Chicago Bears: Adrian Peterson
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen said that while he doesn't know all the details concerning former Minnesota Vikings teammate Adrian Peterson's legal situation, he believes "good people make mistakes."
Allen played alongside Peterson for six seasons in Minnesota before joining the Bears.
"My focus is on the Chicago Bears, honestly, and what I've got to do with my life," Allen said when asked about Peterson. "I've said it all along: I have my beliefs and my opinions, and that's what they are, and I live my life a certain way. I believe good people can make bad decisions. I'm not perfect. So I'm not one to cast judgment on others. They'll have to deal with those circumstances. It's a tough deal, and it's sad. It was sad to hear."
Peterson faces a child abuse charge in Texas for spanking his son in May with a wooden switch, with the incident leaving scarring and injuries. The child's mother reported possible abuse to Hennepin County Child Protection services, and two doctor's exams revealed the boy suffered injuries consistent with abuse.
The Vikings dropped Peterson from their active roster while the criminal case against the running back is still pending.
Asked about how Peterson was as a teammate, Allen called the running back "a good-hearted man. He always treated myself with respect, my wife with respect. He'd come over to the house for bobsledding. I honestly believe good people make mistakes. I don't know the facts. I don't know the details. I'm not one to condemn others and place judgment on them when I don't know all the information."
DIPG primarily affects children between the ages of 5 and 7, and makes up 10-15 percent of all brain tumors in children, according to the website DIPGregistry.org. There are approximately 100-150 new cases of DIPG diagnosed each year in the United States, and 300 per year in all of North American and Europe.
Unlike other forms of cancer, there has been little progress toward finding a cure for DIPG.
But the Peterson family has maintained a positive outlook throughout the whole ordeal, even A.J., who has been constantly surrounded by loved ones and friends since the problem was first detected about two weeks ago.
While visiting Peterson’s parents in Florida, A.J. awoke on the morning of June 18 and, according to his father, appeared to be wobbly, imbalanced and be suffering from slurred speech. The Peterson’s originally believed A.J.’s problems stemmed from the fact he hadn’t been wearing his prescription glasses, but a local eye doctor recommended the boy see a pediatrician. The pediatrician, who treated A.J. as an infant, seemed to sense the seriousness of the situation.
“The pediatrician had A.J. walk up and down the hall of her office,” Peterson said. ”She told us to go to the store and get some stuff we may need because we may be in the hospital for a while. Then we went to the emergency room, where he had blood work and a CT scan, and then a MRI to confirm that there was a mass in his brain.”
Surgery is not an option because the tumor is embedded in the pons (part of the brain stem on the lower back of the brain). The Petersons sole course of action is to have their son undergo 6 to 8 weeks of daily radiation treatments in a Gainesville, Florida, hospital. A.J. might be eligible to enroll in a medical study at the conclusion of the radiation. The survival rate for DIPG is between 5 and 9 percent.
The family is hopeful A.J. will be discharged late Monday if he can hold his fluids down at the conclusion of his first round of radiation.
“The good thing is we’ve been able to be at the hospital every day with him,” Peterson said. “That’s important. A child can’t go through this alone. I can’t imagine if a child didn’t have their parents in a time like this. We are so lucky to be in an area where both of our families are located.”
Selected by Chicago in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL draft, Peterson spent eight seasons (2002-09) with the Bears as a reserve running back and core special-teams contributor. He carried the football 311 times for 1,283 yards and eight touchdowns. Peterson won the Walter Payton Award as the top college player in Division I-AA following his 1999 season at Georgia Southern. Peterson finished his college career with 6,559 rushing yards. Peterson’s bother, Mike, played linebacker in the NFL for 14 seasons (1999-2012) for the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.
Adrian Peterson has worked hard throughout his adult life to overcome a speech impediment, and recently wrote and book and traveled the country to serve as a motivational speaker and raise awareness about the condition.
Angela Peterson has posted photos of A.J. and all of the hospital visitors on her Facebook page, where the family is also trying to raise money to help offset A.J.'s medical bills.
The NFC North features a mix of veteran quarterbacks and a rookie in Minnesota who might be in line for significant playing time this season.
Will Teddy Bridgewater put up the most impressive numbers among rookie quarterbacks?
Will Matthew Stafford be directing the most explosive offense in the division now that the Detroit Lions have added weapons?
Will rising star Alshon Jeffery emerge as the Bears' No. 1 target, supplanting Brandon Marshall?
And could the Packers withstand another injury to Aaron Rodgers, as they did last season while winning the division?
These are the questions our NFC North reporters tackle in the latest version of 4 Downs.
Of the three QBs taken in the first round of this year's draft, Teddy Bridgewater will put up the most impressive numbers.
Michael Rothstein: Fact, although not because Bridgewater will be the best quarterback of the first-rounders. Simply, he is going to end up playing more than either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles this season, so he will have more opportunity. Plus, Minnesota is going to be down in a lot of games this season, so the Vikings are going to have to throw more in the second halves of games. He'll end up having nice numbers, but the number that matters -- the record -- will be ugly.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Matt Cassel goes down with an injury. There is more pressure on the Browns to play Johnny Manziel right away than there is on the Vikings to play Bridgewater. The same could be said of the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. All three of the first-round quarterbacks have journeyman veterans starting in front of them, so it all depends on which one flames out or gets hurt first. Cassel seems the least likely to do either.
Ben Goessling: I'm going to say fiction, simply because I think he'll have more work to do to get on the field than Johnny Manziel. The Vikings have Matt Cassel and have been giving him many of the first-team snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. So unless Bridgewater is so good that he takes the job away from Cassel in training camp, I think it will be a while before he is on the field in regular-season games. Now, he might be more efficient once he gets in there -- he has certainly looked sharp during the Vikings' offseason program -- but he might not put up many numbers until late in the season, if at all.
@GoesslingESPN True, and it won't be close. Like asking which will have the more pleasant winter: North Dakota, Manitoba, or Hawaii?— Steven Macks (@semacks) June 17, 2014
The Lions will have the most explosive offense in the NFC North this season.
Michael Rothstein: Fact. There are a bunch of good offenses in the NFC North this season, although none improved on paper as much as the Lions. Detroit still has Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as targets for Matthew Stafford. The Lions added Golden Tate, which is an upgrade from Nate Burleson. They also held on to Joseph Fauria and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew, along with drafting Eric Ebron in the first round. While Ebron's hands are in question, his athleticism and ability to get open down the field are not. As long as Stafford and Johnson stay healthy, there is no reason Detroit should not be a top-10 offense again. They should inch ahead of Green Bay and Chicago, both of which had top-10 offenses as well in 2013.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's fact if "implosive" is the word used. Just kidding. But the Lions in the past relied too much on Matthew Stafford forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, which often led to turnovers and quick three-and-outs. And although the offense features multiple weapons, it's easy to see why the club has operated this way. Megatron is the best in the game. He is going to make plays other receivers can't make. But, to me, it's expected that a team operating a new scheme will experience its fair share of growing pains. I see that happening with the Lions in 2014. I know Stafford has put up big numbers in the past, but I see his inconsistency holding this offense back this season if he doesn't take a big step in his development.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler get hurt again. Do you trust Matthew Stafford more than Rodgers or Cutler for a full 16-game season? At this point, the Bears might have the most explosive offense. They have the best 1-2 receiver punch with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Packers have the best quarterback. Not only do the Lions not have the most explosive offense in the division, they might not even be No. 2.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. They have the talent to have it, but how often do the Lions turn talent and potential into actual results? Give me the Bears, with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, or the Packers, now that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and have a full season with running back Eddie Lacy. I like what Golden Tate gives the Lions opposite Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron fits nicely into their scheme, but I think they have the third-best quarterback in the division.
@mikerothstein If Stafford plays the way he can play then fact. Good O-Line, balance runners, best WR and other WR/TE opt— Tom (@tomarmetta) June 16, 2014
Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall, will be Chicago's go-to receiver in 2014.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Jeffery might have had more yards last season, but opponents also are going to be more aware of the former South Carolina receiver this season from the get-go. While his numbers were gaudy a season ago, 467 of his 1,421 yards came in two games. Marshall had a little more consistency last season than Jeffery and was a more consistent target. The real reason Jeffery won't be considered Chicago's go-to receiver next season is that the Bears won't have one on a consistent basis. It will likely change based on matchups, because they are the best receiver duo in the division.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As long as Jay Cutler is quarterbacking the Chicago Bears, Marshall always will be the go-to receiver. And why not? Marshall is one of the league's best, even when teams focus on stopping him with double teams. Besides that, Marshall, in my opinion, is poised for a big season because he has spent this entire offseason actually training instead of rehabbing an injury. In 2013, it took Marshall, who was coming off hip surgery, about half the season to finally find his groove; yet he still finished with a team-high 100 grabs for 1,295 yards. Last season, Jeffery was probably the beneficiary of extra coverage devoted to a hobbled Marshall. Because of the damage Jeffery did last season, he will start to see more coverage, which should free up Marshall to continue to do his thing. Besides, Marshall was the fifth-most targeted receiver in the NFL last season. Marshall's 163 targets ranked even more than Calvin Johnson, who had 156 passes thrown his way.
Rob Demovsky: Fact, if we're talking about making big plays. Marshall still might end up having more receptions like he did last season; he's Cutler's security blanket. But even last season, Jeffery began to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. His 16.0-yard average per catch was 11th best in the league among all receivers last season. He is a freak athlete with great size, making him a matchup nightmare.
Ben Goessling: Fact. Jeffery is six years younger than Marshall and probably is a better deep threat at this point in his career. I thought he was phenomenal last season, and, to me, he might be the second-best receiver in the division right now behind Calvin Johnson. If he is not there yet, he can ascend to that spot by the end of the season. Marshall is still a great receiver, but Jeffery seems ready to become the main man in Chicago's offense.
The Packers can win the division again even if Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season, like he did last season.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Not a chance. Chicago has improved defensively and should have a more potent offense in 2014, as well as a healthy Jay Cutler for the entire season. Detroit should have a more dynamic offense than in 2013, and the leadership within the Lions should keep the team from collapsing like they did in 2013. Minnesota is likely not a factor this season, but either Chicago or Detroit would take advantage of a Rodgers-less Green Bay team better than they did a year ago.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. In the past, this would definitely be "fact" and it might still be now that the Packers have put together a nice ground game to complement their passing attack. But I just think the rest of the division is starting to catch up to the Packers in terms of overall talent. Every team in the division improved its talent. Detroit's offense should be above average at the very least, and its defense definitely will be better. The Bears will be potent on offense in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's system, and their defense should be improved, especially up front with that revamped line. Let's not forget that Rodgers' return (combined with a mental bust by Bears safety Chris Conte on the quarterback's game-winning bomb) is what won Green Bay the division title. The Packers appear to have put together a better backup plan than they had last season, but we all know how important Rodgers is to his team's success.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction. The Bears and Lions folded last season, which allowed the Packers to stay afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago. Both teams have taken measures to ensure that won't happen again. The Bears beefed up their defense, and the Lions made a coaching change. That said, the Packers might be in better position to handle a Rodgers absence because they should have Matt Flynn as the backup from the get-go.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. The only reason the Packers won the division last season was because the other three teams were flawed enough not to take it from them. The Lions collapsed late in the season, the Bears lost four of their last six (including the season finale against Green Bay) and the Vikings blew five last-minute leads (including one against the Packers) to take themselves out of the race. Green Bay might be better prepared for a Rodgers injury now that they have gone through it with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but the Packers' offense is predicated on Rodgers making throws few others can make. You can't expect a team to survive the loss of an elite player like that again.
@RobDemovsky True. Defense will be much better this year & flynn/tolzien will have a full training camp to run offense.— Jules Parmentier (@JulesPthe5th) June 12, 2014
The good: Wright ranked second on the defense with 117 tackles and intercepted two passes. In his lone start of the year, Steltz made 12 stops versus the Minnesota Vikings, including several impressive open field tackles against Pro Bowl tailback Adrian Peterson. Chris Conte did have a career-high 95 tackles and three interceptions.
The bad: Again, how much time do you have? The disastrous play of the front-seven exposed the Bears' safeties beyond belief. Much of the season was littered with missed open field tackles and busted coverage from the safety position, although to be fair, the two safeties didn't get much help from up front. Conte had an especially tough year. He played the wrong coverage late in the 4th quarter in the Bears' Week 17 winner-take-all NFC North clash versus the Green Bay Packers that resulted in Randall Cobb's game-winning touchdown reception. The safeties also squandered several chances to force turnovers over the course of the season. Moral of the story: burn the tape.
The money: Conte has one year left on his original rookie contract. He is scheduled to count roughly $1.5 million against the salary cap next season after he reportedly hit a performance escalator that will raise his base salary to the low restricted free agent tender amount of $1.389 million. Conte still has the prorated amount of $133,400 left from his signing bonus of $533,600 that will also count against the cap in 2014. Besides Conte, the Bears have little money allocated to the safety position. They did sign Sean Cattouse to a futures contract immediately following the regular season.
Draft priority: Urgent. At the very least, the Bears will have to find one new starter at safety. A more likely scenario calls for the team to replace both Conte and Wright, although the club could decide to bring Conte to training camp and let him compete for a roster spot/job. Steltz is a seasoned veteran with starting experience who excels on special teams. He can probably be re-signed for the league minimum. But the Bears need to get younger and better at safety.
Interestingly, of the 10 Chicago Bears surveyed in the poll, only one picked Peterson. Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson was the top vote getter in Chicago. But that doesn’t mean Peterson isn’t respected by the Bears.
“I think more than his run ability is his will,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said in November. “His will and determination is so apparent on every single run. His passion for what he does, his job. I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league who expresses that any better and that relentlessness and love of the game. Certainly there are guys who do just as much, but nobody more than Adrian Peterson. That’s what stands out to me.
"We’ve seen a lot of running backs come and go, and he’s certainly one of the greatest to ever play the game. Some of us have seen a lot of running backs over the last 50 years in the National Football League, and he has to be one of the best. But it’s his will, his determination, the things that go beyond his ability that really stand out to me.”
As do Peterson’s numbers against the Bears. In 12 games against Chicago, Peterson is 6-6, but he has rushed for 1,396 yards and 14 touchdowns for an average of 116.3 yards per game. Peterson has scored a total of 84 points against Chicago, which is the most he’s scored against any opponent.
In two games against the Bears in 2013, Peterson carried 61 times for 311 yards, which included a 211-yard performance during a 23-20 Vikings overtime victory Dec. 1.
Peterson admitted “it makes me feel pretty good” that he can still excel despite defenses consistently loading up to stop him.
“It feels good, but it feels like another play because I’ve been dealing with it for so long,” Peterson said.
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall received two votes from his peers, and defensive end Julius Peppers received one vote in the NFL Nation survey.
The last time the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings met, the Bears' touchdown with 16 seconds left gave them a 31-30 victory that put Chicago at the top of the NFC North and sent Minnesota home, just two weeks into the season, with grave concerns about its ability to put a team away.
Eleven weeks later, the two teams are still more or less in the same spot. The Bears are tied for the NFC North lead with the Detroit Lions, and could take the outright lead this week if they beat the Vikings and the Green Bay Packers knock off the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. The Vikings, meanwhile, blew their fourth last-minute lead of the season on Sunday, when the Packers forced overtime in a game that eventually ended in a tie.
With the Bears playing for first place -- and the Vikings trying to recover some dignity -- on Sunday at Mall of America Field, ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright got together to preview the game:
Ben Goessling: The Vikings might have some bad memories from Week 2, but they also have bad memories of Josh McCown. Ten years ago, as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, McCown threw a last-second touchdown pass that kept the Vikings out of the playoffs on the final play of the 2003 season. What’s he doing so well in his latest stint as a starting quarterback?
Michael C. Wright: McCown says it’s a combination of factors such as where he is in life right now (he’s 34), the lessons he has learned from being in the league so long playing behind guys such as Jon Kitna and Kurt Warner, and the fact he has been with the Bears since they implemented this new offense. When McCown first signed with the Bears in 2011 and was forced to play, he came in basically cold. Now, McCown has just as good of a handle on the offense as starter Jay Cutler because he had some input with Bears coach Marc Trestman when the system was being installed. McCown obviously doesn’t possess the cannon of an arm that Cutler has, but he makes up for that with a quick release and strong anticipation skills. McCown really has excelled at not getting outside of himself, and allowing his weapons -- Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett -- to do the majority of the work. But McCown is also being careful with the ball and not taking chances by throwing into coverage as Cutler might.
After watching film from Chicago’s loss to the Rams when they gave up 109 yards to Benny Cunningham and allowed an average of 8.9 yards per carry, do you think Adrian Peterson is more or less licking his chops thinking about what he might be able to do?
Goessling: He certainly should be. Peterson had a season-high 146 yards on 32 carries (also a season-high) on Sunday in Green Bay, and though he's dealing with a groin injury, he looked like he was running harder against the Packers than he was able to the week before against Seattle. The other guy the Bears might need to keep an eye on is Toby Gerhart, who ran eight times for 91 yards against the Packers and provided a nice change of pace when the Vikings gave Peterson a break. They could look to use Gerhart a little more this week; he's a good downhill runner who's obviously not as shifty as Peterson, but who can do some damage to a tired defense. The Vikings ran the ball more effectively last week than they had all season, and Peterson has had plenty of big days against the Bears before.
As the season has played out, it looks like the Bears have had a similar problem to the Vikings' on their defensive line, which isn’t getting the same kind of pressure it used to. Why have the Bears had so much trouble getting to the quarterback?
Wright: The No. 1 reason is simply injuries. The Bears have used nine different combination of starters in the front four alone having lost defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins for the season, in addition to playing without defensive tackle Stephen Paea and defensive end Shea McClellin for stretches. With so many newcomers such as David Bass and Landon Cohen, the Bears lack experience up front and, most importantly, they haven’t played with a set lineup long enough to develop any level of chemistry. Julius Peppers is the only member of Chicago’s defensive line to start in the same spot for every game, and he has been largely ineffective, although he came alive in the team’s win over the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 17 and notched multiple sacks (2) for the first time since December of last season.
How’s Leslie Frazier’s job security looking, and will it have an effect on how this team plays down the stretch?
Goessling: The Vikings are still playing hard for Frazier, and players say they believe he's the right man to lead them. You need look no further than how they battled the Packers last Sunday to see that. But will it save his job? I'm not so sure. The Vikings picked up Frazier's 2014 option, but didn't give him a contract extension after he took the Vikings to the playoffs last season, so if he were to come back they'd either have to let him coach into the last year of his deal or give him a new contract after a disappointing season. Either one of those moves would be a gamble on the Vikings' part, so if Frazier stays, it will be because he has proved to ownership that he's still the man to lead the Vikings forward. And if he does stay, I have a hard time seeing his offensive and defensive coordinators -- Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams -- joining him for another season in Minnesota. Somebody's going to have to pay for this season, I'm guessing.
Cordarrelle Patterson first made his mark for the Vikings in Week 2 against the Bears, and now he’s seeing a bigger role in their offense. As much trouble as the Bears had with Tavon Austin last week, could Patterson be in line for a big day on Sunday?
Wright: Patterson and Austin are much different players, and from this vantage point, Patterson doesn’t appear to be as elusive out in space as Austin. Austin ripped the Bears for a 65-yard touchdown run early on last Sunday. But for the most part, the Bears held him in check, limiting him to two catches and one 24-yard kickoff return. Patterson’s best chance to hurt the Bears would probably be on special teams where he already stung them in Week 2 for a 105-yard kickoff return for a TD. But on offense, Patterson probably won’t be as impactful because Chicago’s cornerbacks -- even backup Zack Bowman -- should be able to hold their own against him fairly well. Remember, Tim Jennings is a Pro Bowl player and Bowman is experienced and matches up well with Patterson in terms of size.
What’s going on with Minnesota’s red zone offense? The Vikings’ numbers in that area haven’t looked very good over the past two games.
Goessling: They certainly haven't been very good there, and they could have won last Sunday if they'd scored more than two TDs in five red-zone trips. This is where I think not having tight end Kyle Rudolph hurts the most; he'd become a reliable red zone threat for Christian Ponder last year and this year before fracturing his foot. The other problem is, with less space to work, Ponder has to be more decisive and do a better job of getting the ball out quickly. Those aren't his strong suits, though I should note he made a sharp throw to the back of the end zone in overtime on Sunday that could've won the game if Patterson had been able to hang onto it after Davon House got just a piece of it. When the Vikings are inside the 10, they've always got Adrian Peterson to rely on, but when they need to throw the ball, they're definitely missing Rudolph.
But if someone as innocuous as St. Louis’ Benny Cunningham could rip the Bears for 109 yards last week, Peterson could be in for a field day against a Bears defense allowing an average of 145.2 yards per game.
“I don’t know,” Peterson said, laughing. “I don’t really want to sit here and make any predictions. I just want to contribute and do whatever it takes to help my team win. So if that’s 300 yards, perfect. If that’s 150, perfect; 50, with 100-something receiving, any way I can help my team get this “W” this weekend, that’s pretty much all I’m worried about. I’m just going to go out there and play ball and let the chips fall where they may.”
“They’re going to go back and watch the Rams game,” Bowman said.
Why wouldn’t they? After all, the Bears surrendered 258 yards on the ground against the Rams, which averaged 8.9 yards per attempt. Cunningham, Zac Stacy, and Tavon Austin averaged 8.4, 7.3 and 65 yards, respectively, on 26 attempts, with each breaking loose for gains of 27 yards or more.
Against the Rams, the Bears allowed eight runs for gains of 10 yards or more. On the season, the Bears have given up 48 such runs, including 10 for gains of 25 yards or more.
“[We’re] looking to rebound from a very disappointing outing, especially in the run game on Sunday,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “In order to play great defense, especially run defense, everyone needs to be exactly where they need to be on every play. It only takes one breakdown to cause a big play. We really don’t have margin for error, especially when you’re playing good teams with good talent. Everyone has to be on point.”
That especially holds true for Sunday’s matchup against Peterson, who gained 100 yards against a healthy Chicago defense in the first meeting between the teams before injuries decimated the unit.
Peterson has hit the century mark in four games this season, and his 98.5 yards per game over his seven seasons rank as No. 3 in league history for players participating in a minimum of 100 games. Peterson admits to taking some pride in maintaining such productivity against defenses loading the box seemingly every week to stop him.
“It feels good, but then it feels like just another play because I’ve been dealing with it for so long,” Peterson said. “For seven years, every time we play, guys are in there to stop the run. So it’s become a norm.”
It’s also becoming fairly common for Chicago’s defense to surrender yardage in chunks on the ground. But Peterson refuses to underestimate the Bears. Peterson said the Bears are “not the defense we played earlier this season,” with the unit “going through a little funk right now.”
But the running back isn’t quite on the same tear as he was in 2012 when he finished the season with 2,097 yards. With 997 yards so far, Peterson needs 154 yards against the Bears on Sunday to become just the fifth player in league history to hit 10,000 yards or more rushing in their first seven seasons.
Given Chicago’s epic struggles against the run, Peterson was asked if he predicted a 300-yard outing against the Bears.
“Don’t make that the headline,” he said, laughing.
Peterson may be able to do that himself.
“Well, we take a lot of pride in being able to run the ball,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “We go into every ballgame with the intent of being able to run the ball. We feel like we’ve got the best running back in the NFL on our team. So we’re going to try to play to our strength.”
In 11 career games against Chicago, Peterson has averaged 107.7 yards, which ranks as the most by any player all-time against the Bears. Peterson gained more than 120 yards in four of those contests, including a 224-yard explosion during the running back’s rookie year.
“His will and determination is so apparent on every single run,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “It’s his will, his determination, the things that go beyond his ability that really stand out to me. Certainly, there are guys who do just as much, but nobody more than Adrian Peterson. We’ve seen a lot of running backs come and go. He’s certainly one of the greatest to ever play the game. Some of us have seen a lot of running backs over the last 50 years in the National Football League, and he has to be one of the best.”
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Adrian Peterson and the Vikings will run for at least 275 yards against the Bears on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson:Fiction. If the Bears fail to stack the box with a minimum of eight defenders on every snap with the exception of third-and-long, then fire the entire coaching staff immediately after the game. The Vikings and Peterson are the NFL's 11th-best rushing offense (122.5) and the 25th overall passing offense (207.0). Make them throw to win. Last I checked, the Bears still do a decent job in the secondary defending the pass (No. 13), but are No. 32 out of 32 teams when it comes to run defense (145.2). If Minnesota tops 275 yards on the ground Sunday, there needs to be a formal investigation.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Peterson won't get a yard over 255. Seriously, the Bears, who have given up 123-plus rushing yards in six straight games (258 last week), will need to do some serious scheming to keep Peterson from winning this game. They've had some success in the past, but they just don't have the players. When your defensive line is Julius Peppers, projects and waiver-wire guys and your linebackers are two-thirds rookies, it's tough enough. But then you have breakdowns in gap discipline and, well, it's going to be a long day. Still, under 275.
Fact or Fiction: Chris Conte will be a Bear in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I understand the frustration over the safety position, but what Conte needs is competition, not to be flat-out released at the end of the season. Major Wright is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason so if he finds a team willing to pay more on the open market, let him go. But Conte's salary-cap number for 2014 is only $788,400. That's a reasonable figure for a player who will be 25 next year with roughly 40 career starts. Conte has made his share of mistakes this season, but his struggles have been magnified by the awful performance of the front seven. Were fans screaming about Conte last season when Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Lance Briggs were the three starting linebackers? That doesn't excuse the errors or poor angles, but Conte can be an effective free safety. However, I would strongly advocate the Bears have Conte compete for his job next summer. As we've written before, competition brings out the best in everybody.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears should have two new safeties. Look at how Phil Emery handled the offensive line this year. No more chances, no more "developing" the tackles of the "future." Just get rid of them and move on. The Bears' brain trust will say the right things now to boost up Conte and Wright, but I'm guessing we'll see a very different defense.
Fact or Fiction: Jon Bostic has shown enough to warrant a starting job in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I put Bostic in the same boat as Conte. Bostic is clearly part of the Bears' future, being a 2013 second-round draft choice, but to simply hand him a starting job next season seems a tad premature. To put it nicely, Bostic has not played particularly well the past couple of weeks. Maybe if he closes the season out on a strong note, the Bears will feel better about handing him the job next year. But I'd make him earn it. However, this is the NFL, and the trend in the league is hand high-draft picks starting jobs, even if they don't deserve them. So it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Bears go that route with Bostic.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Though you wonder if he'll be in the middle. The Bears need wholesale changes on defense, but Bostic will be one of the few holdovers. He's been thrust into a difficult position, especially with the defensive line turnover, but he has the spark and he has the IQ to be a starter.
Fact or Fiction: Julius Peppers is playing his final season as a Bear.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Peppers seems like a goner unless he agrees to take a drastic reduction in pay in 2014. The Bears can't afford to carry a player on the 53-man roster with a projected cap hit of $18,183,333 unless that player is a franchise quarterback. Peppers has shown the ability to still have good games from time to time, but he is no longer one of the NFL's premiere pass-rushers. If you can no longer get to the quarterback, then you can no longer cash the really big checks. For a couple million dollars, I'd bring Peppers back for another season. But not for the $14 million he's scheduled to earn in 2014 under his current deal.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. His cap number is more than $18 million next season. Peppers has already had his contract restructured twice, but I wouldn't count on a third time. Peppers was a good signing, and he still his moments but the Bears need depth. It's best to use that money elsewhere. But hey, if he wants to play for a lot less money, I'm sure the Bears would be up to re-sign him. I just don't see it happening.
“I couldn’t comment,” Trestman said when asked about the CBA affecting his team’s tackling. “I can’t really stand up here after coaching a week in this position in the National Football League and start making statements that I really am not educated enough to do at this time. You kind of hear that across the league right now. We’re just focusing on doing what we need to do this week and that’s tackle better.”
If the Bears fail to do so on Sunday, they know Peterson can take over the game.
The last time the teams met, Peterson shredded the Bears for 104 yards in the first quarter and a pair of touchdowns. In the first matchup between the clubs last season, the Bears limited Peterson to 108 yards, but did that by putting the Vikings in passing mode early. Chicago scored three touchdowns in the first half on the way to building a 28-10 lead at intermission.
One of the key points of emphasis for the Bears this week will be getting off the field on third downs, but not solely for the sake of preventing first downs and stalling drives. Along the offensive line, the Vikings like to experiment with hitting different points at the line of the scrimmage over the course of a game until they find an area of weakness.
By getting off the field on third downs, the Bears limit their exposure to Minnesota’s coaching staff as they search for that area of vulnerability.
“It’s a difficult, huge challenge (stopping Peterson). He’s one of the better ... no he’s one of the best backs to ever play the game, so everyone’s got to do their job,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “Everyone has to be at the point of attack every time he gets the ball. Frontside, backside, D-line, linebackers, secondary, every time he gets the ball he can go the distance and we know that. Tackling is going to be huge for our whole defense. That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about: we have to become stronger tacklers, and that’s a point of emphasis.”
But tackling Peterson isn’t the same as putting licks on most ball carriers, according to cornerback Charles Tillman, who said the running back is incomparable to every player at his position.
“He’s in a league of his own,” Tillman said. “He was definitely the MVP for a reason last year. Our defense will have our hands full. You can’t just have one guy tackling him. You want to have a population tackle.”
Can the Bears consistently pull that off? They think so, but haven’t lost sight of the fact that five of Peterson’s 37 career regular-season games in which he gained 100 yards or more came courtesy of the Bears. In fact, the Bears have surrendered three of Peterson’s longest career runs (73 yards, 67 and 59).
That’s part of the reason why last week’s poor performance plays prominently in the defense’s collective psyche. But the Bears are confident they’ll improve their tackling.
“It’s only Week 1. There’s no point to getting frustrated right now,” defensive end Shea McClellin said. “We have 15 more opportunities to get better and improve.”
As for the notion that the CBA has adversely affected Chicago’s tackling, even if the rules didn’t exist, the Bears would still limit contact at practices.
“Lance [Briggs] said [the Bears tackled poorly] immediately after the game and [defensive coordinator] Mel [Tucker] said that,” Trestman said. “We all know that. It’s part of the preseason too, where we don’t tackle during the preseason or training camp. Even if we had a chance we wouldn’t because we want to get our guys to the season safe. So we know there’s a cost-benefit to not doing more of it. Thankfully, we were able to get through the first game and we’ll be better this week.”
Peterson already appears to be in midseason form, judging from the 78-yard touchdown reeled off on his first carry of the season in last week’s Minnesota loss to the Detroit Lions, and that’s a scary proposition for a Bears defense that admittedly missed tackles it shouldn’t have in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“You can’t really put your guys in a situation where you have a lot of one-on-one tackles,” Bears linebacker James Anderson said. “If you watch that guy, he’ll make the first guy miss. He’ll run through tackles. The more guys we can get to the ball, the better chance we’ll have.”
The Vikings, meanwhile, face a new Bears offense that emphasizes protecting the quarterback and getting the ball quickly out of the quarterback’s hands. That philosophy can wreak havoc on Minnesota’s pass rush, which features Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. The Lions neutralized Minnesota’s rush on Sunday by throwing screens to Reggie Bush.
ESPN.com’s Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright discuss the matchup.
Ben Goessling: The Vikings’ defense definitely starts with their pass rush -- and we saw Sunday how much this defense can struggle when opponents are able to get rid of the ball before Allen, Robison and Griffen can get to the quarterback. But if I’m a Bears receiver, I’m making sure I know where second-year safety Harrison Smith is located. He’s got a nose for the ball (he ran two interceptions back for touchdowns as a rookie) and, as Calvin Johnson learned last year, he isn’t afraid to make big hits. Smith will take some chances at times, but he’s smart enough and fast enough to recover if he’s a bit out of position. He looks like a force at safety, and the Bears will have to deal with him for a while.
Speaking of the pass rush, though, the Lions might have given the Bears a recipe for neutralizing it by throwing as many screens as they did to Bush. Can we expect to see the Bears use Matt Forte the same way?
Michael C. Wright: The Bears have always worked the screen game with Forte with plenty of success. With the Lions experiencing some success against the Vikings in Week 1, it’s now obviously on film and something the Bears will likely attack. But don’t look at Forte as merely a screen guy. He’s versatile enough to split out wide as a slot receiver, and on numerous occasions in recent years he’s burned defenders deep on the wheel route. In the opener against the Bengals, the Bears targeted Forte six times, with him coming down with four receptions for 41 yards, including a 24-yard completion.
So in answering your question, yes, the Bears will use Forte on screens. But I don’t anticipate it being a major part of the game plan. Forte ran 19 times for 50 yards last week and the team isn’t happy about that performance. Improving the rushing attack is a major point of emphasis this week for the Bears.
How much would you say Christian Ponder has grown as a quarterback from last season?
Goessling: It’s hard to say. He made some throws on Sunday that suggested he was gaining confidence -- he threw downfield more than we ever saw last year -- but especially on his second interception, he looked like the same tentative, mechanical quarterback we’ve seen in the past. Greg Jennings has been outspoken about how Ponder can be a good quarterback if he learns to anticipate throws and trust himself, and it still hasn’t seemed like Ponder has figured that out. He’d better show some progress quickly, though. The Vikings have Matt Cassel on the bench, and with Leslie Frazier trying to earn a new contract, he might not be able to remain patient with Ponder forever.
In fairness to Ponder, though, his offensive line didn’t play well in front of him on Sunday. In fact, a group that’s typically solid looked as bad as it has in some time. Julius Peppers is coming off a bad game, too.
Who’s got the edge as he and Matt Kalil both look to get back on track?
Wright: Honestly, I like Peppers in this matchup. Peppers worked against a backup left tackle on Sunday in Anthony Collins. But I don’t think people gave Collins enough credit for his performance. Collins is an athletic player (former basketball player) and probably one of the most athletic tackles Peppers will face this season. Couple that with the fact Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton got rid of the ball quickly and it’s easy to see how Peppers didn’t register anything on the stat sheet.
Remember this, though: Peppers is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he’s posted 11 sacks or more. Peppers certainly doesn’t appear to be slowing down, but at the same time, the defensive end didn’t register a sack in either of the two games last season against Minnesota.
With Percy Harvin out of the picture, outside of Peterson, who is the guy the Bears need to take notice of on defense?
Goessling: We could see more of Cordarrelle Patterson this week. The Vikings traded back into the first round to get the receiver in the draft, and they think he has many of the same skills that Harvin has. They didn’t use him much in Detroit, which was a little perplexing, but if they need a spark on offense, getting the ball to Patterson in the open field might be the quickest way to get it. The Bears also know plenty about Jennings from his days in Green Bay. Ponder targeted him more than any other receiver last week, and though he missed Jennings with a couple of throws, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jennings quickly becomes the focal point of the Vikings’ passing game.
Peterson is coming off an odd game; he ran 78 yards for a touchdown on his first carry, but the Lions stacked eight men in the box and held him to 15 yards on his next 17 carries. How will the Bears fare against the reigning MVP?
Wright: That’s difficult to answer because the Bears have been up-and-down against Peterson over the years. For the most part they’ve handled him. In 2011, Chicago limited Peterson to 51 yards in the only game they faced him. But then last season, Peterson hit the century mark in both games, including 104 yards in the first quarter when the teams met in December. Chicago’s front four of Henry Melton, Peppers, Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton should fare well. But the linebacker position, particularly the middle linebacker spot, is the most concerning. D.J. Williams is playing in the middle as the replacement for Brian Urlacher. But he missed virtually all of training camp and the preseason with a calf strain and wasn’t cleared to practice until the week of the Bengals game. Frankly, Williams looked as if he were running with concrete blocks on his feet against Cincinnati. Conditioning was definitely an issue for Williams and will likely be again Sunday when the teams meet. The Bears are pretty adept at stopping the run (they held Cincinnati to 63 yards), but Peterson is a special back. I don’t think the Bears can totally shut him down.
To find the Vikings’ last win at Soldier Field you have to go all the way back to Oct. 14, 2007 -- a 34-31 final that featured Adrian Peterson, then a rookie, rushing for 224 yards, the second-highest total of his career.
Since that signature Peterson performance, the Bears have won five straight at home against their NFC North rivals, and six of the last seven in the overall series.
“Goodness, we haven’t won since 2007, I think,” Allen said. “It’s got to change, to be honest. It’s embarrassing. It’s annoying. We can take the same team and bring them back to the dome and be successful against them.
“I think when you travel you have to have your mindset [being that] it’s going to be tougher than you think. Things always aren’t going to go your way … there is going to be some adversity and you have to play through that. You have to understand why you are there. We’re not going to Chicago to go down and grab a bite to eat at Gibson’s, you know what I mean. We’re there to work.”
The last three meetings between the two teams in Chicago haven’t even been close, with the Bears outscoring the Vikings by a combined 94-33. The Bears are coming off a Week 1 home win over the Bengals, while Minnesota enters Sunday 0-1 after dropping a close one to Detroit 34-24.
“I think when you get in there and [get past] the crowd and the ambiance, the field is still the same and you have to play ball,” Allen said. “I don’t know why we’ve struggled there. We’ve had some good individual efforts; Adrian [Peterson] in 2007 darn near rushed for 300 [yards]. We’ve had games where we were blown out in the first half, and then we start clawing our way back and shoot ourselves in the foot somewhere along the way.
We have to play better -- bottom line. We have to play better when we go to Chicago. It’s a huge game for us.”
The Vikings would catch a break on Sunday if Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams can return from a knee injury that sidelined him for Week 1. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday that Williams might be available to see action against the Bears at Soldier Field.
But organizations need to set lofty goals. Have you ever heard of an NFL team striving for mediocrity?
So while a part of me wants to cringe when I read Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley quoted in the Detroit News saying that his team is "going to the Super Bowl”, or watch a video of Detroit running back Reggie Bush tell reporters that he signed with the Lions "to win championships," the reality is that every NFL player should feel that way about the prospects of his respective club this time of the year.
How does each NFC North team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?
Chicago Bears: If you were drawing up plans for an experienced but diverse backfield, you could do a lot worse than modeling after the Bears. Starter Matt Forte is a shifty off-tackle runner and one of the NFL's top pass-catching running backs, a collection of skills that will fit neatly into new coach Marc Trestman's offense. Forte has caught 267 passes since his career started in 2008, the third-most in the NFL by a running back over that stretch. Backup Michael Bush, meanwhile, is a bigger and stronger inside threat who gives the Bears a better option in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He produced a first down on 24.6 percent of his rushes last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the 10th-best percentage in the NFL. As long as Forte and Bush are healthy, the Bears' relatively thin depth behind them is irrelevant.
Detroit Lions: Free agent acquisition Reggie Bush figures to benefit from opponents' attention on receiver Calvin Johnson to much greater extent than the Lions' backfield did last season. Early indications are the Lions will use Bush similarly to the way the New Orleans Saints did earlier in his career. With the Saints in 2006, Bush caught 88 passes. Training camp should bring competition for the right to be the "thumper" behind Bush. Will it be 2011 second-round draft choice Mikel Leshoure, who looked slow and not very elusive after returning last season from a torn Achilles tendon? (No NFL running back had as many touches as Leshoure without at least one play of at least 20 yards.) Or will it be the lesser-known Joique Bell, who as Pro Football Focus points out, made defenders miss regularly last season. He forced 26 missed tackles in 82 carries and actually averaged more yards after contact (2.99) than Bush did with the Miami Dolphins (2.06).
Green Bay Packers: The team re-made its backfield through the draft after years of transition, throwing the situation into unknown territory. At some point, the Packers will have to thin the herd of a group that includes returnees DuJuan Harris, James Starks, Alex Green and John Kuhn, along with rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. The competition is wide open, although both Starks and Green have failed when given previous opportunities. Lacy's build and pedigree suggests he has an excellent chance to ultimately win the starting job, but Harris impressed the team late last season and could get the first shot this summer.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson. Is there much more to say? Historically, runners who put together a 2,000-yard season tend to fall back the following year. But nothing about Peterson's career suggests he will fit neatly into a trend. He has set a goal of 2,500 yards, and however unrealistic it might be, he has earned the benefit of the doubt. Backup Toby Gerhart is in his fourth and presumably last season as Peterson's understudy. While Gerhart hasn't shown much explosion in short stints in Peterson's place, you would think he'll want to look elsewhere for more carries when his contract expires after this season.
Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte is the first active running back that I'm aware of to take a strong stance against the applicable proposed rule, which would penalize backs 15 yards for lowering their heads and initiating "forcible contact" with the top/crown of the helmet. League officials have said they would instruct officials to call only the most obvious examples, but Sunday morning, Forte tweeted:
"The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I've ever heard of. In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It's a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles. U can't change the instinctive nature of running the football."
What Forte wrote makes a lot of rational sense. I look forward to hearing from other prominent running backs as well, including the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, but my informed guess is that their breath will be wasted.
I ran into a few team officials Sunday morning as they began gathering at the Biltmore hotel, and they expressed varying opinions about whether the rule will pass. My feeling on these issues hasn't changed. Whenever the NFL attaches player safety to a proposed rule change, as it did two years ago when it altered kickoffs, the rule usually passes in some form, even if it is tweaked a bit.
Player safety rule changes are as important to the outside perception of the league as they are to actually increasing player safety. Rejecting those efforts by dismissing a rule change would send a mixed message about the league's intent. I don't think the league wants to do that. More to come, I'm sure.
NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.
Chicago: The Bears have a glaring hole at left tackle, but with the No. 20 pick, they likely aren’t in a position to select any of the consensus top players at the position (Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson). The combine is another step in solidifying and ranking their targets among the second tier of left-tackle prospects for first- or later-round consideration. If the Bears don’t feel there is a draftable prospect with starting credentials for 2013, they could find a player in the tackle-rich free-agent market.
Detroit: With the No. 5 pick, the Lions can narrow their focus to a handful of prospects. Since Kyle Vanden Bosch has been released and Cliff Avril is a free agent, the Lions must hone in on the crop of top pass-rushers available and decide whether one is worth the substantial investment of the fifth pick. Taking a player such as Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore or Barkevious Mingo would soften the blow of potentially losing Avril, and the combine will give the Lions a better sense of what each offers as a replacement. Team president Tom Lewand recently suggested the Lions need to find rookies who can contribute immediately, and being in Indianapolis will allow them to seek a pass-rusher who fits that mold.
Green Bay: There’s a shortage of top-rated running backs available in this draft, and the Packers discovered a bargain find in DuJuan Harris late last season. But there’s still room to upgrade the position, and the Packers need to search for a high-upside back who can be had in the middle rounds perhaps due to a lack of polish or concerns about an aspect of his game. Four of the top seven rookie rushing leaders from 2012 were drafted in the sixth round or later. There’s backfield talent to be had past the first round, and the Packers will head out to survey the landscape of mid-round running backs available.
Minnesota: Adrian Peterson stomped to nearly 2,100 yards in 2012 for an offense without a vertical passing game (or much of a passing offense at all), and finding a speedster to take the top off a defense would make one of the scariest sights in the NFL to an opposing defense even more frightening. The ability of defenses to stack the box helped to mildly contain Peterson; more space would open up if a vertical passing threat is on the field to stress the safeties in coverage. When the wideouts are running their 40s, the Vikings will have their stopwatches ready and be on the lookout for players who project as downfield receiving threats. Regardless of what the team decides to do with slot maven Percy Harvin (GM Rick Spielman recently shut down talk of a trade), adding a vertical receiver is a premium need for Minnesota this offseason.