Bears-Vikings preview: Vikings ball

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Bears-Vikings preview: Vikings ball

Stopping the 'new' AP = Bears familiar mission statement
Early on, the Bears defense was annihilated twice a year by Adrian Peterson when the All-World running back came into the NFL in 2007. Peterson rushed for more than 120 yards in three of his first gos against the Lovie Smith defense.
Since 1008, however, Peterson has failed to average 4 yards per carry in any of the four meetings with the Bears, with a high of 94 yards and an average of 67 per game against the Bears.
With all of that success, Peterson is still what causes lost sleep on the Chicago defense.
He is elite, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. He hits that cut and hes downhill, violently. And then hes got that second and third cut in the open field. Then he goes. Hes such a great competitor.
Two Peterson 'problems'
Receiverreturner Percy Harvins status and threat is unclear because of an ankle injury. But the AP issues are far greater.
Peterson is of particular note Sunday for two reasons:
1. He has returned from a catastrophic knee injury to lead the league in rushing. In a league committed to passing and points, Peterson through 10 games has 1,128 yards, a 5.8-yard average per carry and seven touchdowns.
By comparison, the NFLs leading yardage receiver, Detroits Calvin Johnson, had 1,117 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games.
2. The Bears avowed objective each week is to turn a team one-dimensional by taking away the opposing running game. But since ranking No. 1 with an NFL-best 77.9 yards allowed per game after the Carolina game, the Bears have given up an average of nearly 136 rushing yards per game. The result is a decline to No. 8 and giving up 92.
They have been found wanting against top backs -- 100-yard games to Chris Johnson in Tennessee, Arian Foster of Houston, and the San Francisco 49ers with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter combining for 105 -- and no back is more top than Peterson.
And now the really scary part
Peterson had one 100-yard game in his first six outings. He has rushed for 153, 123, 182 and 171 in the last four. Meaning: He is getting stronger. He admits he did not feel himself earlier in the year, but now...
Each week Ive felt myself going through this transition of getting stronger and just really getting out there into some live football, Peterson said. Theres no way to duplicate that.
Im 100 percent. But with that being said, theres another level that Im trying to reach after 100 percent. I feel like Ive been better than I was last year. The past couple of weekends, I feel even stronger. Thats what Im excited about the most.
Why the Bears defense has worked -- mostly
The Bears have played with a safety up in run support frequently over the past several games, with only limited success. But their base scheme has generally succeeded against the Vikings because it does not over-pursue or leave itself vulnerable to cutbacks, a Peterson strength.
The concern now, however, is that Foster had 85 yards in the first half of the Houston game with the zone-blockingcutback scheme, and the San Francisco 49ers obliterated the edges of the defense with jumbo packages and wham blocking from fullbacks and tight ends.
Anytime we come off a game and something hurts us, we go in, install it, re-fit it, Marinelli said. Because well see it again down the line, somewhere, sometime, this week, next week. Well see some of that stuff again.
We see the corrections we can make. We go through it, re-teach it, fit it up and then weve got to go play fast with it. Beat blocks, get off blocks, all those basic things.
Pondering Ponder
If the Bears indeed can continue their mastery over Peterson, the Vikings become the hunted. Quarterback Christian Ponder was knocked out of the second Bears game last year with a hip injury and has been wildly inconsistent through significant portions of this season.
Ponder started the season with completion percentages of 60 percent or better in the Vikings first six games. Minnesota won four of those. Then came three straight with sub-55 percentages and passer ratings in the 30s in two of the three. Then he put away the Detroit Lions with 24-of-32 passing in his last outing.
A defensive key will be pressuring Ponder on third downs where he ranks 27th in the NFL with a rating of 69.6.
That means Julius Peppers in Ponders eye and mind, which will be easier said than done if he lines up over rookie left tackle Matt Kalil.
Kalil has allowed just one sack and two hits all season, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Cubs don’t see Cardinals as ‘big brother’ in rivalry anymore

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Cubs don’t see Cardinals as ‘big brother’ in rivalry anymore

ST. LOUIS – Jake Arrieta’s breakdown of his performance sounded like something out of the maybe pile for Joe Maddon’s next T-shirt idea: “I picked a good day to be sh---y.”

The Cubs ace then messed with a reporter who asked a follow-up question after Wednesday’s 9-8 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, wondering if Arrieta would study anything in particular after giving up four runs in a regular-season start for the first time in 11-plus months…or stick with the same routine.

“Well,” Arrieta said, “I’ll probably, maybe, throw left-handed or underhand.”

Arrieta may have some underlying issues with his timing and command, but the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner is still 9-0 with a 1.72 ERA. By Year 5 of the Theo Epstein administration, and Maddon’s second season in the dugout, the Cubs now have first-division problems. 

Whatever turbulence the team with the best record in baseball may have experienced during a 4-5 road trip through Milwaukee, San Francisco and St. Louis, the Cardinals scored eight runs on Arrieta Day and still lost. While the Cubs have already won two series this season at Busch Stadium before Memorial Day weekend, after eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs last October.    

“For the first three-and-a-half years when we were in Chicago, it just felt like they were the big brother,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They controlled the game. They controlled what was going on, the tempo of the game. They were the more talented team, the more experienced team. 

“Now we’re two very good teams playing. And whoever plays better that night is going to win the game. I think there’s something really refreshing about that when you come in here. We know we’re good. We know they’re good.

“We know that there’s a lot of good teams in the National League and we match up well with them.”

The Cubs ambushed St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez for six runs in the second inning, getting the kind of bounces the Cardinals are used to seeing here.

Jason Heyward’s two-out, two-run double hit first base and bounced up the right-field line, and maybe luck will change for the $184 million player who turned down the St. Louis core. Ben Zobrist is still on fire, getting two hits that inning, including a bases-loaded, two-run single that skipped in between diving first baseman Matt Adams and diving second baseman Kolten Wong.

“I wouldn’t say (things) are shifting,” said Kris Bryant, who blasted what turned out to be the game-winning homer, a three-run shot off Seung Hwan Oh in the sixth inning. “It’s just really competitive baseball. Lately, we’ve come out on top. They play us hard every game. It’s going to make for a lot of fun games in the future.”

When it looked like the Cardinals might stage one of their last at-bat comebacks, Hector Rondon didn’t buckle in front of a sellout crowd (45,465). The Cubs closer roared back after allowing back-to-back singles to begin the ninth inning, striking out Yadier Molina and Randal Grichuk swinging and knocking down the ball pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko hit back to the mound for the final out and his eighth save. The Cardinals are now a third-place team that’s one game over .500 at 24-23.

“Of course, I totally think they’re going to be there at the end,” Maddon said. “They’re really good. They have a very good offensive club. They need to get their pitching straightened out. They have a good bullpen. And they just play hard. They play hard every second of the game.

“You can never walk away from that. They have some really good players in skill positions. They’re going to get (shortstop Jhonny) Peralta back, I think, at some point, and that’s going to make a big difference for them. And then the problem’s going to be: Where do you put (Aledmys) Diaz?

“They have some nice problems on the horizon.”  

The Cubs (31-14) now have an eight-game lead over the Cardinals in the division and a 9-3 record combined record against St. Louis and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the other two heavyweights in the Central.  

“It’s going to be close to the end,” Arrieta said. “The Pirates and the Cardinals – these guys are going to continue to win games, in and out of our division. We just have to do our job to try and separate that gap when we have the ability to do so, because we know they’ll be close on our heels to the very end.”

Andrew White III heading back to Huskers

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Andrew White III heading back to Huskers

One of the Big Ten's leading scorers from a season ago will be back for the upcoming 2016-17 season.

Andrew White III announced Wednesday that he has withdrawn his name from the NBA Draft and will return to Nebraska for his senior season.

White ranked sixth in the conference last season, averaging 16.6 points per game in his first season with the Huskers after transferring in from Kansas.

White shot 48.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range, also averaging 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. He was a top-15 rebounder in the conference, and only three players in the league made more triples than White last season.

Struggling White Sox face daunting schedule

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Struggling White Sox face daunting schedule

It’s not about to get any easier for the White Sox.

A team that has lost 11 of its last 15 games and has had trouble at the plate is headed out on a three-city, 10-game road trip. The White Sox begin a four-game series at the Kansas City Royals on Thursday before playing three against the New York Mets. After a day off, the White Sox resume their trip with three at the Detroit Tigers starting next Friday.

It wouldn’t appear to be an easy recipe for a team that has lost its last five series and won only one of its last eight.

"There’s always a tough team on the other end of that," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "We just have to regroup, whether it’s at home or on the road and do better at producing when you get opportunities and guys on base."

The White Sox have averaged 2.83 runs per contest over their last dozen. In that span, they’ve hit just .200 with runners in scoring position, going 18-for-90 with four doubles, a homer and 23 RBIs.

Ten of those games came at U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox went 3-7 on a homestand against the Houston Astros, Royals and Cleveland Indians. For the team to get back on track, it will have to tap into the formula it has used on the road so far. The White Sox are 14-9 on the road this season and have averaged 4.74 runs per game compared to 3.48 in 25 home games.

"We don’t mind playing on the road," outfielder Adam Eaton said. "We kind of come together as a team, an us-versus-the-world-type mentality that we kind of enjoy. It’s a long road trip. It’s always big going on the road, especially when you’re playing divisional opponents. But as I mentioned (earlier), I could really care less. We take it one game at a time, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound, division or non-division, we want to win the game. We want to score more runs than the next guy. That’s how we’re going to continue to approach. It’s a solid approach in my opinion, and we’ve had success with it earlier in the season. We’ll try to get back to that, get the offense going."