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4 things to watch in Bears-Vikings game

Bears QB Justin Fields in action.

The Bears (4-9) will look to snap a two-game losing streak when they host the Vikings (6-7) Monday night at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to follow in the game:

(1) Will rookie quarterback Justin Fields continue to show signs of growth?

With the Bears out of the playoff race, the development of Fields remains a top priority heading into the final four games of the season. The first-round pick from Ohio State has shown dynamic play-making ability with his arm and legs, but has also made rookie mistakes that have resulted in turnovers.

"We want the game to slow down for him on defense, make good decisions," said coach Matt Nagy. "His attitude's been phenomenal. He's got an extremely bright future … It's not going to be roses every day; there's going to be times when it's not real great. But he's so mentally tough it makes things easier, that's for sure."

Fields will be challenged Monday night by a Vikings defense that entered Week 15 leading the NFL with 41 sacks. Minnesota is known for blitzing frequently and disguising its coverages.

"For Justin, it's going to be a really good opportunity for him to be able to see some of the things they do," Nagy said. "I think probably the best thing they do is they disguise. It's a cat and mouse game where they like to show you one way and come from another and then show you one way and come from that way. So, we've got to be really locked in and be good with what we're doing schematically."

(2) Who will play defensive back for the Bears?

The entire Bears starting secondary remains on the reserve/COVID list: cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Artie Burns and safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson Sr. Gipson—as well as nickel back Duke Shelley. In addition, cornerback Xavier Crawford (concussion) was ruled out of the game and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (fractured forearm) was placed on injured reserve Monday.

That left only four healthy defensive backs on the roster as of Monday morning: Cornerback Kindle Vildor and safeties Marqui Christian, Deon Bush and Teez Tabor. As a result, the Bears flexed four practice squad defensive backs to the active roster Monday afternoon: Thomas Graham Jr., Michael Joseph, BoPete Keyes and Dee Virgin, along with four other players—receivers Dazz Newsome and Nsimba Webster, linebacker Charles Snowden and defensive lineman LaCale London.

Having such a depleted secondary will make it even more difficult to contain a Vikings offense that ranks third in the NFL in total yards and seventh in passing yards. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is having an excellent season, having thrown for 3,569 yards with 27 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 103.5 passer rating, which ranked sixth in the NFL entering Week 15.

"The biggest thing, I think, is his confidence that he's playing with and his ability to recognize a coverage and get the ball out pretty quickly," said Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai. "At the top of his drops, he's being much more decisive, in my opinion, than he's ever been, and it's showing in his results."

Cousins' favorite target is receiver Justin Jefferson, a second-year pro who has caught 85 passes for 1,288 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

(3) Which Bears coordinators will be available to coach the game?

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai was cleared from COVID protocol Monday morning and will be able to coach against the Vikings. But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor have not yet been cleared. If they are unable to coach, they would be replaced by pass game coordinator/quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and assistant special teams coach Brian Ginn, respectively.

DeFilippo is in his second season with the Bears, adding pass game coordinator to his quarterbacks coach title in 2021. He boasts 22 years of coaching experience, including 15 in the NFL.

DeFilippo spent the 2019 season as Jaguars offensive coordinator. He helped rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew throw for 3,271 yards with 21 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 91.2 passer rating while also rushing for 344 yards.

Prior to that, DeFilippo served as Vikings offensive coordinator in 2018 and Eagles quarterbacks coach in 2016-17. Philadelphia won the Super Bowl in 2017, thanks in large part to quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.

Ginn is in his fourth season with the Bears, having served as offensive quality control coach in 2018-19 before being elevated to his current position last year. Prior to joining the Bears, he spent the previous 18 seasons at the University of Delaware.

(4) Will a depleted Bears defense be able to contain Vikings running back Dalvin Cook?

The Bears run defense will face a difficult task Monday night against Cook, who entered Week 15 ranked third in the NFL in rushing with 978 yards and six touchdowns on 198 carries. In Minnesota's last game, Cook ran for 205 yards on 27 carries in a 36-28 Thursday night win over the Steelers.

"His whole career, he's been a special back," Desai said. "He's really dynamic. He does an unbelievable job in pressing the line of scrimmage, making cuts. He threatens all levels of the defense from a lateral perspective, a horizontal perspective and a vertical perspective, much different than many backs in this league, and we've played a lot of good backs this year.

"But he's got the quickness and the speed to beat you around the edge. He's dynamic enough to take one cut and get you down the middle, which you saw both of those versus Pittsburgh—and versus most teams this year."

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