The “Black and Blue” division, a title that Bears fans have worn with pride for decades. My dad used to love to talk about how tough and gritty a team needed to be to win in the former NFC Central division, and that shit’s goofy. Sure, toughness is important in a physically demanding and violent sport, but the “three yards and a cloud of dust” adage is kind of tired in 2019.
Needless to say, our dads are gonna LOVE the Bears/Vikings game this Sunday, because the trenches will be a war. Minnesota comes to Soldier Field planning on running the ball. They’ve rushed the ball 103 times in three games thus far, and average 193.7 yards a game. Holy shit. That sort of commitment to the run is something the suburban dads who listen to The Score salivate over, so I hope they enjoy it. Minnesota has opened some almost unbelievably wide lanes for Dalvin Cook, and as the NFL’s leading rusher this season, he’s got the juice to take the ball all the way damn near every time he touches it. Needless to say, the matchups between Minnesota’s rushing attack and Chicago’s run defense look like the most likely factor in the outcome of Sunday’s tilt, so let’s get into it. For the dads.
Minnesota Run Offense: A kickass running attack needs two things: a killer line and a running back who can make people miss at the second level. Minnesota has both. Their line has the 4th best Adjusted Line Yards on the season thus far (a Football Outsiders metric attempting to quantify how much of a runner’s success is due to good blocking), and Dalvin Cook has the highest yards per carry average for any runs broken at least 11 yards from the line of scrimmage. These dudes can ball. Right Guard Josh Kline is in concussion protocol, and though it would make the Bears’ task easier on Sunday, it would be a bummer if the Hoffman Estates kid missed his chance to play in Chicago. Also, I’m sure he told everyone he grew up in the city when he made it to the NFL. Look for Minnesota to run left frequently, since they rank second in the NFL in success rate for runs to the left (also a Football Outsiders metric).
Chicago Run Defense: So much of what the Bears are trying to do up front is reliant on Akiem Hicks being an actual bear and wrecking plays in the backfield, so it’s with great anxiety that Bears fans wait to see if he’ll suit up on Sunday (as of this writing, he’s expected to be a game-time decision). The run defense with Hicks in so far has been dominant through three games: the defense has literally allowed a 0% success rate on runs that take place on 3rd/4th down with two yards to go or less, and they allow a measly 0.11 yards in the open field, a testament to the fast, swarming linebackers the Bears employ. If Hicks is indeed out, and since the thought is that the Bears will also potentially be missing Bilal Nichols, the defensive line will need to demonstrate their depth. Nick Williams, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Eddie Goldman will have a mammoth task ahead of them.
I fear the Bears defensive line might be too banged up to keep this Minnesota rushing attack to around the 69 yards a game they’re currently allowing (nice), but expect Chuck Pagano to load up the box to contain Dalvin Cook. Start Roquan Smith in fantasy if you play an IDP league, since I expect him to be around the ball early and often. Look for the Bears to drop HaHa into the box to hopefully stifle those big play opportunities before they get started, because if Cook gets a lane, it’s really just a matter of what angle Eddie Jackson takes to see if he goes to the house or not.
I’ll close this piece by speaking directly to the suburban dads in the audience. Dads, this game was made for you. It’s got everything that will remind you of the football of your childhood:
-Inept QB play
-Playcalling that YOU would do if given the chance (Payton left, Payton right, Payton middle, Punt)
-Hard nosed, smash-mouth football
-Most likely a lot of punts
-A “glory boy” wide receiver on the other team for you to root against
-A white, small-school wide receiver on the other team for you to wish the Bears signed
-An early fall game where you can toggle the thermostat once or twice without any wise talk from the wife or kids
Dalvin Cook puts up a good fantasy football day, going for 121 and a touchdown, but Kirk Cousins is sacked five times and turns the ball over twice en route to a Bears win.
Bears win, 17-13.