikings, meanwhile, have scored 40 total points off 14 takeaways (three defensive touchdowns, one offensive score and four field goals). Minnesota is also tied for the second-most defensive scores with three.
Chicago leads the NFL with a plus-13 turnover margin, while Minnesota ranks 16th with a turnover differential of plus-1.
“We have to be aware of it. Hopefully we can win the turnover margin,” Cousins said. “I think when the game is over and the dust settles, I’m sure it will be a very telling stat.”
A dynamic duo
The Vikings will have to deal with multiple threats in Chicago’s backfield on Sunday night.
Bears running back Jordan Howard leads Chicago with 460 yards and five touchdowns, while quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has 320 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Running back Tarik Cohen has chipped in 244 rushing yards and a pair of scores to help the Bears rank 12th in the NFL with 120.1 rushing yards per game.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said Minnesota’s defense will have to deal with both Howard, who is more of a bruiser, along with the shifty Cohen.
“Howard is going to run the ball more downhill … he’s more of a downhill runner, but he can get the ball outside,” Griffen said. “But Tarik Cohen, his mentality is to get the ball outside and hit the edge. Find room and hit the edge and create space.
“We have two different challenges to face, and they also have a running quarterback, so that’s another dynamic in itself,” Griffen added.
Pro Bowl voting is now open
Vikings fans can help send their favorite players to the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando.
Voting for the annual all-star game is now open, and fans can vote here.
The Vikings were represented by seven players in 2018: linebacker Anthony Barr, Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, tight end Kyle Rudolph, safety Harrison Smith and wide receiver Adam Thielen.
For the Vikings: David Morgan (knee), Barr (hamstring) and Andrew Sendejo (groin) did not practice. Mike Remmers (low back), Tom Compton (knee), Rhodes (foot) and Thielen (low back/calf) were limited. Stefon Diggs (rib) and Joseph (ankle/shoulder) were full participants.
For the Bears: Dion Sims (concussion) did not practice.