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4 things to watch in Bears-Vikings game

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The Bears (5-4) will look to snap a three-game losing streak Monday night when they host the Minnesota Vikings (3-5) at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:

(1) What impact will coach Matt Nagy's decision to hand over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor have on a struggling offense?

With the offense continuing to sputter, Nagy relinquished play-calling responsibilities for the first time since being hired by the Bears in 2018. The unit has remained stagnant over the last six games, mustering just nine touchdowns and averaging 17.3 points without scoring more than 24 points in any contest. The Bears have lost four of those six games, including their last three to drop from 5-1 to 5-4.

Nagy felt the time was right to make the move, describing the decision to have Lazor call plays as "a gut feeling" that will hopefully spark the offense. "When you're in this position that we're in right now, you want to make sure that you're looking for solutions," Nagy said. "We've been struggling and I feel it's the best thing for the team … I love calling plays. I love it. But guess what? If this is what's best for the team, then that's what I'm going to do. We need to do what's best for us, not what's best for Matt Nagy."

Hired by the Bears in January, Lazor last called plays in 2017-18 when he was Bengals offensive coordinator. "Bill's a smart guy," said veteran tight end Jimmy Graham. "He knows the game. He's an X's and O's guy. He's extremely smart; obviously he comes from a fancy school (Cornell)."

(2) Will the Bears defense be able to contain Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook?

The Bears will face the NFL's leading rusher for the second straight week. After holding the Titans' Derrick Henry to 68 yards on 21 carries last Sunday in Tennessee, they'll employ a similar strategy against the red-hot Cook, even though the two backs possess different running styles.

"Dalvin Cook's a great running back," said safety Eddie Jackson. "Derrick Henry was a great running back we faced this last weekend, but Dalvin's a little different. He's a little more elusive, a little more power as well, all mixed together. For us, everyone's just got to rally to the ball. He likes looking for cutback lanes. If you give him a little space, he can be gone in a second. We just have to run to the ball; 11 heads to the ball. Especially when '33' has the ball in his hands, everyone runs to the ball."

In three previous meetings, the Bears have limited Cook to 12, 39 and 35 yards in three wins over the Vikings. But that doesn't guarantee anything Monday night, particularly given that Cook has compiled 478 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in his last two games in back-to-back division wins over the Packers and Lions. 

"These great running backs in offensive systems keep showing up week-after-week," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "But I'm really proud of our guys. They rose to the challenge a week ago and did a nice job against Derrick Henry. We're going to have to do a lot of the same [against Cook]. It's going to take all 11. This is a special back that we're facing. All that stuff that's happened in the past has no significance on this game come Monday night. What we've done in the past means squat."

(3) How will the Bears replace starting running back David Montgomery?

The team's leading rusher with 472 yards will miss his first game in two seasons with the Bears due to a concussion he suffered against the Titans. Other running backs on the Bears roster include converted-receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, third-year pro Ryan Nall and undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce. Nall replaced Montgomery versus Tennessee, catching four passes for 35 yards, including his first NFL touchdown on a 6-yard reception from Nick Foles.

Nagy revealed Saturday that the Bears could activate running back Lamar Miller from the practice squad for Monday night's game. Miller has appeared in 105 NFL contests with 89 starts over seven seasons with the Dolphins (2012-15) and Texans (2016-18), rushing for 5,864 yards and 32 touchdowns on 1,354 carries and catching 209 passes for 1,565 yards and 8 TDs. Miller was voted to the Pro Bowl with Houston in 2018 after running for 973 yards, but he missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

The Bears running game could receive a boost with the possibility of center Cody Whitehair being activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list for Monday night's game. Whitehair sat out a Nov. 1 loss to the Saints with a calf injury and was then placed on the COVID list Nov. 6, two days before the Bears faced the Titans.

(4) Will the Bears be able to snap their three-game losing streak and head into their bye week with a pivotal win over a division rival?

Every game is significant when there are only 16 on your schedule, but Monday night's matchup with the Vikings takes on added significance for a multitude of reasons. The Bears hope to snap their three-game skid and head into their bye week with a win with a trip to Green Bay looming Nov. 29.

"The next game is the most important game no matter the record or winning or losing streak, but this game is huge," said safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. "It's huge just for the morale around the building. This losing streak has been humbling … We would like to get the taste of losing out of our mouths. What better way to head into a bye than with a win?"

The Bears have won four straight over the Vikings for the first time since they recorded six consecutive victories from 2009-12. The Bears have also won 16 of 19 home games over Minnesota since 2001. 

"Everybody knows how big this game is for both sides," Graham said. "They believe in themselves and we believe in ourselves. We've just got to make it happen, as simple as that. Going into a bye, there's nothing better than winning [going] into a bye and being able to have a positive with a little break, a break that's needed because we're a little banged up, so looking forward to the opportunity."

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