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.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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