When the Bears host the Vikings at Soldier Field on Sunday, keep an eye on these matchups:
Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan vs. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook
Trevathan got positive coverage during the offseason for changing his diet, shaving off five points off his body fat percentage to gain speed and agility. The Vikings game will be one where that could make the biggest difference.
"That'll help Danny," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "You could see as soon as he came back to training camp, the quickness and the suddenness, the change of direction, the burst, the twitch. You know, you need all that to be available to cover a guy like Dalvin."
The Bears have held opposing running backs, of all shapes and sizes, to 3.4 yards per carry. Teams that utilize multiple backs have tended to find more success using the bigger one. Against the Broncos, for example, the team was able to bottle the smaller, shiftier Phillip Lindsay (5-8, 190), while struggling a bit against the bigger, more powerful Royce Freeman (6-0, 238).
Cook is in the middle of those two in terms of size (5-10, 210), but his style is closer to Lindsay. On his 75-yard touchdown against the Packers, he hit an open hole and was just too fast for anyone to lay a hand on him.
Running back-linebacker is not a mano-a-mano matchup the way it is for cornerback-receiver or defensive end-left tackle. The whole defense, including All-Pros Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks (if healthy), will play a role in stopping Cook. But as an inside linebacker, and the team's leading tackler, the veteran Trevathan will perform the most significant part in the Bears' quest to prevent a game-breaking play by Cook.
Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara vs. Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs
The Vikings have shown they don't mind keeping the ball on the ground. The question is what they do if the Bears happen to take an early lead, as the Packers did against the Vikings two weeks ago. Adam Thielen accounts for 34.5 percent of the team's receiving yards and is Kirk Cousins's top target.
But what about Diggs, who accounted for 102 receptions and 1021 yards last season? So far, Diggs has been somewhere between quiet and absent from the Vikings larger plans, catching six passes for 101 yards. The issue for the Bears is Diggs' big-play ability, and two of his receptions this season went for more than 30 yards.
Pagano sees both receivers as lurking weapons in Minnesota's arsenal.
"They're great route runners," said Pagano. "They're very competitive. They've got great hands. They can take the top off. The scheme is one where it's gonna be great discipline across the board, front to back, on your whole defense. Gotta know where those guys are at. There's gonna have to be some recognition, formation recognition, and then eye discipline."
It will likely fall to Amukamara to keep Diggs quiet and the Vikings passing attack one-dimensional. If the defense can trust Amukamara and Kyle Fuller to keep Diggs and Thielen in check, they will be able to commit more resources to stop Cook at the line of scrimmage.
Bears offensive tackle Bobby Massie vs. Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter
The edge will be getting a workout on Sunday, as the Vikings have one of the best defensive end combos in the NFL with Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. The pair have combined for five sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and seven tackles-for-loss during the first three games of the season. While Griffen has been stalwart in his 10 seasons in Minnesota, it is Hunter who will most concern coach Matt Nagy.
"He has a full deck of cards in the fact that he can beat you with speed," said Nagy. "He pursues relentlessly. He can beat you with power if he needs to. I've just been watching him over the years, and you see him, there's more and more things to his game that he's growing. You have to know where he's at at all times. He's definitely one of the top rushing defensive players in this league for sure."
Hunter will line up at left end, meaning he will be opposite right tackle Massie. Since he has been practicing at full participation, it seems fair to say that Massie's sudden bout of vertigo that kept him out of Monday night's game against the Redskins won't be an issue this week. If he's playing, he'll see a fair amount of Hunter on Sunday.
Massie been steady when he's played. He has yet to allow a sack or attract a holding penalty, including the collective effort by the offensive line in Denver when they held Von Miller and Bradley Chubb without a sack. A repeat of that result against Hunter and Griffen is a tough ask but would go a long way in maintaining the offense's progress from last week.