Vikings aim to bounce back in Chicago
CHICAGO -- The Minnesota Vikings will look to bounce back from their first loss of the season when they visit the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
The way some Vikings players see it, last week's loss against the Philadelphia Eagles might have been exactly what the group needed to stay sharp going forward.
"No one likes to lose, but at the same time, we can be helped by it," Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "You can learn from it."
However, rest assured that nobody on the Vikings wants to learn from back-to-back losses.
The Vikings (5-1) are the road favorites against the struggling Bears (1-6), who have dropped three consecutive games and are tied for the second-worst record in the NFL. Minnesota has won three consecutive games against Chicago and five of the past seven meetings.
The prime-time matchup on Halloween night will feature a Vikings defense that is -- ahem -- scary. Coach Mike Zimmer's crew is No. 1 in the NFL with 16 takeaways, including nine interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. Minnesota also leads the NFL in turnover ratio (plus-11) and total defense (279.5 yards per game), and it is tied for No. 1 in scoring defense (14 points allowed per game).
Only one team in the league has four players with three-plus sacks this season. Care to guess? Here's a hint: They wear purple. Vikings defensive linemen Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison have registered four sacks apiece, while Linval Joseph has three sacks.
All of that spells a major challenge for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler as he returns to action for the first time in six games. Cutler has been sidelined since Week 2, when he sprained ligaments in his right thumb. He healed in time to reclaim his starting job from Brian Hoyer, who broke his left arm last week against Green Bay and has been placed on injured reserve.
This week, reporters asked Cutler whether he felt as if he had the support of coach John Fox.
"Um, he doesn't have a choice, I guess, at this point," Cutler told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Brian's out, so I've got to go. I've had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There's never been any strain in our relationship. We're both very open and honest, and we're on the same page. We just want to win football games."
To do so, the Bears might want to look for Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the red zone. Jeffery remains without a touchdown reception through his first seven games. Perhaps that helps to explain how Chicago is ranked last in scoring with 15.9 points per game.
Bears running back Jeremy Langford could return from a sprained ankle that has kept him out for the past four games. If Langford is able to play, he likely would join a backfield committee that includes Ka'Deem Carey and Jordan Howard.
Although the Vikings defense appears to have a decisive edge against the Bears offense, the same does not hold true on the opposite side of the ball. Minnesota is No. 31 in total offense with 299.2 yards per game, and Chicago is No. 12 in total defense with 350.4 yards allowed per game.
Bears linebacker Willie Young has provided consistent bursts of energy as a pass rusher in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Young has posted multiple-sack performances in two of his past three games.
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford was nearly flawless to start the season, but he struggled against the Eagles a week ago. The former No. 1 overall draft choice threw his first interception in six games and committed four fumbles, two of which resulted in turnovers.
Bradford's top target has been wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who leads the team with 27 receptions for 390 yards and a touchdown. Diggs will try to regroup after catching two passes for 18 yards against the Eagles.
On the ground, look for Vikings running backs Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon to split carries. Both will run behind a revamped offensive line that returned only one starter (center Joe Berger) at the same spot as in 2015.
Zimmer said he believed the Vikings and, in particular, the offensive line, could get back on track after a dismal performance in Week 7.
"I do have faith in this football team," Zimmer said. "Obviously, faith is belief without proof. So, right now, I don't have any proof, so I have to have faith that we'll get it done and I think we will. But until we prove it, it's just throwing stuff against the wall."