Not only are the Minnesota Vikings anticipating the return of their starting quarterback, he’ll be welcomed warmly by two of the top receivers in football.
So while much of the focus has been on Mitch Trubisky’s debut – and rightfully so – the matchup between Bears corners and Vikings receivers is one that could be a deciding factor in Monday night’s game.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen ranked first and third in receiving yards, respectively, before Week 5 kicked off on Thursday. Both were also in the top-20 in targets and top-15 in receptions. This dynamic duo has combined for 15 plays of 20+ yards, with Diggs (8) tied with Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton for the league lead (8) and Thielen (7) not too far behind.
Diggs was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded receiver after four weeks, leading the league in yards per route run (3.10), catching eight of 12 deep targets, and helping his quarterbacks produce a 149.9 rating when throwing in his direction. PFF’s Mike Guerrelli also highlights Diggs’ improvements as a run blocker, which have helped round out his game and boost his grade. Diggs is the site’s fourth highest-graded run-blocking receiver, and he’ll need to be every bit of that with Latavius Murray taking over in the backfield.
Thielen is a particularly interesting pass catcher to highlight because of how productive he has been in the slot. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus highlights the top slot receivers entering Week 4, noting Thielen’s 207 yards when lined up in the slot were the second most among his peers. A chunk of his production has come on deep crossing route connections, which is something the Bears secondary needs to be aware of when he is on the field. Thielen, who has 93 catches and 1,325 yards in his last 20 games, is PFF’s seventh highest-graded receiver in 2017. Not bad for an undrafted free agent from Minnesota State who signed with the Vikings in 2013.
Matching up with the Vikings seems like a nightmare for a Bears secondary that still doesn’t have an interception. In fact, Chicago’s defensive backs have just four interceptions since Week 10 of the 2016 season – a stretch that spans 12 games and 360 pass attempts. That all adds up to a 1.1 percent interception rate. To put that number in perspective, Mike Glennon was throwing interceptions at a 5.0 percent in the three games prior to his demotion.
Bryce Callahan has been the Bears best corner by PFF’s grading standards. His 79.0 grade puts him in the average starter category and just outside the above average range. It’s respectable, but he will need to be at his best if he’s responsible for handling Thielen in the slot tonight. Prince Amukamara has two games under his belt and a 77.8 grade from PFF, but has played on just 55.2 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps since returning from an ankle injury. If Marcus Cooper (listed as questionable on Saturday’s injury report) can’t play, Kyle Fuller will likely be first up and looking to improve on a 35.5 grade that ranks 106th among 109 qualifying cornerbacks.
The Vikings have questions at running back in the wake of losing rookie Dalvin Cook for the year with an ACL injury, there is no questioning who will be the catalysts for this offense on Monday night.