The Vikings defense gets no reinforcement Sunday against a recently surging Chicago Bears offense as linebacker Eric Kendricks was unable to practice for a second straight week and will miss his third straight game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot) also has been ruled out.
Kendricks still is dealing with a left calf strain that he aggravated during warmups before the Dec. 6 win against the Jaguars. Despite missing the past two games, Kendricks remains the Vikings' leading tackler with 107 in 11 games. Veteran Todd Davis, a September signing who has played every defensive snap the past two games, will get another start alongside Eric Wilson.
"I know Eric and Eric have both tried to help [Davis] out as much as possible," co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer said. "And to his credit he's done a good job of studying. He'll just text me randomly at 10 o'clock at night a play to look at and how he should play it."
According to the pool report, Rudolph wasn't seen at practice Friday morning, a day after he stretched with the team and worked with a trainer on the side. He'll miss his second straight game because of the foot injury sustained against Jacksonville.
Running back Alexander Mattison is listed as questionable after returning to practice this week for the first time since his Dec. 5 appendectomy. He was a full participant Friday, which typically means there's a good chance he'll play Sunday.
"He's a tough kid, and he feels great," coach Mike Zimmer said, "so we'll see."
'Where I fit in this game'
Safety Harrison Smith leads all NFL defenders with three penalties for lowering the helmet to initiate contact and, combined with an unnecessary-roughness call, his four infractions for rough play are tied for the NFL lead with Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Smith's third targeting flag came in Tampa Bay, where his helmet clipped running back LeSean McCoy's helmet on a tackle. Zimmer has disagreed with officiating on Smith's hits, saying recently the safety's only solution is "I guess not hit the guy."
"Getting multiple penalties of one kind is also frustrating because you want to fix that issue and move on to other issues," Smith said. "I have to do a better job of avoiding those calls. That's where I fit in this game."
Not much of a problem
The corner of tackle Brian O'Neill's right eye remains red from what he called an inadvertent "gouging" against the Buccaneers, which led to a brief visit with an eye doctor in the locker room that lasted just 13 snaps before he returned. O'Neill's injury isn't the oddest suffered by an offensive lineman this week — Lions center and Victoria native Frank Ragnow has a fractured throat — and he didn't make much of the gouging.
"It's almost easier to deal with because it's not weight-bearing or isn't anything that has direct contact with anything else," O'Neill said. "As long as nothing gets in there, you can manage the pain and just deal with it. It was different. I don't want it to happen again but got through it and appreciate all the docs and trainers who helped me out through that. It's part of the game. We have a pretty high threshold for pain around here."
Navigating kicking woes
Bears coach Matt Nagy knows kicker problems, too, but he comes to U.S. Bank Stadium with rare stability in Cairo Santos, who has made 21 of 23 field-goal attempts (91.3%) and 27 of 28 extra-point tries (96.4%) this season. An unreliable kicker can lead to a more aggressive offense, Nagy said, as it did with the Vikings against the Bucs.
Minnesota's offense would've had a fourth-down play in the red zone, according to Zimmer, if two consecutive sacks hadn't led to a fourth-and-28 before Dan Bailey's fourth and final miss.
"You have to [be more aggressive]," Nagy said. "As an offense you go into some games just kind of knowing, 'OK, where's the confidence of the guy? You want to make sure they can go ahead and make that first kick. Is that part of it? Other times, too, you just have to make that kick."