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Keys to the Game

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Keys to the Game: 3 things that will help Bears beat Vikings

Beas quarterback Justin Fields
Beas quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears (1-4) host the Minnesota Vikings (1-4) Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning:

(1) Continue to produce explosive pass plays.

After averaging 15.7 points in their first three games of the season, the Bears have averaged 34.0 points in their last two contests. The biggest difference has been the emergence of a potent downfield passing game. Justin Fields threw touchdown passes of 22 yards to Cole Kmet and 29 yards to DJ Moore against the Broncos and 20 and 56 yards to Moore versus the Commanders.

The Bears lead the NFL with six TD passes of at least 20 yards and top the league with five TDs on pass attempts of at least 21 yards in the air. They're hoping for more of the same Sunday against the Vikings. 

"As an offense you need explosive plays," Fields said. "It gets us in a rhythm. It gets the momentum going. It's always positive to have those big chunks."

In his last two games, Fields has thrown for eight TDs and one interception with a 131.3 passer rating. He joined Jay Cutler as the only Bears quarterbacks to throw four TD passes in back-to-back games. This season Fields has a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Moore, completing 27 of 34 passes for 531 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Moore leads the NFL with an average of 19.7 yards per catch, and his 361 yards in the last two games are the most by a receiver in back-to-back contests in franchise history. 

On Sunday, the Bears will face a Vikings defense that has allowed opponents to complete 76.4 percent of their passes, which ranks 31st in the NFL. Minnesota's pass defense has permitted nine TDs with one interception, the worst touchdown-to-interception ratio in the league. 

The Bears are preparing for a Vikings defense that has blitzed on 56.2 percent of pass plays this season, the highest percentage in the NFL.

"They do a lot," Fields said. "They have a talented defense. They can bring anybody from anywhere: corners, from nickels to linebackers to cover zeroes to whatever. You've just got to have a plan ready to go. Everybody's got to be locked in for this week and just be able to perform on Sunday."

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall to continue their preparation for Sunday's Week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings.

(2) Generate pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins.

After mustering only two sacks in their first four games, the Bears produced five in their 40-20 win over the Commanders. A similar effort would be huge Sunday against Cousins, who leads the NFL in completions (137) and touchdown passes (13), ranks second in yards (1,498) and is seventh in passer rating (101.7). 

The Bears blitzed more versus Washington than they have in any game this season and could employ the same strategy Sunday. 

"It's about the pressure," said coach Matt Eberflus. "We have to get creative. Sending different pressure players I think is important as you saw [in Washington]. It's got to be done with the right kind of guys. The pressure player that's coming matters. That could be somebody from the front four, but it could be somebody from the second level. You've got to adapt. You've got to adjust a little bit." 

Getting some of their starters in the secondary back from injuries should give the Bears more options to get after the quarterback. 

"Pressure is paramount, and we're going to have to continue to do that, if it's with four, five or six guys," Eberflus said. "I think that's important to be able to do that. With our secondary coming back, we'll be able to be more flexible with that in terms of pressure and what types of pressure we have."

The Bears will face a Vikings offense without star receiver Justin Jefferson, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this week after sustaining a hamstring injury last Sunday against the Chiefs.

Since being selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2020 draft out of LSU, Jefferson has caught 357 passes for 5,368 yards and 28 touchdowns in 54 games. He's been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three NFL seasons and was voted the league's Offensive Player of the Year in 2022 after leading the NFL with 128 receptions and 1,809 yards.

"You certainly adjust your scheme to a great player like that," Eberflus said. "It's always a handful of guys that you would do that for. So [Jefferson's absence] allows you to play more basic, more solid on both sides as opposed to tilting your coverage one way or the other. That's the basic way of saying it without giving too much away. But I do believe it certainly allows you to play your base way that you normally play against a normal guy, normal people rather than playing against a guy that's elite in the top two or three in the league, which he is."

(3) Force turnovers.

The Bears generated two takeaways against the Commanders, matching their total from the first four games. Both came from their secondary, with nickel back Greg Stroman Jr. recording an interception and cornerback Terell Smith forcing and recovering a fumble by stripping tight end Logan Thomas after an 8-yard reception. 

More takeaways would be key Sunday, when there's a 50 percent chance of rain that could make handling the ball more difficult. 

Under Eberflus, the Bears place a major emphasis on creating takeaways. 

"The first thing you have to do is you have to have a strong belief system as a coaching staff," said cornerbacks coach/defensive passing game coordinator Jon Hoke. "Obviously, that's here with coach Eberflus. 

"I was fortunate when I was here before [under coach Lovie Smith], that was obviously a huge emphasis and we had guys that it was on their mind all the time. It was on their mind – taking the ball away. It's the same thing here. Coach is almost fanatical, even more than when I was here before with coach Smith. He's fanatical about it. You've got to constantly be mindful of coaching that on every play. For them, it becomes second nature. Just like anything, you keep doing it over and over and they'll come. As long as you put the effort in, it will come for you."

"It's daily habits, your daily habits," Eberflus said. "You have to do it in practice before you see it in the game. That's the first indicator. You have to continue to see it in that, in the daily habits of each defensive guy in each position, doing it and being fanatical about getting it done. It's not where it needs to be, but we're stepping the right direction."

This season the Vikings have committed 12 giveaways, including eight lost fumbles, both the most in the NFL.

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