In­fus­ing mean­ing into mean­ing­less

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - SCOREBOARD - By Dan Wiederer

The Bears and Vik­ings meet again Sun­day in Min­neapo­lis in a game that doesn’t have any big-pic­ture sig­nif­i­cance for ei­ther team. The Bears will be clos­ing out a dis­ap­point­ing 2019 cam­paign and hop­ing to fin­ish a third-place sea­son at 8-8. The Vik­ings, mean­while, are a wild-card team turn­ing at­ten­tion to next week’s post­sea­son du­ties. Still, the game will be played. And here are three keys for the Bears to avoid end­ing their sea­son on a three-game slide.

Ap­ply the pres­sure. Don’t let up.

Pregame anal­y­sis: The Vik­ings were a mess up front in Mon­day night’s 23-10 home loss to the Pack­ers. Quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins was sacked five times and hit seven times. Za’Dar­ius Smith recorded 3½ of those sacks, and the Pack­ers moved him around ef­fec­tively to get them. Smith beat left tackle Ri­ley Reiff for one sack, right tackle Brian O’Neill for another and rookie cen­ter Gar­rett Brad­bury for the other 1½. In other words, there should be weak­nesses for Khalil Mack and the Bears pass rush­ers to ex­pose. Mack had a strip-sack in the Bears’ Week 4 win over the Vik­ings that led to a gift field goal. Nick Kwiatkoski also had a strip-sack in that vic­tory. The Vik­ings — po­ten­tially play­ing with­out run­ning backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mat­ti­son again — be­come es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble when they lack a run­ning game.

Take care of the football. Pregame anal­y­sis: The Vik­ings are fourth in the NFL with 30 take­aways and had three more in Mon­day’s loss to the Pack­ers. Safeties An­thony Har­ris and Har­ri­son Smith have nine of the Vik­ings’ NFC-best 17 in­ter­cep­tions and are chess pieces that coach Mike Zim­mer has used cre­atively and wisely. For what it’s worth, the Bears are the only op­po­nent that has got­ten out of a game against the Vik­ings with­out a turnover. Chase Daniel com­pleted 22 of 30 passes for 195 yards and a touch­down in the first meet­ing and played within him­self. Mitch Tru­bisky would be wise to re­view that film to gain a clearer view on how to stay steady against an ag­gres­sive and op­por­tunis­tic de­fense.

Sum­mon some pur­pose, pas­sion and pride. Pregame anal­y­sis: The first game of the Matt Nagy era that had noth­ing at stake didn’t go well last week­end. The Bears lost by 23 at home to the Chiefs with a per­for­mance play­ers and coaches de­scribed as sloppy and em­bar­rass­ing. Nagy em­pha­sized that there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween lack of ef­fort and lack of fo­cus and that his team suf­fered far more from the lat­ter than the for­mer. But now what? How will the Bears keep them­selves locked in for a Week 17 road game that is lit­tle more than a bridge to the off­sea­son? How will they avoid the care­less penal­ties and clunky ex­e­cu­tion er­rors that char­ac­ter­ized last week’s show­ing? For a team that prides it­self on its re­solve, unity and abil­ity to dial in, Sun­day will be a ma­jor test of con­cen­tra­tion.

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