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Minnesota Vikings preview: Who are these Bears?

The Bears that the Minnesota Vikings saw in their first game will be different than the team they face Sunday, which will be different than the one they face next year.

The Chicago Bears have earned themselves a vulgar, unspoken middle name for what they did to the (at the time) 5-1 Minnesota Vikings on Halloween night at Soldier Field.

The Bears were going nowhere. The Vikings were looking to correct a post-bye hangover loss on the road at Philadelphia.

Chicago is still going nowhere, other than transferring its one-time ownership of the NFL draft over to Philly, but, thanks in part to their win over the Vikings, the season-ending game has little meaning other than pride for the Vikings as well.

For both teams there are going to be changes coming in the offseason, but, for the Bears, it would appear that there is going to be a significant implosion. When head coach John Fox took over two years ago, he seemed an illogical choice given the Bears’ personnel. Chicago is one of the oldest franchises in the NFL, yet had never run a 3-4 defense and had drafted players and signed free agents to fit that scheme. When Fox came on board, he purged many members of his defense and it showed on the field, as the Bears finished 6-10. As he finishes his second season as head coach, Fox has a record of 9-22 through 31 games and it would appear even more changes are coming.

Chicago’s fans, coaches and players have had a love/hate relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler, who, despite having a strong arm and the ability to read defenses, has a career record of 68-71. It appears as though the Bears are ready to move on from Cutler, which could mean Brian Hoyer could be competing with tomorrow’s starter, Matt Barkley, for the job in 2017. Both Hoyer and Barkley have posted better numbers than Cutler, which might make moving on from him a little easier that it would appear. But the pending changes in Chicago aren’t limited simply to quarterback.

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The running back position has turned into a revolving door. Last year, Chicago backed away from paying Matt Forte starter money and handed the job to 2015 mid-round draft pick Jeremy Langford. But, when Langford got injured Week 3 against Dallas, he lost his job to rookie Jordan Howard, who hasn’t looked back since. In his 12 starts, he has topped 75 rushing yards 10 times and hit the 100-yard mark six times, including a career-best 153 yards against the Vikings. He seems to have the starting job locked down, but Langford has become an afterthought.

At wide receiver, the Bears face another big decision that could alter their offense significantly. Last year, Chicago hit Alshon Jeffery with the franchise tag, looking to wait a year to make the decision as to whether or not the Bears would sign him to a long-term contract. In hindsight, they may feel happy they went the one-year route. Jeffery has caught just 51 passes for 811 yards and two touchdowns and missed four games serving a suspension for violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. It would appear that Jeffery will be joining Forte and Cutler on their way out of Chicago.

The biggest problem the Bears have had this season has been injuries. Chicago placed a whopping 20 players on injured reserve, including Cutler, Kyle Long, Eddie Royal, Hroniss Grasu, Hoyer, Kevin White and Zach Miller on offense and Lamarr Houston, Kyle Fuller, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Goldman and Ego Ferguson on defense.

The injuries have impacted both sides of the ball, pushing backups into starting roles. The Bears still have some talent on defense, including defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebackers Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, cornerback Tracy Porter and eight rookies that were brought in to improve the defense, including first-round linebacker Leonard Floyd, third-round defensive end Jonathan Bullard and three fourth-round picks – linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski, cornerback Deiondre Hall and safety Deon Bush.

It seems clear that the Bears are in a youth movement on defense and will be conducting what looks to be a significant housecleaning on offense in the offseason.

The Bears team the Vikings see next season will be much different from the one that takes the field tomorrow at U.S. Bank Stadium. The job security for Fox likely won’t tolerate another double-digit loss season, but the Bears are going to be auditioning players in their 2016 finale and, while changes are coming, the young core of the team will be what the Vikings will have to contend with Sunday.


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