The Chicago Bears are in for an interesting test in Week 6.
Their opponent – the Minnesota Vikings – comes into Soldier Field with an identical 1-4 record. But they are likely feeling a lot different about it after winning 13 games last season. Desperate teams are dangerous teams and the Vikings are already keen on causing havoc on defense.
Minnesota’s 56.2% blitz rate is nearly 11% higher than the team in second place, the New England Patriots, per Pro Football Reference.
Vikings’ Blitz Could Spell Trouble for Justin Fields, Bears
1) Bears’ Justin Fields Has Struggled Against the Blitz This Season
That is obviously the highest rate the Bears will have seen so far this season, and maybe all year. The next closest opponent out of their previous matchups was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 38.8%. The Green Bay Packers are one spot behind them and the Kansas City Chiefs also rank in the top 10.
For comparison, the Bears rank 26th in blitz rate.
The Bears are obviously 0-3 in their previous meetings with top-10 blitz teams. Their two best offensive showings have come against teams ranked 15th and 25th in blitz rate, respectively, in the Washington Commanders and Denver Broncos. Will we see regression from the unit that has been much-maligned through the early going of this offseason? And, in particular, Justin Fields?
Head coach Matt Eberflus spoke about their approach this week in what will admittedly be “more of a challenge” than previous matchups due to Minnesota’s aggressiveness.
Still, Fields is completing 56.9% of his passes against the blitz this season, and 48.3% of his passes when under pressure, per Pro Football Focus. That is clearly a concern with the two metrics inherently related. The third-year passer is completing 64.4% of his passes versus a standard four-man rush and 70.2% of his passes when he is kept clean.
Even more concerning, the Vikings are primarily a zone-blitzing team. That could potentially pair pressure with little room for Fields to take off and run. Fields ranks seventh in average yards per pass attempt and the second-longest time to throw through six weeks, per Next Gen Stats.
If Fields is able to survive the rush, however, he could find plenty of vulnerabilities in a Vikings secondary that is just above average in coverage.
And, despite having yet to notch a win over the Vikings, Fields has played okay.
Fields has completed 68.3% of his passes in two games against the Vikings, totaling 493 yards and two passing touchdowns with zero interceptions. He also has 82 rushing yards on 15 carries, though the last matchup came before the Bears’ offense appeared to turn a corner last season since Fields missed the Week 17 matchup with a strained hip.
He does have four fumbles in those two previous meetings. Even though he only lost one of them, it is something to monitor. Fields already has four fumbles through five weeks and lost two of them. But he has just one fumble – which he lost – in the last three weeks.
2) Bears Front Four Has to Get Home
Earlier this week, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus noted how good Kirk Cousins was against the blitz, and how important the rhythm, timing, and disguise of the blitz is in getting home. The Bears had just two sacks entering Week 5 before taking Commanders quarterback Sam Howell down five times.
Cousins is completing 60.9% of his passes when facing a blitz this season, which ranks 24th on the season.
He is also completing just 45.5% of his passes when under pressure.
The issue for the Bears is their pass rush ranks dead last and has only generated 90 pressures while Cousins has only been pressured on 31.1% of his dropbacks, the 13th-fewest overall and the second-fewest among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks this season. They already do not blitz much, allowing Eberflus to lean into his nature rather than dialing up more blitzes than he may be comfortable with.
3) Bears Secondary Getting Healthy
Kyler Gordon, Eddie Jackson, and Jaylon Johnson all returning to practice this week in at least a limited fashion. It is unclear who of the group will be active on Sunday. But Johnson and Gordon logged at least one full session this week seemingly making them virtual locks to suit up versus Minnesota.
Jackson was again limited and, along with backup offensive lineman Lucas Patrick, is questionable for the game.
After having to piece-meal their secondary together for the last few weeks, the unit could be back to full strength which would be a boon. This comes as the Vikings could be severely depleted on offense.
4) Vikings WRs vs. Bears DBs
The obvious thing to watch with multiple players returning from multi-game layoffs is signs of rust. That is especially true early in the game. But the Bears caught a break with Justin Jefferson landing on injured reserve this week.
Cousins’ top option could be rookie Jordan Addison. Addison has 19 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns so far this season.
He has also been dealing with an ankle injury in practice this week. While he logged a full practice session on Friday, he too may not be at full speed for this contest. That potentially puts the spotlight on the likes of K.J. Osborn at wide receiver and even more on T.J. Hockenson at tight end to step up and be difference-makers.