Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson was a second-team All-Pro selection as a rookie last season, when he had 88 receptions for 1,400 yards (15.9 average) and seven touchdowns. Jefferson has been even better this season — 85 receptions for 1,288 yards (15.2 average) and eight TDs in only 13 games.
But the expected marquee matchup with Bears second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson is unlikely to happen after Johnson was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday. The Bears instead figure to defend Jefferson by committee — with Kindle Vildor and Teez Tabor the most experienced of the remaining cornerbacks, pending players activated Monday from the COVID list.
It’ll be a huge test of the “next man up” philosophy. Vildor started the first 10 games opposite Johnson but was benched in favor of veteran Artie Burns, who also is on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Tabor has played 40 snaps on defense over three games this season.
Not only that, but the Bears’ entire starting secondary from last week’s game could be inactive against the Vikings: Johnson, Burns and safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson are on the COVID list. Nickel back Xavier Crawford is out with a concussion.
As much as Matt Nagy has struggled to beat the Packers in his four seasons (1-7), he has had much better success against the Vikings (5-1).
The Bears shut down running back Dalvin Cook in the first three of those victories — 34 carries for 86 yards (2.5 average). They lost their grip on Cook last year, though — he had 30 carries for 96 yards in the Vikes’ 19-13 victory at Soldier Field and finally broke out with 24 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown in a 33-27 Bears victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.
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Bears rookie Teven Jenkins is expected to get his first NFL start in place of injured left tackle Jason Peters. Jenkins, a second-round pick who was slated to be the starting left tackle before undergoing back surgery in August, replaced Peters in the first quarter against the Packers last week and had four penalties and allowed a strip-sack of Justin Fields that led to a turnover.
Jenkins has more advanced notice this week — though the Bears did not practice live because of a coronavirus outbreak — and will be playing at home. The Vikings lead the NFL in sacks with 41 but are 29th in total defense, 27th in rushing defense and 25th in passing defense, so there’s also an opportunity for success.
The Bears have had a tumultuous week with 12 players from their 53-man roster and all three coordinators in the coronavirus protocol. Jackson, wide receiver Allen Robinson and right tackle Larry Borom are among seven starters on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Vikings have three players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, all reserves — running back Alexander Mattison and wide receivers Dede Westbrook and Dan Chisena.