When the Bears take on the Vikings on Sunday, keep an eye out for the following matchups:
RB Jordan Howard vs Vikings LB Eric Wilson
Howard has posted four games in a row of at least 70 yards from scrimmage. The running back is coming off a game in which he ran for 53 yards and a touchdown and tallied three receptions for 17 yards. His versatility out of the backfield allowed the Bears to mix and match to take down the 49ers, with 10 different players — including three running backs — catching passes, and seven different players rushing the ball.
Wilson has started just three games this season, one of which was against the Bears in Week 11. Wilson recorded seven tackles in that game, four of which were takedowns of Howard. The second-year linebacker got his third start of the season this past Sunday, filling in for linebacker Eric Kendricks who was out with an injury. Wilson had another strong showing, recording nine tackles, three of which were tackles for loss. The performance softened the absence of Kendricks — the team’s leading tackler — as Wilson stepped in to help limit the Lions to just 86 rush yards. Howard picked up 63 yards on the ground against Wilson and the Vikings earlier in the year, but he’s averaged 87 rush yards in games against the Vikings over his career.
Bears LB Roquan Smith vs Vikings RB Dalvin Cook
Smith is coming off another strong performance in the Bears’ win over the 49ers last week. The rookie tallied nine tackles and two tackles-for-loss, including a sack — his fifth of the season. Smith’s 117 tackles this season lead the Bears, which may surprise some because his takedowns haven’t always been as flashy as those of his teammates’, but he’s been effective nonetheless as a versatile defender capable of exploding through a gap in the offensive line and dropping back in pass coverage. On top of the tackles, Smith also has five pass deflections and an interception this season.
Smith will need to be just as reliable to help the Bears defense stop Cook again. Cook is coming off of two monster games, totalling 271 yards from scrimmage over his past two contests. The second-year running back has shown flashes of what made him a second-round pick in last year’s NFL Draft, but as a team Minnesota has struggled to get anything going on the ground this season. The Vikings rank 30th in the league in rushing, averaging just 95.3 rush yards per game and have scored just one rushing touchdown over their last four games. Cook has averaged just under 60 yards per game on the ground and can be a threat out of the backfield too — with 36 receptions this season — but the Bears found a way to completely shut him down in their first matchup. Cook managed just 12 yards on nine carries in Week 9 — the fewest yards he’s had in a single game in his professional career. Smith had seven tackles in the teams’ first meeting.
Bears CB Prince Amukamara vs Vikings WR Stefon Diggs
When the Bears and the Vikings matched up earlier this year, Chicago’s defense shut down Minnesota, but the Vikings kept the game close, picking up 262 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Amukamara stood out among the Bears secondary the first time around, with eight tackles and a pass deflection to help edge the Vikings, 25-20. Amukamara will need to be just as solid in the final week of the regular season against a team that’s in the top 10 in passing yards, averaging more than 260 per contest.
The Vikings have a host of receiving weapons, including Diggs. The fourth-year standout out of Maryland is having his best season after signing a huge five-year contract with the Vikings in the offseason. He’s already set career-bests in receptions and yards and his eight touchdown catches equal his best mark from a year ago. Diggs had a quiet but efficient performance in the Vikings’ win over the Lions last week, catching two passes, one for a touchdown. In Week 11, when the Bears and Vikings played, he was quarterback Kirk Cousins’ favorite target, catching 13 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. Amukamara limited the damage though, recording four of his eight tackles against Diggs. Amukamara’s ability to limit Diggs again, and force the Vikings to look for other receiving options or try their hand at running on the Bear’s defense, will be key in deciding the outcome in Minnesota.