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‘MNF’ preview: Will Bears HC Matt Eberflus finally earn his first divisional win?

Admin By Admin Nov26,2023

The Chicago Bears (3-8) aim to even up their season series with the Minnesota Vikings (6-5), who hope to continue to hold onto their playoff seed on “Monday Night Football.” Here’s what to watch when each team is on offense.

When the Bears are on offense 

Can Justin Fields solidify himself as a franchise quarterback? After missing his previous four games with a dislocated thumb, Fields returned to the starting lineup and performed admirably in last week’s heartbreaking 31-26 loss to the Detroit Lions. The 24-year-old once again showed off his superb dual-threat ability, completing 16 of 23 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown while adding 104 yards on the ground.

With Chicago holding two projected top-five picks, including No. 1 overall, it’s possible the team could select a quarterback, making the remaining six games of the season a career-defining stretch for Fields. Though if he continues to perform like he did last week, perhaps Fields can prove to GM Ryan Poles that he’s the right quarterback to build the Bears’ future around.  

WR D.J. Moore eyeing another noteworthy outing: The biggest beneficiary of Fields’ return was Moore, who caught seven of nine targets for 96 yards and one touchdown. The former Carolina Panther has elevated his game to an entirely new level during his first season with the Bears and has been particularly impressive when Fields has been healthy. In seven games with Fields, Moore has averaged 96.9 receiving yards, significantly higher than his career mark of 66.9 yards per game. 

Will the running backs have more success? Fields might’ve thrived running the ball last week, but he didn’t get much help from his running backs, with Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson rushing for a combined 79 yards on 28 carries. Since Foreman is listed as doubtful with knee and shin injuries, the Bears will need Herbert and Johnson to make an impact, though it won’t be easy, considering Minnesota allows the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game (94). 

LB Ivan Pace Jr. enjoying new responsibilities: The undrafted rookie faced the toughest challenge of his young career in his last game after a Week 10 leg injury landed Jordan Hicks on injured reserve. Pace assumed defensive play calling for Minnesota and thrived in the role, playing every snap and racking up a team-high nine tackles. DC Brian Flores considered the transition to Pace “smooth,” but the Cincinnati product described it as more tumultuous when speaking to reporters last week.

“Yelling is one of the big things because it’s so loud and the atmosphere is just crazy,” Pace said, via the Star Tribune. “They sometimes don’t hear you or sometimes not everybody is in the huddle. You’re getting asked like six, seven times, ‘What’s the play call? What’s the play call?’ Then you get lined up and somebody forgets it — ‘What’s the play call?’ It’s so much, but it was a good feeling.”

When the Vikings are on offense 

QB Joshua Dobbs is well-positioned to rebound: The “Passtronaut” suffered his first loss with Minnesota in last week’s 21-20 loss to Denver, during which he tallied 242 total yards, two touchdowns and two turnovers. While Dobbs has been stellar transitioning into the Vikings’ system and has superior weapons than he had earlier this season with Arizona, he’s only averaging 215.7 passing yards per game since joining the team. However, given that Chicago has allowed the fourth-most passing yards entering Week 12 (2,794), Dobbs has a solid opportunity to bounce back in a dominant fashion.  

WR Justin Jefferson’s availability:
Jefferson, who has missed the past six games with a strained right hamstring, is listed as questionable for Monday, but the Vikings aren’t pressing him to play. Although Jefferson told reporters he’d suit up if he were “feeling good,” his injury still isn’t fully healed, and sitting out would give him an extra week of recovery since Minnesota has a Week 13 bye.

RB Ty Chandler’s expanding role: Starting RB Alexander Mattison’s lack of efficiency and backup Cam Akers’ season-ending Achilles injury has opened the door for Chandler to get more opportunities in recent weeks, which he has taken advantage of. Over the last two games, Chandler has rushed for 118 yards and one touchdown while catching four passes for 37 yards. Speaking to reporters last week, Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell said Chandler fills a “critical role” on offense and is “excited about” the second-year tailback’s upcoming opportunities.  

“He’s an exciting player with the ball in his hands. We try to find different ways to get it in his hands throughout the game,” O’Connell said. “I’m excited about his long-term future, but I’m also excited about his opportunities coming up, you know, Monday night and how he can impact the game.”

Bears defense quietly improving: Despite allowing two 70-plus yard touchdown drives in the final minutes of last week’s loss, Chicago’s defense has started to turn a corner, and much of its recent success can be attributed to trade deadline acquisition DE Montez Sweat. Since Sweat’s Bears debut, Chicago has allowed 284 yards per game, the eighth-fewest in that span. Even so, the Bears will need to rely on Sweat and LB Tremaine Edmunds to carry the defense.

However, that will entail actually playing them, as the former played just three snaps on Detroit’s game-winning drive while the latter was nowhere to be seen. 

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