DST grades: Peterson's 'soft hundred' leaves Bears unhappy

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DST grades: Peterson's 'soft hundred' leaves Bears unhappy

Members of the Bears defense were mad. Theyd just held the Minnesota Vikings, with the NFLs leading rusher, to 10 points, the first time Minnesota has been held under 20 all season, and they were mad.

The miff was coming from allowing Adrian Peterson to net 108 yards. One lineman called it a soft hundred but put the blame squarely on the unit for not making tackles when they were there to be made. Petersons yards were indeed soft, coming largely after the Bears were up by three scores. Peterson had 25 rushing yards in the first half and 10 on the Vikings first possession of the third quarter so 73 yards over the final 19 minutes when the game was effectively over.

The overall was an effective shutdown of Minnesota, with the Vikings totaling just 181 yards through three quarters and mounting only one drive longer than 3-and-a-half minutes.

The Bears led the NFL with an opponent passer rating of 65.9 before the game and even improved on that, holding Christian Ponder to 58.2.

DEFENSIVE LINE A-

The sack total was modest, with one on the games first play by defensive tackle Henry Melton (sixth this season) and a second shared by Israel Idonije and Shea McClellin in the fourth quarter sack of Christian Ponder to end a possession. The Bears combined for seven hits on Ponder, with McClellin and Melton each getting two.

The line play was key, however, in getting to Adrian Peterson repeatedly on his side of the line and forcing early cuts in his runs to prevent him from reaching escape velocity. Julius Peppers took a lead role in calling stunts and specifics on various plays, giving the Vikings linemen changing assignments almost on the fly.

LINEBACKERS A

Nick Roach forced an Adrian Peterson fumble in the first quarter that led to the Bears first touchdown. Flow to the ball was excellent and contributed to holding Peterson to 65 yards through three quarters, with no run longer than 14 yards. Roach, playing heavy minutes with the Vikings' use of Peterson, tied for Bears high with seven tackles, six of them solo.

Lance Briggs also had seven stops, five solos, and broke up two passes. He and Brian Urlacher (four stops) combined with Roach to take Peterson away from dominating the game.

SECONDARY A

Kelvin Hayden, pressed into regular-down duty after an ankle injury to Charles Tillman, saved a TD with a fourth-quarter pass breakup and locked up WR Michael Jenkins on the next play as well to turn back a four-down effort with momentum at stake.

Tillman outfought Peterson for a fumble on the Vikings third possession to set up a touchdown and broke up a third-down slant pattern on Minnesotas second possession to force a field goal.

Run support from safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright was not flawless, but tackling Adrian Peterson rarely is. And Conte broke up two passes while coming up with an interception to set up a touchdown and nearly tipped a ball for another.

Tim Jennings was strong in open-field tackling and finished with five solo tackles.

Altogether, Bears defensive backs broke up nine passes as part of holding Christian Ponder to 22-of-43 passing for 159 yards, a TD, and INT and a passer rating of just 58.2.

COACHING A

After the debacle in San Francisco, coaches prepared for a rushing onslaught from Adrian Peterson by stressing basics and gaps, but also have wanted the defensive linemen in particular also to read the offense. Julius Peppers has stunt responsibilities as coaches have put the game in the players hands, with solid results again.

The mix of safeties on Cover-2 and Cover-1 alignments for run support may have benefited from the absence of injured receiver Percy Harvin. But the Bears committed to making the Vikings one-dimensional, and taking away Peterson and forcing Ponder to beat them was solid planning and execution.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The return game remains an issue with Devin Hester unable to regain his mojo of past seasons, and then being sidelined with a concussion. But other areas of special teams responded, with a two-point conversion and blocked field goal.

KICKING A-

Robbie Gould was good from 47 and 46 yards to get points from stalled possessions. Adam Podlesh executed a perfect fake PAT and ran in a two-point conversion. He also was good for 43.3 yards per on four punts, none returned and two inside the 20.

Julius Peppers turned in the 12th kick block of his career. But the Vikings blocked a Gould field goal late in the second quarter.

COVERAGE A

The Vikings were not able to return any of Adam Podleshs four punts. Marcus Sherels returned one kickoff 38 yards but the other two KORs were for 14 and 15 yards. The Vikings had an average starting field position of their own 29 and started eight out of 10 possessions after kicks from inside their own 30.

RETURNS C-

Devin Hester did nothing with a first-quarter punt return when he appeared to have running room and was replaced on the next kickoff return by Eric Weems. Hester left the game with a concussion in the first quarter. Weems returned three kickoffs an average of 21.7 with a long of 27.

COACHING A

The scouting of Minnesotas kick-block unit was exploited for a two-point conversion. Bears coverage units were near flawless and prevented the Vikings from gaining any sort of advantage or momentum after either punts or kickoffs.

NBA Buzz: With trade deadline looming, Bulls' season at a crossroads

NBA Buzz: With trade deadline looming, Bulls' season at a crossroads

With an extremely difficult six-game road trip right around the corner, it's safe to say we'll have a pretty good idea about the Bulls' playoff hopes by mid February, which just happens to be right before the league's trade deadline on Feb. 23.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg says he talks about big picture issues with his players "all the time" but acknowledges the perspective from the coaching staff has to be on preparing for the next game. Still, with Atlanta playing its best basketball of the season and the Wizards also enjoying a New Year's resurgence, we're probably looking at six teams (Bulls, Hornets, Pacers, Bucks, Pistons and Knicks) battling it out for the final three playoff spots in the East.

Yes, the Bulls did go 4-2 on their last extended road trip, but they were playing much more efficiently early in the season. Now, a trip that includes games against the Thunder, Rockets, Kings, Warriors, Suns and Timberwolves looks much more daunting. Even the teams with losing records will be tough to beat, considering Sacramento will be looking for payback after last Saturday's controversial loss at the United Center, the Suns are playing very well right now led by high-scoring guards Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker and Minnesota is also starting to find its way under Tom Thibodeau.

When the Bulls hit the All-Star break on Feb. 17, front-office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman should have a clear indication of which direction to pursue. Will they be looking to add another veteran scorer off the bench for a playoff run or start trading off pieces for draft picks? I'm guessing it's more likely the latter.

Right now, Taj Gibson and Niko Mirotic look to be the most tradeable commodities. Gibson will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and it seems unlikely the Bulls will be of the mind to offer a big money, long term contract to a role-playing power forward who turns 32 in June.

With the experience of losing Pau Gasol for nothing last year still fresh in their minds, look for the Bulls to pursue trades with playoff teams trying to add another piece for the stretch run. The Toronto Raptors immediately come to mind, since they've been interested in Gibson for quite some time and look at power forward as their weakest position in a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup against Cleveland. Would the Raptors be willing to give up their late first-round pick for a half season of Gibson's services? If they believe they have a legitimate shot at knocking off the Cavs this season, the answer is probably yes, especially considering their star point guard Kyle Lowry can also become a free agent at season's end.

Finding equal value for Mirotic might be a more difficult proposition, especially considering his reputation around the league has taken a hit since he came over before the 2014-15 season hailed as the best prospect in Europe. Mirotic was billed as a classic "stretch 4," but to this point, he's only shooting 34 percent for his career from 3-point range, and only 31 percent this season.

Anyone who's watched Mirotic play over the last couple months can see he's battling his confidence and that he might benefit from a fresh start with a new team. Plus, it looks like the Bulls have a ready-to-go replacement on the roster in second-round draft pick Paul Zipser, coincidentally, another European import. Add in the fact Mirotic will be a restricted free agent at season's end, and you can see why the Bulls might be better off exploring trade options now rather than being faced with the choice of matching a big contract offer this summer.

As for Rajon Rondo, unless he's involved as part of a blockbuster deal, there's little chance any NBA team is going to trade for the money remaining on his $14 million contract for this season. Look for the Bulls to explore buyout talks after the trade deadline.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

All-Star reserve picks

With the announcement of NBA All-Star reserves coming Thursday, here are my picks.

Remember the coaches from each conference will select two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild card choices from any position.

In the East, I would go with Isaiah Thomas and John Wall at guard, Paul George, Kevin Love and Joel Embiid in the frontcourt and Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker as my wild card picks. I know the East will have a point guard heavy roster, but that's the way the game is trending and Lowry and Walker are more deserving in my opinion than frontcourt players like Paul Millsap and Hassan Whiteside.

In the West, I've got Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson as my reserve guards, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Gordon Hayward in the frontcourt and Marc Gasol and Damian Lillard as my wild card picks. Apologies to other worthy choices in the West like Draymond Green, C.J. McCollum, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, but in case you haven't noticed, Jordan is having the best season of his career (averaging 13 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks a game while shooting 69 percent from the field) and he's kept the Clippers afloat with the injuries to both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

Boston's Thomas deserved to start All-Star Game

Back to the East, Thomas really should have been voted a starter. All he's done this season is average 29 points and six assists a game, carrying Boston to the third best record in the conference. But more impressively, the 5-foot-9 dynamo leads all NBA players in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging just over 10 points during winning time.

And, one thing we know for sure, the last player selected in the 2011 draft isn't lacking for confidence. Check out these tweets from the unlikely Celtics' star:

For years now, we've been hearing about Celtics general manager Danny Ainge looking to package some of his haul of future draft picks for a veteran star (like the Bulls' Jimmy Butler). Turns out his under-the-radar deal for Thomas back in February 2015 brought the C's a big-time scorer in one of the league's smallest players.

Stats of the week

Speaking of Butler, our stats "cruncher" Chris Kamka highlights some of the accomplishments that earned Jimmy Buckets the first All-Star start of his career.

— Butler has four games with 40 or more points this season, the most by a Bulls player in a season since Michael Jordan's 12 in 1997-98.

— He is the first Bulls player with three 40-point games over a six-game span since Jordan in January 1998.

— Butler put up 52 points, 12 rebounds and six assists on Jan. 2 vs. Hornets, the first time in United Center history a player had a game with at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

— He has two career 50-plus-point games, joining Jordan (38) as the only Bulls players with more than one (including playoffs).

— Butler had a streak of 15 straight games with 20 or more points this season, the longest such streak by a Bulls player since Jordan's last 23 games with Bulls (including playoffs).

— His 9.7 free-throw attempts per game this season are the most by a Bulls player since Jordan's 9.8 per game in 1988-89.

— Butler has attempted 10 or more free throws in 24 of his 43 games this season. He attempted 20 or more free throws twice.

Butler has improved his points per game in every year of his career:

— 2011-12: 2.6 PPG
— 2012-13: 8.6 PPG
— 2013-14: 13.1 PPG
— 2014-15: 20.0 PPG
— 2015-16: 20.9 PPG
— 2016-17: 24.8 PPG

Most 40-point game in Bulls history, including playoffs:

— Michael Jordan: 203
— Bob Love: 13
— Jimmy Butler: 7
— Ben Gordon: 5
— Scottie Pippen: 5
— Reggie Theus: 5

Quote of the week

And finally, with so many trade rumors circulating around the league these days, it was refreshing to hear Pistons coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy give beat reporters some candid comments about what actually goes on between front office execs, courtesy of the Detroit News.

"These discussions happen all the time, and I love it when teams say somebody is off limits. I won't lie to my guys. There's no one in this league who is off limits," Van Gundy said. "Who's the most off-limits guy? LeBron? What if the Warriors offered Kevin Durant and Steph Curry? They wouldn't consider that? There's no deal they wouldn't consider?

"Everybody's available. I got asked a question the other day: There's a report out there that Reggie (Jackson)'s available for the right price. Everyone in the league is available for the right price. It's just for your main guys, the right price is a lot steeper and usually doesn't come around."

Interesting stuff from the always-quotable Van Gundy. But I don't think we'll have to worry about that James-for-Durant-and-Curry suggestion getting a lot of play before the deadline.

Forza Blue: Michigan to spend a week of spring practice in Rome

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USA TODAY

Forza Blue: Michigan to spend a week of spring practice in Rome

Forza Blue.

Michigan football is going to Italy. The Wolverines will spend a week of spring football practice in Rome come April, the latest in Jim Harbaugh's globetrotting efforts to expand the Michigan football brand to every corner of the Earth.

According to the school, which announce the Rome trip Monday, Michigan players will spend a week practicing as well as immersing themselves in the Italian culture, visiting historic sites and visiting orphanages and with U.S. service members.

"We were looking to provide our student-athletes with a great educational, cultural and international football experience," Harbaugh said in the announcement. "I am excited that our student-athletes will be able to take advantage of this amazing educational opportunity, be exposed to another culture and be ambassadors for the United States and the University of Michigan during our visit to Rome."

On the surface, this looks like yet another wild stunt in line with Harbaugh's satellite camp tour an offseason ago, where he seemed to hold camps in every state and wear a jersey of every NFL team.

But really this isn't much different than what college basketball programs do all the time. Programs from large conferences routinely take overseas trips to play against pro teams in foreign countries. Michigan State recently took a trip to Italy. Northwestern recently visited Spain. Illinois recently took an offseason trip to Europe.

Of course transporting a college football team across the ocean is a bit more logistically involved than a basketball team, given the roster differences, but this is something plenty of college athletic programs do on a regular basis. And it is an awesome opportunity for these student-athletes, the kind of experiences universities should be providing.

"Over the past few decades student-athletes in other sports have had the opportunity to participate in international training trips to practice and prepare for the upcoming season," Michigan athletics director Warde Manuel said in the announcement. "This is a tremendous opportunity for these young men to learn about and experience another culture, connect with the people of Italy and showcase American football internationally. The University of Michigan has always encouraged our students to gain knowledge through international experiences, and we are so glad to provide them with this opportunity."

Still, because it's Harbaugh, it's sure to draw a ton of attention. And surely that can't be viewed as a bad thing for Harbaugh and his program.