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Bears vs. Vikings: What to Watch 4

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook comes to Soldier Field red-hot again — 163 and 206 yards in his last two games — but faces a Bears defense that has shut him down all three times it has faced him.

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (58, sacking Ryan Tannehill last week) has 11 tackles in each of his last two games and double-digit tackles in three of his last four as the 2018 first-round pick (eighth overall) continues to emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player in his third season.
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (58, sacking Ryan Tannehill last week) has 11 tackles in each of his last two games and double-digit tackles in three of his last four as the 2018 first-round pick (eighth overall) continues to emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player in his third season.
Joe Howell/AP

Key matchup

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook returns to Soldier Field on a similar roll as he was last season. He has back-to-back games of 163 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers and 206 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions. He leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (122.6) and rushing touchdowns (12) and is averaging six yards per carry.

‘‘He has no weakness in his running game,’’ Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said. ‘‘He can run through you, can run around you or can make you miss. Those things are challenging in any type of running back when you get a guy that’s that dynamic.’’

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith is on a similar roll on the defensive side. He had 11 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss against the Titans as he continues to emerge as a Pro Bowl candidate.

‘‘He’s fast and physical,’’ Gipson said. ‘‘He can cover. I don’t think there’s a linebacker [in the NFL] that’s playing better than him. [The] dude has no weaknesses in his game.’’

Trending

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins got over the big-game hump when he beat the Saints in a wild-card game last season. Now he has another daunting hurdle to clear.

Cousins is 0-9 on ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ in his career, including losses to the Seahawks (276 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 87.2 rating) and Packers (122 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 58.8 rating) last December.

Player to watch

Vikings rookie receiver Justin Jefferson, a first-round draft pick, has been an immediate hit, with 34 receptions for 627 yards and three touchdowns. But Bears fifth-round rookie Darnell Mooney also has been impressive (31 catches, 348 yards, two touchdowns) and seems to have the easier degree-of-difficulty against a Vikings defense that ranks 30th in the NFL in pass defense and has allowed an NFL-high 11 receptions of 38 yards or longer.

Mooney was targeted 11 times last week against the Titans and had five receptions for 43 yards. He had five receptions for 69 yards the previous week against the Saints, including a 50-yard catch. So the connection between quarterback Nick Foles and Mooney is on the upswing, with the potential for a breakout game.

X-factor

Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will be calling plays for the first time this season after coach Matt Nagy decided to give up the role in an attempt to boost his 29th-ranked offense. Lazor previously called plays for the Dolphins (2014-15) and Bengals (2017-18).

The absence of running back David Montgomery (concussion) complicates matters for Lazor, but it’s not unusual for moves such as this one to provide an immediate — if temporary — boost. When Lazor took over as the Bengals’ coordinator in 2017, they scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions against the Packers in a 27-24 overtime loss at Lambeau Field. Facing a rebuilding Vikings defense might be a playable situation for Lazor.