Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the half-game separating the Bears and Vikings atop the NFC North is just how similar these clubs are.
We’ll go in depth on all the commonalities tomorrow in my game preview, but there are two that deserve their own focus and show how Chicago and Minnesota have the same greatest concern and greatest strength.
With all due respect to Green Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh — all tied with Minnesota for the NFL sacks lead with 31, while Chicago is next with 30 — when the Vikings and Bears have all hands on deck, they are the two best pressure defenses in the NFL.
The Bears and Vikings also both pass block better than they run block, but their offensive lines are average at best.
The team that handles the other club’s pass pressure the best Sunday night will most likely win.
Bears coach Matt Nagy compared the two defenses Thursday.
“Both defenses are very similar," he said. "They're good at stopping the run. They're opportunistic, and they take the ball away when they need to, and they're led by two great people on those sides in coach Fangio and of course with coach Zimmer running that show over there.”
Nagy also shared my concerns about pressure.
“They’ve got really good players on the inside that penetrate. They’re strong. They can force you to lose leverage, so you know Cody (Whitehair) and our guards, they understand they are going to have a big challenge here this week.”
With rookie James Daniels on one side, and journeyman backups Brian Witzmann and Eric Kush on the other, Nagy’s concern is understandable.
This will be the first real test of how badly the Bears miss Kyle Long, who was placed on injured reserve in Week 9.
Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is focused a bit on the Vikings' leading pass rusher, Danielle Hunter.
“Yeah, again a guy that just gets on edges of people, he's got great counter moves, he's got speed, he's got power," Helfrich explained. "They move him around enough to make it a very difficult proposition.
“Great effort guy. There are a few times — especially watching the Detroit film, which is a little mature audiences only kind of for a quarterback. But it's just effort.”
Helfrich also worries about the way the Vikings disguise their rush schemes.
“Yeah, they're really good at the pressure game. They're really good at making the non-pressure and the pressure look the same, and that's how they get on the edge of people all the time is just that half a second, that half step where a whatever it is, a tackle slow sets and then he's beat off the edge, or they're worried about the A-gap and the B-gap pressure comes, or whatever it is.
“They're really good.”
The Bears' pressure is more about brute force with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Aaron Lynch and Roy Robertson-Harris capable of winning any matchup they face, while Leonard Floyd is more about speed and athleticism.
Like Chicago missing Long, the Vikings are without their best guard, Nick Easton, for the season. His backup, ex-Bear Tom Compton has been on and off the injury list all season and was again this week with a bad knee. The other guard, Mike Remmers, is battling a bad back.
Minnesota LT Riley Reiff is better than Bears tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, but their right tackle, Rashod Hill, isn’t as good.
There is one factor here that solidly favors the Bears — Mitch Trubisky is a much better scrambler and runner than Kirk Cousins.
On the other hand, the best way to slow a pressure defense is to run the ball straight ahead between the tackles, and while the Bears are currently No. 2 in the league against the run, and the Vikings are third, Minnesota has been much better than the Bears in running with its backs this season.
Though both these teams’ secondaries are playing great football, take away their defense’s pressure and the two clubs become very beatable.
We’ll see which team’s pressure bursts the other’s pipes Sunday night.