Monday Night Preview: Will the Mitchell Trubisky Era Start With a Win?
This week's Monday Night Football matchup features the Minnesota Vikings traveling to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears. Heading into this divisional battle, the Vikings currently sit at 2-2 after an up and down beginning to the season. On the other side, the rebuilding Bears are 1-3 and at the bottom of the division.
Last week, each of these teams fell to a divisional opponent. Playing on Thursday night, the Packers slaughtered the Bears, 35-14, at Lambeau, while the Vikings suffered a painful 14-7 defeat to the Lions.
With such a discrepancy between each team's rank, it will be interesting to see if the Bears can stay competitive in this one. Here are a few positional breakdowns likely to influence the outcome of this contest.
After a dreadful start to the season, Bears coach John Fox announced that Mitchell Trubisky will start for the Bears tonight. This does not come as much of a surprise after Mike Glennon threw for four touchdowns and five interceptions to start the season. Likewise, the Bears come in as the 31st-ranked passing offense, according to our schedule-adjusted per-play metrics.
Based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Glennon has a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.09. This comes in well-below the league average of 0.08. Among 19 quarterbacks with at least 130 drop backs, Glennon ranks 17th in terms of Passing NEP per drop back. He has been bad
During the preseason, Trubisky looked competent in the Bears' offense, passing for 364 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Although unproven, the Bears might as well start seeing what they have in Trubisky, although a talented Minnesota defense makes for a tough debut matchup.
On the other side, the Vikings are experiencing quarterback turmoil of their own. Case Keenum stepped into action following an injury Sam Bradford's knee. Bradford hasn't played since his stellar Week 1 display. He's officially listed as questionable but is expected to play.
In that Week 1 game against a New Orleans Saints defense that hasn't been as bad as everyone assumed they'd be, Bradford looked amazing, passing for 346 yards and 3 scores. On the week, his Passing NEP per drop back was a staggering at 0.72.
The last three weeks, Keenum has been serviceable, recording a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.10. His Passing Success Rate (percentage of drop backs contributing to a positive NEP) comes in a little bit lower at 43.27%, which ranks 25th among 33 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs this season. While Keenum kept the team's head above water, the Vikings' skill players all get a boost if Bradford does indeed make his return tonight.
Running Back Breakdown
Looking at Chicago, the Bears have split their backfield between Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. The Bears use Howard primarily on early downs, and he has accounted for 252 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. More of a pass-game specialist, Cohen has only 181 rushing yards but has added 150 yards through the air.
Each of these running backs has performed above average on the season. To date, Howard has recorded a Rushing NEP per attempt of 0.04, and Cohen comes in at 0.17, both well above the league average of -0.04. Rushing Success Rate shows a similar trend for each of these backs -- with Howard sporting a Success Rate of 41.27% and Cohen at 40.00%. Among 14 running backs with at least 60 carries, Howard ranks sixth in Success Rate.
On the other side, the Vikings are reeling from a season-ending injury to star running back Dalvin Cook. In his place, they will rely on Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon to carry the load. Murray is reportedly still nursing an ankle ailment, so it remains to be seen how this backfield plays out sans Cook.
Although neither player has seen significant work this year (Murray has 14 carries and McKinnon has 10), each of these running backs has been a disaster in their small 2017 sample, per our metrics. Murray has a Rushing NEP per attempt of -0.17, and McKinnon is even worse at -0.67. Each is well below the league average, and the Vikings could struggle to run the ball against a solid Bears defense.
To begin the year, both of these teams have been fairly average on the defensive side of the ball. Per our schedule-adjusted per play metrics, the Vikings rank 16th in overall defense and the Bears slide in just behind at 19th. While a middling defense was expected for the Bears, the Vikings' D has underperformed following a phenomenal 2016 season.
Digging into Minnesota, their team has performed slightly better against the pass, ranking 12th in Adjusted Defense Passing NEP per play. Versus the run, they slot in at 18th in Adjusted Defense Rushing NEP per play. On the other side. Chicago ranks 18th in pass defense and 24th in rush defense, according to our numbers.
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