The 2017 season started off quite promising for the Minnesota Vikings, didn’t it kids? It was less than a month ago when Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook were carving up the New Orleans Saints, and the potential was there for the Vikes to make a serious run at things.
Fast forward to today, and Cook is out for the year, Bradford’s one week injury is closing in on four games now, and it feels like Minnesota’s season hangs in the balance over the next two weeks. A run is still possible, but things are suddenly very murky four games in. A loss last week to Detroit puts them at 0-1 in the division, and losses to the Bears this week and Green Bay next week would be a big hole to crawl out of, especially since this team only had has one good knee to climb with at the moment. How can they avoid another division loss on Monday Night, and get to Green Bay week still very much in it?
Play the game at a neutral site: Weird things happen to the Vikings at Soldier Field, man. I don’t get the voodoo hex curse that place has, but it’s real, and it’s specatcular, in a morbid kind of way. They’re 2-14 in the 21st century there, and both wins required a ‘holy crap I can’t believe that just happened’ sequence of plays for the Vikings, and an insanely long field goal at the gun to seal it. I hate Soldier Field, because bad, inexplicable things happen there. And the turf is nothing more than a poorly sodded cow pasture that is just begging for the Vikings to sacrifice two more ACL’s to the Football Gods. I hate Soldier Field. That place sucks.
Running the ball: I’m almost as bummed about Dalvin Cook’s injury as I was Teddy’s injury last year. But unlike the QB depth, which necessitated the trade for Bradford, the Vikings are in a better spot running the ball with backup Latavius Murray.
If Murray and Cook could be compared to a poor man's Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard from back in the day, Murray is Hoard. If you need four, he'll get you four. If you need seven, he'll get you four. As he plays with the first team more, his workload will increase, he'll get familiar with his line more, and his production will go up.
Is Murray better than Cook? No.
Is Murray better than last year’s Terrible Trio of Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, or a washed up Adrian Peterson? Yes.
Like the o-line from last year to this year, all the Vikings need the running game to do is be something other than steaming garbage (well, if Sam Bradford is starting that is). Murray is a decent step up from that, and is also a good pass catcher and pass blocker.
He's not going to be explosive like Cook, but he's a '2nd and 6' or a '3rd and 2' guy. Give him the ball on first or second down, he'll get his 3-5 yards, and he won't put the Vikings in a deep hole looking for a home run. He'll do his job and keep the whole playbook open for the offense on second and third down.
I was okay with him being 'the guy' before the Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook, because, you know, he was brought in here to be ‘the guy’ before Dalvin Cook fell into the second round of the draft. Although I really love Cook and think what happened sucks in a big way, I'm comfortable with Murray taking over for the rest of the season. I fully understand he's not a home run threat like Cook was and will be again, and I’m okay with it as long as he’s effective between the tackles.
The Trubisky Effect: I have two thoughts on how Mitch Trubisky will do, because my head tells me one thing, and my heart the other. If you’ve been a fan of the Vikings for any decent period of time, I would venture to guess many of you feel much the same way.
Head: Mitchell Trubisky started all of 13 games at the Division I FBS level of college, and has never taken a snap in a regular season NFL game, and is one of the most inexperienced quarterbacks ever, in the history of the league, making his first NFL start. The Bears don’t have a whole lot of assets in terms of guys that can catch the ball, but they have a good running game. If the Vikes can bottle up the run and make Trubisky beat him, a bad Bears line won’t be able to hold off the Vikes pass rush, and will hit him early and often. Add in some exotic formations and disguises out of the Vikings Double A gap looks, an inability for the Bears receivers to get consistently open, and Trubisky will get flustered, harassed, and pummeled all night. He’ll turn the ball over at least three times as the Vikings beat the Bears.
Heart: Jim Miller. Chad Hutchinson. Rex Grossman. Jay Cutler. These are the names of some of the most ordinary quarterbacks in NFL history, and they have two things in common: They played for the Bears in the 21st century, and they all beat the Vikings at Soldier Field with impunity. For one game, they morphed into the bastard love child of Joe Montana and Tom Brady (except Grossman, but the Bears still won in spite of him because of course), and threw for more than 250 yards and 2 TD’s. They looked downright unstoppable, and made some pretty good defenses look downright silly. So my great fear is that the lack of film on Trubisky will work in his favor and against the Vikings, and he’ll have a field day like his quarterback forefathers. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen plowed through the Vikings defense like a college fraternity plows through beer on Friday and Saturday night, allowing Trubisky to get comfortable. He’ll throw for 250 yards and three TD’s as the Bears beat the Vikings at Soldier Field once again, and we are left scratching our heads asking ‘what just happened?’ In many ways, I’m expecting this exact thing to play out. Why?
The Quarterback Conundrum: As of this writing, we still don’t know who will start for the Vikings, Case Keenum or Sam Bradford. Bradford is practicing again, but no decision has been made. Case Keenum is who we thought he is, and that’s a backup QB with limited playmaking ability. If he starts, he needs a solid running game to be effective, and I don’t know that Murray will provide that just yet on Monday. Minnesota doesn’t drive the field consistently well with him at the helm, and they’ll need a distinct field position advantage to give Keenum and the offense the upper hand. If Keenum starts, I expect a really low scoring affair, with the game coming down to a key turnover, and a field goal to win it.
If Sam Bradford goes, I will feel a lot better about this game. If the Vikings running game is going nowhere, they can put the ball in his hands and the offense can predominantly pass for most of the night and still be successful. Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have favorable match ups, and I expect Kyle Rudolph to reappear in the offense as well.
Prediction: If Keenum starts, Bears win 16-13 and football is the worst sport ever. If Bradford starts, Vikings win 24-13 and we’re Super Bowl bound, homeboy.