Monday Mulling: 2018 Bears knock out Minnesota Vikings

The 2018 Chicago Bears closed out their season with a 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, setting up a playoff matchup with the defending Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. Their Wild Card showdown will take place Sunday at 3:40 CT, but there’s a whole week before then. For now, it’s time to unpack the Bears’ dominance over the Minnesota Vikings.

A thriving run game

Jordan Howard has not thrived this season the way he has in years’ past, but he’s been an available go-to when the Bears have felt the need to establish physicality or drain some clock. Sometimes both. He was that and more Sunday, rushing for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

The offensive line, bolstered by the temporary insertion of Kyle Long, controlled a fearsome Vikings’ defensive line at the point of attack. Long’s impact was felt early by his down block that sprang Jordan Howard for a 42-yard run, setting a quick tone that would carry throughout the game.

“We were moving around and creating holes so that the defense could not keep the line open,” Trubisky said on the team’s run game. “We did that which created one-on-one matchups on the outside which allowed us to change up our plays. For us, our goal is to keep the defense off balance.”

“You have to be able to run the ball, especially when you’re in the environment we’re in with the fans being so loud,” coach Matt Nagy said. “They have 33-out-of-50 sacks this year at home, on the turf with the crowd noise. If you can’t run the football you’re in trouble for being one-dimensional. We did not want to be one-dimensional.”

Howard read the holes set up by his line better than he has all year, and that resulted in his 5.2 yards per carry. Tarik Cohen was a similar beneficiary, totaling only 24 yards but averaging 4.8 yards per carry and a touchdown.

Bears Quarterback Mitch Trubisky: SRN Broadcasting

The strong showing from the run game allowed the Bears to bully this game away. The Vikings’ front was unable to contain Howard and his relentless, efficient running allowed the Bears to dominate the possession time battle (37:08 to 22:52). He often set his team up with second and five, or second and four, allowing the playbook to fully open up (Though, it couldn’t be fully opened up, as Nagy didn’t want to give too much away before the playoffs). The old-school style of football, running the ball and playing suffocating defense, has prevailed in even the modern NFL’s playoffs. That formula was executed against the Vikings, and sets up the potential to do it again throughout the playoffs.

The monsters came to play

The Bears had far less to play for than the Vikings, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the way the two teams played. Especially as it became apparent the Rams would win their game and get the second seed in the NFC. The Bears’ defense came out with an intensity the Vikings simply could not match. Their defensive line completely overpowered a woeful Vikings’ counterpart for a four-sack performance. Kirk Cousins’s inability to improvise when things broke down along the offensive line was exacerbated by a Bears’ front that simply wanted it more, and it made Cousins look far less than the $84 million man he is. He finished his day 20 for 33 with a touchdown and a quarterback rating of 17.7.

“Collapsing the pocket, getting hands up,” Nagy said on how they pressured Cousins. “That green grass we always talk about. Being able to make sure he can’t see where he is throwing. The guys just kept going all the time. Forced him sometimes out of the pocket, to throw on the run.”

The Vikings’ offense placed more emphasis on the run game, upon the firing of former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. Minnesota’s success in establishing a ground game with Dalvin Cook made opposing teams respect the run, thus opening opportunities for Cousins as a passer.

That strategy is moot when you can’t run the ball, however, and the Bears made sure the Vikings would not get the ground game going, allowing only 63 yards on 15 rushing attempts. The Vikings’ offense was completely anemic, and the Bears’ defense was dominant to the point of causing a screaming match between Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen along the sidelines. While turmoil bubbled over for the Vikings, the Bears rode happily into the playoffs.

Getting up to play

Bears coach Matt Nagy: SRN Broadcasting

The two seed and a first-round bye were still in play entering Sunday, although the probability of a Rams loss to the lowly 49ers seemed unlikely. Any hopes of that were quickly dashed by the Rams’ outpour that took them into halftime up 28-3. The Vikings, on the other hand, were playing for their playoff lives. A loss meant they were out with a likely Eagles win. They had far more on the line than the Bears, so it speaks to coach Nagy and his staff’s ability to get their players up to play so well against the Vikings.

“What do they know, right?” Akiem Hicks said when asked about the pundits thinking the Bears should take the foot off the gas. “What I will say is this, coach has a great plan in place for us. I believe in him. He has done us right so far, going through OTAs, training camp and now in the regular season. If he feels like it is time for us to play, we are going to go out there and play ball.”

Yes, Club Dub was alive in Minnesota, and Nagy’s trademark “BOOM” was screamed for the last time of the regular season. That’s who this Bears team is. They were simply better than the Vikings and they played like it in what could be seen as the bow on top of Nagy’s Coach of the Year case. They dominated their opponent when they didn’t have to, and as WBBM’s Jeff Joniak would put it, it was a fade to black moment for the Vikings. The Bears now get ready to face the Eagles in a matchup of familiar foes in Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy, both of whom were members of Andy Reid’s staff. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and the Bears will have to do so against the defending champs.

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