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.

Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame - Syracuse

Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame - Syracuse

Here are three keys and a prediction for Saturday's Notre Dame-Syracuse game in New Jersey.

1. Make a play on Amba Etta-Tawo: Orange quarterback Eric Dungey targets Etta-Tawo, college football’s leading receiver through four weeks, an average of 13 times a game. Covering Etta-Tawo well is one thing, but that won’t necessarily mean Dungey will look elsewhere to throw the ball. Senior Cole Luke will probably get the first crack at guarding Etta-Tawo, and he’ll have to make a few plays on the ball (a tipped pass, an interception, etc.) to force Dungey out of his comfort zone. If Luke can’t do it, look for an underclassmen — Donte Vaughn, who picked off a pass against Duke, would have to lead that next group — to step in. Stopping Etta-Tawo would go a long way toward keeping the points down against Syracuse’s going-to-plaid offense. 

2. Meet “the standard” on offense. DeShone Kizer has been somewhere between very good and great this season, but it hasn’t been enough for Notre Dame to avoid any of their three losses. Syracuse’s defense is prone to allowing explosive plays and has struggled against the run, so triggering Josh Adams, Dexter Williams and/or Tarean Folston on the ground could allow Kizer to pick apart the Orange secondary as the game goes on. Most importantly, Kizer and his teammates need to avoid carelessly turning the ball over, as they did a few times against Michigan State and Syracuse. 

3. Effective play from the young guys. Kelly said one of the defensive changes we’ll see going forward is a lot more younger, talented players getting on the field in situations in which they weren’t equipped to in Brian VanGorder’s complex defense. Maybe that means defensive end Daelin Hayes using his elite pass rushing trait to pressure Dungey, or linebacker Asmar Bilal using his excellent speed trait to run with a crossing route and break up a pass. No matter how it happens, it has to happen — with that “it” being making defensive plays. Without sacks, TFLs, fumbles and/or interceptions, all that talk of Notre Dame having more “fun” this week will ring hollow on Saturday.

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 42. Adams and Williams both have big games on the ground and Kizer leads an offensive oscillating between explosive and efficient to, for the first time this year, enough points to overcome a shaky defensive performance. 

Cubs make it official: Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod extended

Cubs make it official: Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod extended

It was no secret after Theo Epstein's contract extension on Wednesday, but the Cubs officially announced extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod on Friday.

The new contracts run through the 2021 season.

Both Hoyer and McLeod joined the Cubs on Nov. 1, 2011. The team is set for its second straight postseason appearance this October.

CSN Chicago's Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney had more on Epstein keeping the band together when Epstein's deal was first announced on Wednesday.