Larry Mayer and Simon Kaufman of ChicagoBears.com discuss the Bears players they'll be watching on both sides of the ball in Sunday night’s home game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Offense: Running back Tarik Cohen
The dynamic second-year pro brings versatility and big-play ability to a Bears offense that has been very difficult to stop in recent weeks. In the last six games, Cohen had caught 30 passes for 387 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 158 yards and 2 TDs on 42 carries. He figures to remain an integral part of the offense Sunday night against a stout Vikings defense that ranks fifth in the NFL and third against the run.
“He can play a lot of different positions,” said coach Matt Nagy. “He knows a lot of the intricacies of this offense. There’s the ability for us to use him different ways. His energy is very infectious. The way he practices, his enthusiasm in meetings and in practice, he raises other people’s levels.”
The Bears have lined up Cohen all over the field and he’s excelled in many different roles. As is the case every week, he’ll present a difficult matchup for the Vikings. “He’s a fun guy to coach,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “He goes 100 miles an hour whatever you ask him to do. He’s played halfback for us, he’s played inside, he’s played outside, just a versatile guy and there’s more there.”
Defense: Outside linebacker Khalil Mack
The All-Pro pass rusher looked fully healed from his ankle injury in last weekend’s win over the Lions and will look to continue his dominance Sunday night against quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. Mack recorded two sacks versus Detroit after sitting out the two previous games with an injury he sustained Oct. 14 in Miami.
The Bears defense excelled without Mack in back-to-back wins over the Jets and Bills, but the unit is clearly better with the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year on the field. Mack leads the Bears with seven sacks and is tied for the NFL lead with four forced fumbles. His 43.5 sacks since the start of the 2015 season are tied for second most in the NFL with the Broncos’ Von Miller behind only the Cardinals’ Chandler Jones (49).
On Sunday night, Mack will look to continue to shine in primetime. He had a strip/sack in each of his first two night games this season against the Packers and Seahawks in Weeks 1-2 and returned an interception for a touchdown in Green Bay.
Offense: Receiver Anthony Miller
Miller is coming off a monster week. The rookie balled out against the Lions with five catches for a season-high 122 yards and recorded his fourth touchdown of the year. It helped that receiver Allen Robinson II was back after missing two games with a groin injury. The veteran receiver was able to take some of the attention away from Miller, spreading a Lions defense thin against the Bears’ receiving corps.
Miller was especially dangerous on the deep ball last Sunday, wrangling in a 55-yard reception across the middle in the third quarter, and breaking tackles for a 45-yard touchdown reception in the first half. If Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can continue to be accurate on the long ball, Miller is going to be a problem for the Vikings secondary. The key will be creating space against a defense that features some dynamic playmakers in safety Harrison Smith and cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes.
Defense: Nickel back Bryce Callahan
Callahan joined an exclusive club with his sack against the Lions on Sunday. Callahan is now one of just four Bears cornerbacks to record multiple sacks in a single season since 1982. Callahan also tallied a more traditional cornerback stat when he picked off Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the second quarter for his second interception of the season. Callahan has been having a stellar year; his six passes defended already match his previous single-season high.
Callahan and the rest of the Bears defense will have their work cut out for them on Sunday night. The Vikings feature a power couple in receiving duo Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The 1-2 punch has combined for 136 receptions and 1,534 yards this year. If Callahan and company can continue their defensive dominance—they’re second in the league with 24 takeaways—then the Bears should be in good shape to pick up their second straight divisional win.
With the Pro Bowl voting already underway, senior writer Larry Mayer ranks the Bears players he feels are most deserving of Pro Bowl consideration.