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Vikings star Adrian Peterson to test Bears’ run defense

Vikings star Adrian Petersleaves field cart after suffering torn ligaments his left knee last Christmas Eve. | Getty Images

Vikings star Adrian Peterson leaves the field on a cart after suffering torn ligaments in his left knee last Christmas Eve. | Getty Images

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GROUND AND POUND

Entering their bye week, the Bears had the second-best run defense
in the league, allowing 65.8 yards per game. Since then, they have slipped to eighth in that category and are allowing an average of 95.4 rushing yards.

Team Yards Att. Avg. TD Top player

Lions 97 18 5.4 0 Mikel Leshoure: 12 carries, 63 yards

Panthers 119 36 3.3 0 James Stewart: 17 carries, 42 yards

Titans 159 18 8.8 1 Chris Johnson: 16 carries, 141 yards

Texans 127 35 3.6 0 Arian Foster: 29 carries, 102 yards

49ers 121 29 4.2 1 Frank Gore: 17 carries, 78 yards

Updated: December 26, 2012 6:37AM



Bears cornerback Charles Tillman remembers the injury and knows the recovery.

Last Christmas Eve, Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson suffered torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee on a tackle by Washington Redskins safety DeJon Gomes.

Torn ACLs alone have ended careers, so many questioned Peterson when he insisted he would return for the 2012 season.

With six games left in the regular season, Peterson is in a familiar position: He’s the NFL’s rushing leader with 1,128 yards.

Tillman marvels when he watches film of Peterson.

‘‘Looks like the old AP,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘He looks great. He looks like he hasn’t lost a step. I mean, the best back in the league — or at least one of.

‘‘His speed, his power, his cuts — considering what he went through. It just shows how hard he worked to get back to where he is.”

Peterson is ascending. He
didn’t run for 100 or more yards until the Vikings’ fourth game but is averaging 157.2 yards in their last four.

The Bears’ run defense, meanwhile, is descending. The Bears allowed only one of the first six teams they faced to run for 100 or more yards, but they have yielded an average of 131.5 rushing yards in their last four games.

But while the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers have a host of skill players to complement their Pro Bowl running backs, the Vikings are largely dependent on Peterson to power their offense.

‘‘We’ve seen him at his best,’’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said, referring to Peterson’s 224 rushing yards in the Vikings’ 34-31 victory at Soldier Field in October 2007. ‘‘Right now, it just seems like he’s playing at his best. He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s been like that for a long time.

‘‘We know him. Our players do, of course. He knows us. It’ll be a big challenge for us. And after the way we played the other day defensively, we’re anxious to play another game.”

Slippery slope

Entering their bye week, the Bears had given up an average of 65.8 rushing yards, the second-fewest in the NFL. They since have slipped to eighth, giving up nearly 30 more rushing yards per game.

Still, the Bears aren’t alarmed.

‘‘I’m not worried about it. They’re good,’’ Tillman said, pointing to players such as the Texans’ Arian Foster, the 49ers’ Frank Gore and the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson. ‘‘You have to give them their props. They did a good job.’’

‘‘It’s just something you have to focus on, but no one is in panic mode,’’ linebacker Nick Roach said.

The numbers, though, are somewhat misleading. The Texans averaged 3.6 yards per carry, and Johnson was bottled up (11 carries for 40 yards in the first half) until a meaningless 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Bears’ defense hasn’t been generating as many turnovers, though, and it hasn’t been able
to force opponents to be completely one-dimensional. That’s partly because the Bears often have been playing catch-up recently.

‘‘We’re just in a slump,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘It just happens like that sometimes. Guys are trying.’’

The Bears’ focus against the Vikings will be to ‘‘swarm’’ Peterson, not counting on one player to bring him down.

‘‘He’s trying to score every time he touches the ball; you just don’t see that,’’ cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. ‘‘He has a fire that motivates him to do what he’s doing, and he does it well. It could be third-and-15, and everyone could know it’s a draw or a screen, and he’s trying to get in the end zone.’’

Ready to roll

Peterson is in the second year of a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Vikings. He’s having an MVP-caliber season, and he has overcome his one previous weakness: fumbles.

He lost 10 fumbles in 2008 and 2009, but he has lost only three in the last three seasons, a span of
37 games.

‘‘Definitely mindful of that,’’ Peterson said of the Bears’ knack for forcing fumbles. ‘‘Those guys have, like, 30 turnovers. I think they lead the league in turnovers and defensive scores.

‘‘We’re not going to raise the red flag. Obviously, those guys are doing something right. It’s going to be key for us to protect the ball and not make it easy for those guys.’’

Peterson, though, invited the Bears to try to punch the ball away from him.

‘‘While they are punching, I’ll be speeding, going to the end zone,’’ he said.

Asked if the Bears’ defense suddenly looks vulnerable, Peterson said: ‘‘I think everything can be vulnerable, especially against a team where it’s no surprise that we’re going to run the ball and we’re going to try to establish the run game.

‘‘They haven’t faced a run game like us this year, I don’t think. So we’re excited about the challenge, and I’m sure they are, too.’’



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