In his weekly media session Thursday, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spoke about several of his key players and the challenge they'll face Sunday night against the Vikings. Here are five things that we learned:
(1) Fangio knew that Khalil Mack was healthy again last weekend against the Lions when he saw that the outside linebacker was able to push off his ankle.
"That's what you could see in the games that he played when he was injured that he wasn't able to plant and push off and play with power," Fangio said.
After recording five sacks and four forced fumbles in the Bears' first four games, Mack hurt his ankle Oct. 14 against the Dolphins. He finished that contest and played again a week later versus the Patriots, but he wasn't as effective in either game.
Mack then sat out back-to-back wins over the Jets and Bills, enabling his injury to heal. He looked dominant again in his return against the Lions, recording two sacks. That bodes well for a Bears defense that excelled without him but is clearly better with him.
(2) Fangio sees steady improvement from rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, who recorded 10 tackles and one sack in last Sunday's victory over the Lions.
The first-round draft pick is clearly ascending, not only week-by-week but day-by-day.
"He's playing good, and I think he's getting better and better every day and not just every game," Fangio said. "I see better things in practice, just little things; processing quicker, executing his job crisper and more quickly, and he's getting better every day."
Smith, the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, is tied for the Bears lead with five tackles-for-loss, is second with 63 tackles and is tied for second with five sacks.
(3) Fangio was happy to see Leonard Floyd record his first sack last Sunday and thinks it was unfair to judge him when he was playing with a broken hand.
"A lot of what happened with Leonard is those four weeks with his hand, especially the first three with the cast, we probably played him too much," Fangio said. "And then the first game where he had the small cast on, he wasn't confident enough to throw it in there consistently. He was a little tentative. So I don't think we've seen what he can or can't do until these last couple of games."
Floyd conceded that registering his first sack against the Lions felt like "getting a monkey off his back." A week earlier in Buffalo, he intercepted a deflected Nathan Peterson pass and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
Floyd isn't strictly an outside pass rusher. He has also generated pressure on the quarterback in recent weeks on stunts inside. "He's very athletic and he's very relentless and he's slippery," Fangio said. "So he can sometimes get through the cracks better than other guys."
(4) Nose tackle Eddie Goldman doesn't garner much attention mainly because of the position he plays, but Fangio sees him as an integral member of the defense.
The 2015 second-round pick has recorded 25 tackles and three tackles-for-loss this season. Goldman is a big reason the Bears rank second in the NFL against the run, yielding an average of just 84 yards per game.
"We've played great run defense and we can't play good run defense without him playing good," Fangio said. "He's strong in there, whether it's a one-on-one block or a two-on-one clock. He's able to hold the point for us and yet get off blocks and make plays within that, so he's a very important player for us."
(5) Fangio knows that the defense will have to be at its best Sunday night when it faces Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
In his first season in Minnesota, Cousins has completed 71.3 percent of his passes for 2,685 yards with 17 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 102.2 passer rating that ranks ninth in the NFL.
"He's a very accurate passer," Fangio said. "He's a very good diagnoser of defenses. He knows where to go with the ball based upon the route they have called versus the coverage you have called. He's a very good processor of the information. He's accurate when he throws it. And he's got a deceptively very strong arm that I don't think he gets enough credit for."