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Pregame Warmup

4 things to watch in Bears-Vikings game


First place in the NFC North will be on the line Sunday night when the Bears host the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:

(1) How will a red-hot Bears offense fare against a tough Vikings defense?

Led by emerging second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the offense has been operating at maximum efficiency. The Bears are averaging 34.3 points over their last six games, second most in the NFL, and their 206 points during that span are their most in a six-game stretch since they scored 237 points in Weeks 2-7 in 1956. 

Trubisky has accounted for 19 touchdowns and 1,969 yards of offense in the last six games, passing for 1,713 yards with 17 TDs, four interceptions and a 114.8 passer rating and rushing for 256 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. The second pick in the 2017 draft has helped the Bears already record more wins and score more points than they did all of last season with seven games still remaining.

On Sunday night, Trubisky and the offense will face their most difficult test of the year against a Vikings defense that ranks fifth in the NFL in total yards and set a franchise record with 10 sacks in its last game, a 24-9 win over the Lions two weeks ago. The unit is led by defensive end Danielle Hunter, who ranks second in the NFL with 11.5 sacks after registering 3.5 against Detroit, and safety Harrison Smith.

(2) Will the Bears defense continue to excel against a potent Minnesota offense?

The defense has dominated in helping the Bears win their last three games by a combined 68 points. The unit allowed just 207 yards in a 24-10 victory over the Jets; generated four takeaways, two touchdowns and four sacks in a 41-9 rout in Buffalo; and registered three takeaways six sacks in a 34-22 win over the Lions.

All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack returned to action with a vengeance last Sunday against Detroit, compiling two sacks after missing two games with an ankle injury. Mack and the Bears defense will be challenged Sunday night by a balanced Vikings offense.

In his first season in Minnesota, quarterback Kirk Cousins has completed 71.3 percent of his passes for 2,685 yards with 17 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 102.2 passer rating. "He wants to be great with how he plays," said coach Matt Nagy. "He's always had success at that position. He fits well in what [offensive coordinator John DeFilippo] does with their offense. He's accurate. There were a couple throws he's made where you just say, 'wow.'"

The Vikings offense also features one of the NFL's top receiver tandems in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, tight end Kyle Rudolph and running backs Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook. 

(3) Will Cody Parkey rebound after missing four kicks last Sunday against the Lions?

The Bears remain confident in their kicker after he somehow hit the goal post four times in missing two extra point attempts and two field-goal tries versus Detroit. Parkey practiced at Soldier Field this week for the first time this season.

Parkey had made all 28 extra points he attempted in the Bears' first eight games before hitting the goal post on two of his first three tries last Sunday. He later hit the post on field-goal attempts of 41 and 34 yards. For the season, Parkey has connected on 13-of-18 field goals (72.2 percent) and 30-of-32 extra points (93.8 percent).

Special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor, who coached Parkey with the Browns in 2016, continues to have faith in the kicker. "I know what's under the hood with this kid," Tabor said. "I believe in him. I know what type of day that was. We all get it. At the end of the day, we did win the game. That's a positive. But you also understand that as we move forward in this journey, it's going to come down to field goal kicks and that's his job and he's really good at it and I have confidence in him. I believe in him. "

(4) Will the Bears continue to generate takeaways and avoid giveaways?

One main reason for the Bears' success this season is that they enter Week 11 leading the NFL with a plus-13 turnover differential. They have not had a negative turnover differential in any of their first nine games for the first time since 1990.

"It's important," Nagy said. "That's one of the stats that matter as you go through this is making sure that you get the football on defense and you don't give it up on offense. When you pair those together you're always going to be in every game, usually, unless something crazy happens. We've talked about that. The guys understand it."

The Bears lead the NFL with 16 interceptions and 89 points off takeaways, and they rank second with 24 takeaways and 14 forced fumbles. They've forced at least two turnovers in eight of nine games this season and have generated at least three takeaways in six of their last seven contests.

On the flip side, they've committed only 11 giveaways this year, including just one in their last three games.

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