In the aftermath of their loss to Tampa Bay last week, the Minnesota Vikings enter a must-win situation against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. With a victory, the Vikings have a chance to keep pace with the Arizona Cardinals for the final spot in the NFC or even leapfrog them with some help from the Philadelphia Eagles.
To do that, they'll have to beat a Bears team that is also fighting for their playoff lives. We have five questions that will go a long way in determining who comes out on top and who keeps their season alive in this NFC North battle.
Will the Bears' changes make a difference?
The last time the Vikings faced the Bears, they were a team in turmoil. Mitchell Trubisky was benched for Nick Foles and David Montgomery sat out with a concussion. With Cordarrelle Patterson shoehorned into the running back role, the Vikings were able to escape Soldier Field with a 19-13 victory but will that be the case this time around?
Trubisky has reclaimed his starting job after Foles was injured late in that game and has at least looked comfortable with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor taking over playcalling duties. With seven touchdowns and two interceptions in his last three games, he at least knows how to get weapons such as Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney involved, which could be an issue.
As for Montgomery, he seems to have had an epiphany after his concussion. Once considered to be Frankenstein's monster of running backs, Montgomery has learned to play within himself after returning from injury averaging 7.3 yards per carry and visiting the end zone three times in the past three games.
The Bears are a flawed team but having Montgomery and Trubisky back could make this game more interesting.
Can the Vikings get pressure along the defensive line?
If there's a major flaw within the Vikings' defense, it's their inability to generate pressure. Last week against the Buccaneers, the Vikings were able to generate just four pressures on Tom Brady's 23 dropbacks, which allowed the future Hall of Famer to dissect Mike Zimmer's defense.
Even worse, this is the second time in the past month that the Vikings have generated four pressures in a game as Andy Dalton helped the Cowboys defeat Minnesota in Week 11.
This has been a disturbing trend for the Vikings but they had success the last time they faced Chicago pressuring 12 of Nick Foles 30 dropbacks per Pro Football Focus. As a team who's sack leader (Yannick Ngakoue) isn't even on the team, someone will need to step up and get in Trubisky's face.
Will the Vikings' offense adapt?
Let's be clear. The Vikings are going to try to run the ball in this game. It's just what Mike Zimmer and Gary Kubiak do. However, the Vikings' brain trust has to realize their errors after a game against Tampa Bay where they basically ran themselves out of the building.
Yes, the Vikings were able to get 102 yards from Dalvin Cook when no team had topped 70 yards against the Buccaneer's top-ranked run defense. But it also worked to their disadvantage as, down 17 points, the Vikings opted to rip off a drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock.
What's more frustrating is that the Vikings opted to give Tyler Conklin and C.J. Ham the same number of targets as Justin Jefferson (eight) and double the amount that Adam Thielen (four) saw last week. This is not playing to your strengths.
The Vikings aren't going to suddenly whip out the Kansas City Chiefs offense, but they need to find a way to get Jefferson and Thielen involved. Otherwise, all Zimmer and Kubiak will do is further validate Stefon Diggs' thoughts on the Vikings' offense.
Will Dan Bailey's struggles continue?
The last two games have not been kind to the Vikings kicker as he's gone 1-for-8 in games against Carolina and Tampa Bay. What makes matters worse is that this cold streak has happened in perfect kicking conditions which makes everyone wonder what is happening to one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.
After Bailey's performance against the Buccaneers, it was almost certain that Mike Zimmer would move on and hit the free-agent market. Instead, Zimmer was complimentary of Bailey and the only move the Vikings made was adding Taylor Bertolet to the practice squad.
A lot of this has to do with COVID-19 protocols and a free agent market that's dried up at this point of the season, but the Vikings need Bailey to produce. If Bailey can make a couple of kicks, it might be enough to get his confidence up. If not, it could end the Vikings' season and his tenure in Minnesota.
Can the Vikings finish against the Bears?
While many want to point the finger at Bailey or how the Vikings offense was run, the Vikings just weren't able to finish in Tampa Bay. This is concerning because the Vikings executed their game plan to perfection, establishing the run, minimizing Brady's attempts and controlling the time of possession, but still lost by nine points.
A lot of this has to do with the Vikings settling for field goal attempts instead of scoring touchdowns. If Minnesota is able to get into the end zone on their first three red zone visits, there's a good chance the Vikings are up 21-0 (or 18-0) and their gameplan is much more effective in the third quarter.
Against the Bears, they'll have to find a way to not settle for field goals. The Vikings' offense is too talented to leave points on the board and if they do, their season could end in another disappointing defeat.