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What to watch for in Vikings-Bears on 'MNF'

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  • By Jeremy Bergman NFL.com
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Remember the last time a rookie quarterback started a game for the Chicago Bears? It's OK. Take a second.

You have to go back to the halcyon days of 2005, when Kyle Orton, filling in for sexy Rex(y) Grossman, started 15 games for a division-champion Bears squad. In the 12 years since, Chicago has relied on an Orton-Grossman platoon, a 32-year-old Brian Griese (1,803 yards in 2007), the frustrating, care-free Jay Cutler, myriad Cutler backups (Caleb Hanie, Matt Barkley, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins) and, most recently, Mike Glennon. In an alternate, non-Browns universe, Bears fans would be the ones synonymous with sad masking-tape-laden jerseys.

But Monday marks the dawn of a new era, hopefully, as Mitchell Trubisky, the North Carolina quarterback for whom Bears brass surrendered two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder to move up one slot, makes his first NFL start.

Here's what we'll be watching for when the Bears rookie begins his NFL odyssey against the division-rival Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football:

1. Mitch, please: Bears fans' prayers were answered following Chicago's embarrassing loss to the Packers on Thursday Night Football, when free-agent acquisition Mike Glennon accounted for four more turnovers but was never pulled. John Fox pulled the plug on Glennon's stranglehold on the position this week in an attempt to jump start an offense void of talent outside of the running back position. But will Chicago fare much better with the rookie under center? Trubisky flashed mobility and accuracy in his select preseason appearances, but 1) it was the preseason, a.k.a. fake football, and 2) if decision-making and turnovers were Glennon's issues, there's no guarantee that a first-year QB with only 13 collegiate starts will be any more reliable. Tru will need some help. Thankfully...

2. Bear down-and-distance: Chicago goes as its ground game goes. In the two games that Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for over 100 total yards, the Bears either won or were one play from victory. The duo's complementary qualities frustrated playoff contending defenses in Atlanta and Pittsburgh, but will they grind down the Vikings' stout front seven? Minnesota is third in the league in run defense (71.3 YPG), fourth in yards per carry (3.06) and first in third down percentage (25.6). Via Howard and Cohen, Chicago must give Trubisky manageable second- and third-down opportunities.

3. Kiss the Cook goodbye: Minnesota thought it had a plug-in replacement for the immortal Adrian Peterson in Dalvin Cook, and the rookie will eventually be that guy for the Vikings. But with Cook done for the season with an ACL injury, the Vikes' running back position is in a precarious, well, position. Free-agent acquisition Latavius Murray has been M.I.A. through a quarter of the season, and Jerick McKinnon isn't an every-down back. To keep up their productive pace, the Vikings need balance on offense. Can they find some on Monday night?

4. Play again, Sam: Will Bradford play? That's the question that could decide the result of this NFC North tilt out of the gate. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said "we'll see" if Bradford, who has sat out three weeks with a knee injury, gets the start. Reports are out there that he's a "game-time decision." Minnesota is keeping everyone in the dark on Bradford's condition, a strategy likely intended to muddy Chicago's ability to game plan. Case Keenum has been special on occasion in Bradford's absence, but if the Vikes want to keep up with Green Bay and Detroit in the division, they'll need to develop a winning pattern behind their starter. We'll see at roughly 6:00 p.m. CT on Monday evening, as the sun sets on Lake Michigan, if Bradford rises from the injury report.

UPDATE: NFL Network's Stacey Dales, per sources close to the Vikings, reported that Bradford is expected to start. Bradford took the majority of first-team reps with the offense since his return to practice this week.

5. The Mini-Monsters of the Midway: Lost in the depressed rebuild around Bears camp is that Chicago is constructing a young and scary front seven. Led by Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd and the injured Willie Young, Chicago has frustrated Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive weeks. The Bears will be without Danny Trevathan, serving out his reduced one-game suspension for concussing Davante Adams, but might be able to take advantage of another vulnerable line in Minnesota and limit the Vikings' ability to disperse the pigskin downfield to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

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