Bears vs. Vikings: What to Watch 4

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Vikings safety Harrison Smith upends Bears running back Matt Forte in the Vikings’ 23-20 victory last Nov. 1 at Soldier Field. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

KEY MATCHUP

Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith is a perfect fit for a Vikings’ defense that is sound, solid and still big-play capable (two defensive toucdhowns this season). Without any off-the-charts measureables, he just plays football, and still makes big plays.

“Football intelligence. The guy’s a football player,” Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said when asked what makes Smith so effective. “He’s very instinctive, very good tackler in space. He understands their defense. He understands how people attack their defense and does a really good job understanding the concepts of how you’re gong to attack them —and being in the right spot at the right time.”

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, starting for the first time in six weeks after recovering from a sprained thumb, will have to be aware of Smith at all times. Smith has three interceptions in five career games against Jay Cutler — including a 56-yard return for a touchdown in 2012 and a 52-yard return in 2014.

TRENDING

There’s no secret to the Vikings’ success. They have 11 players on their 53-man roster who were drafted in the first round, including six starters. The Bears have three — linebacker Leonard Floyd (2016), guard Kyle Long (2013) and quarterback Jay Cutler (2006).

The Bears have two former No. 1 draft picks on injured reserve: wide receiver Kevin White (2015) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (2014).

The Vikings have four former No. 1 draft picks on injured reserve — running back Adrian Peterson, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith.

The Vikings are 16-5 in their last 21 regular-season games — losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos (13-3), Packers (10-6), Seahawks (10-6), Cardinals (13-3) and Eagles (4-2).

The Bears are 2-11 since upsetting the Packers last year at Lambeau Field — beating only the Buccaneers (6-10) and Lions (4-4).

OVEREXPOSED?

The Bears’ second Monday Night Football appearance will be their fourth game in prime time this season — the most ever for a 1-6 team in NFL history.

The Bears are the first 1-6 team to play in prime time since the 2004 Dolphins, who lost to the 5-1 Jets 41-14 on Monday Night Football. The only team with fewer victories after seven games to play on Monday Night Football was the 1997 Bears (0-7) against the Dolphins at Pro Player Stadium — and that was a technicality. The Bears-Dolphins game was moved to Monday night because of a stadium conflict with the Marlins playing Game 7 of the World Series. The Bears, coming off a bye, won 36-33 in overtime.

X-FACTOR

Jay Cutler has the unenviable task of returning following a five-game layoff against a Vikings defense that ranks first in points allowed (12.8) and yards allowed (279.5 per game).

Jay Cutler is 3-3 with an 81.4 passer rating (seven touchdowns, five interceptions) when he returns after missing a start. But five of those games are after a one-game absence. The only time he returned after a long layoff — in 2013 against the Browns after missing four weeks with a torn groin muscle — Cutler was 22-of-31 for 265 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions for a 102.2 rating in a 38-31 victory in Cleveland.

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