CHICAGO — Haha Clinton-Dix stands at his locker, clipping on a stack of diamond bracelets. He pulls on a black hoodie with the words BLAZING FORCE printed on the front, in orange and blue neon colors. The sweatshirt is a stylish Alexander McQueen x Moncler design, but the Bears safety laughs when a reporter points out it’s a fitting description of the Bears defense, which stymied the Vikings’ powerful run game and sacked Kirk Cousins six times for 51 yards.
“Ha!” Clinton-Dix shouts in a high-pitch voice. “This is just quarter one. We’re moving on to quarter two, and we’ve got some things we need to work on to get better as a unit.”
The Bears were without three starters on defense, but it didn’t seem to affect their performance in the 16–6 win against the Vikings. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and defensive end Bilal Nichols were out with injury, and linebacker Roquan Smith was out for personal reasons, an unexpected call that came just a couple hours before kickoff. Smith’s backup Nick Kwiatkoski led the team with nine tackles, proving the talent on this Bears defense runs deep. Abdullah Anderson, who filled in for Bilal Nichols, tallied two sacks and along with Hicks’s backup Nick Williams, was part of a stout defensive line that closed Minnesota’s running lanes.
Before Minnesota’s offense met Chicago’s defense Sunday afternoon, the Vikings were averaging 193.7 yards per game rushing, rushing for more yards per game than pass. Against a Bears defense that had only allowed 206 rushing yards in three games, second-best in the league, the Vikings managed just 40 yards on the ground.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook started the season with three straight 100-yard rushing games and was the league’s leading rusher with 375 rushing yards in three weeks—76 yards better than Marlon Mack in second. Against the Bears, Cook had just 35 yards, dropping him into third place.
Cook is a home-run threat, because he frequently makes the first defender whiff, and then uses his speed to accelerate into the second level—but Chicago never gave Cook a real chance to reach the second level. On Minnesota’s first drive, Cook was stuffed twice at the line of scrimmage for no gain, once by Nick Williams, filling in for the injured Akiem Hicks, and once by Abdullah Anderson, filling in for the injured Bilal Nichols, a defensive feat against a running back who poses such a reliable threat that the Vikings frequently use him on second-and-long situations. Last week against Oakland, Cook ran the ball on a second-and-15 and a second-and-17, converting on the former and gaining 13 yards on the latter.
Because the Bears were playing the run so well, the Vikings called more pass plays, and instead of Cook reaching the second level of the defense, the linebackers came to him in pass protection. Cook fell victim to some highlight-reel moves from linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who filled in for Roquan Smith. On one play, Kwiatkoski got around Cook with a slick swim move that took him straight to Cousins for a sack. On another, Kwiatkoski switched tactics and bull rushed Cook straight into Cousins for the sack.
Pass rusher Khalil Mack kept Cousins uncomfortable all game. He strip-sacked the Vikings QB in the third quarter, which led to a Chicago field goal, and later in the game, he drew a holding call while being double-teamed and then fought his way through the double-team to assist on a sack with defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris.
On the other side of the ball for the Bears, starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky went down with a left shoulder injury during Chicago’s first drive, the sixth play of the game. The severity of his injury is unknown for now, and Trubisky was ruled out for the rest of the game. Enter Bears backup Chase Daniel, calmly led Chicago down the field for a touchdown, shaving off nearly eight minutes of the first quarter in the process.
Daniel is in his tenth season in the league, and it shows. He plays with more patience than Trubisky, and is more cautious and careful with his decision making. Daniel, who started two games for the Bears last season, finished 22-30 with 195 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“We’re very, very lucky to have Chase as our backup quarterback,” Nagy said. “We just keep rolling. Zero changed, nothing, and that’s the beauty of having a guy like Chase. Chase and I, we go way back, and again, he’s like a coach out there, so he understands—hey, Mitch got hurt. ... He was ready. He prepares himself every single day, and it’s never different. It’s always the same. When this happens, to help his team out.”
Smith, Chicago’s starting inside linebacker alongside Danny Trevathan, stood on the sideline for the game, dressed in sweats and watched his teammates beat the Vikings. He’s not injured and his absence came as a surprise. Smith did not speak to reporters after the game. When asked to clarify Smith’s mysterious scratch from the game for personal reasons, Nagy said, “Yeah, I’m going to leave it as it’s completely a personal matter, and I’m just going to completely leave it at that.”
Though the Bears clearly showed the dominance of a top defense, Vikings players were hesitant to give them that much credit, instead looking inward.
“They held us to six points, so I guess,” receiver Adam Thielen said, when asked if the Bears defense is one of the best in the league.
“Every team in the NFL has good players,” right tackle Bryan O’Neill said. “I just need to do better.”
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