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4 things to watch: Bears-Vikings

Posted Oct 9, 2017

Senior writer Larry Mayer identifies four storylines to watch Monday night when the Bears host the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.


The Bears will look to rebound from their disappointing loss to the Packers Monday night when they host the Vikings at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:

(1) How will Mitchell Trubisky fare in his first NFL start?

A new era in Bears football kicks off Monday night with the much-anticipated NFL debut of rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who makes his first start in place of the struggling Mike Glennon. After serving as Glennon's backup in the first four regular-season games, Trubisky has been deemed ready to assume the No. 1 job. He exceeded all expectations in training camp and the preseason and continued to impress while operating the scout team over the last month.

Trubisky brings an exciting new element to the Bears offense with his athleticism and mobility, which allows him to avoid sacks and extend plays. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains did an excellent job of employing designed rollouts and moving pockets in the preseason to take advantage of Trubisky's strengths and that figures to be the case again Monday night.

Mitchell Trubisky
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

The Bears feel that Trubisky possesses not only all the physical traits to succeed but also the intangibles that are necessary to play quarterback. "He does have a quiet confidence," said coach John Fox. "He doesn't get real up or down. He's pretty straight-line. But the guys respond to him and he's got that maturity and that confidence that I think you have to have at that position."

(2) Will the Bears running game take pressure off Trubisky?

The Bears rushed for 156 and 183 yards in their two games against the Vikings last season—their two highest totals of the year. A similar performance Monday night would provide a big boost to the offense and not force Trubisky to have to beat Minnesota through the air in his first start.

Jordan Howard hopes to pick up where he left off last season when he ran for 153 and 135 yards in two games against the Vikings, his top two rushing performances in a record-breaking rookie season. But the second-year pro understands that it won't be easy. "We know they're definitely going to be out after us this year because we ran the ball with a lot of success last year," Howard said. "They're definitely going to try to take that away from us."

Howard rushed for 140 yards on 23 carries in the Bears' lone win of the season Sept. 24 against the Steelers. But he has been limited to 112 yards on 40 attempts in the team's three losses. Rookie Tarik Cohen also figures to be a factor against the Vikings. The fourth-round pick has rushed for 181 yards on 30 carries this year and leads all NFL running backs with 24 receptions.

(3) Will the Bears defense step up and play like it did against the Steelers?

Four turnovers by their offensive counterparts put the Bears defense on short fields all night in Green Bay. But the unit still allowed star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to score touchdowns on all five of their trips inside-the-20. That can't happen against the Vikings, regardless of whether Sam Bradford or Case Keenum is playing quarterback.

The Bears defense needs to revert to the form it displayed two weeks ago in an overtime win over the Steelers when it limited future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to an 82.7 passer rating and held running back Le'Veon Bell to 61 yards on 15 carries.

The defense is thin at inside linebacker, however. With Jerrell Freeman and Nick Kwiatkoski already sidelined with pectoral injuries, Danny Trevathan will serve a one-game suspension Monday night that he received for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams. John Timu is expected to start in Trevathan's place. "It's a concern, but at least we're playing with guys that were here in camp," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "I feel good about that in that we're not having somebody in off the street having to learn a new system."

(4) Will the Bears finally win the turnover battle?

With three takeaways and 10 giveaways, the Bears rank last in the NFL with a minus-seven turnover differential. They're actually dead even in two home games but lost the turnover battle 4-1 and 4-0 in blowout road losses in Tampa Bay and Green Bay.

Turnovers were a major reason the Bears made a change at quarterback. "It was just a decision I thought needed to be made," Fox said. "We had 10 giveaways in the first four weeks of the season. You can't win football games that way. Not that they were all one guy's fault, but … we're going in a different direction."

The Bears defense has only generated two takeaways in four games—a third came on special teams—after mustering an all-time franchise-low 11 last year. Monday night would be an excellent time for the defense to record its first interception of the season; the unit has been blanked through four games despite adding cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper Sr. and safety Quintin Demps in free agency and safety Eddie Jackson in the draft.

In the last two seasons, the Bears are 1-12 when they lose the turnover margin and 3-4 when it's equal (2-2) or they win it (1-2).