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Vikings see young Peterson in Rams’ Gurley

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The Sports Xchange

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings haven’t allowed a team to rush for 100 yards since coming out of their bye, but even they admit that three-week stretch will be seriously tested Sunday when they return home to face the St. Louis Rams and a rookie running back who is starting to look a lot like Adrian Peterson.

“Oh man, when I first seen Todd Gurley, I said to myself, ‘That’s Adrian Peterson all over again,'” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Monday, a day after the Vikings (5-2) won their third straight game by beating the Bears 23-20 in Chicago on a last-second Blair Walsh field goal.

“This guy is special. He’s the real deal, too. We’ll have a tough task at hand this week. We’re going to have to have to wrap this guy up because this guy is a big guy.”

The Vikings are a game behind the Packers (6-1) in the NFC North and have won three straight overall for the first time since winning their last four to make the playoffs in 2012. Run defense has been one of the root strengths in the team’s 5-1 run since giving up 230 yards to the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 1.

Gurley will be the Vikings’ stiffest test to date. He’s 6-feet-1, 227 pounds – the same height and seven pounds heavier than Peterson – and, according to coach Mike Zimmer, “runs with the same kind of violence” as Peterson.

Gurley ran for 133 yards on 20 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown run, to help the Rams beat the 49ers 27-6 on Sunday. His 566 yards are the most in a player’s first four NFL starts since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

“We have to be on our P’s and Q’s this week,” defensive end Brian Robison said Monday after the Vikings held the Bears to 97 yards and a 3.9-yard average, although Matt Forte did leave early in the third quarter because of a knee injury. “Gurley has the explosiveness to make the big plays, but also has the strength to run between the tackles.”

Peterson, 30, will be extra motivated because he has said in the past how much he wants to keep from “passing the torch” to young running backs, let alone one who is now drawing comparisons to him.

For the Vikings to win Sunday and take a 6-2 record to Oakland, Gurley must be stopped and Peterson needs to balance the passing game, which will be facing a stout Rams defense that can rush the passer very well. The Rams haven’t allowed a touchdown the last two games, allowing just four field goals. Against the 49ers in Week 8, they had three sacks and a safety.

Monday, defensive end Everson Griffen was talking to reporters about having to stop Gurley when Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater interrupted.

“These guys (the Vikings defense) have been doing a great job,” he said of the league’s No. 2-ranked scoring defense (17.4 points per game). “We need to start scoring more points for them.”

REPORT CARD VS. BEARS:

–PASSING OFFENSE: C. The ending helped offset what was shaping up to be one of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s weaker performances. He got greedy with hot receiver Stefon Diggs and forced an ill-advised ball that was intercepted and converted into a game-tying touchdown with less than a minute left in the first half. In the third quarter, the Vikings trailed by three when Bridgewater overthrew a wide-open Mike Wallace, who had gotten free behind the defense on a deep route. But Bridgewater, who completed just 17 of 30 passes for 187 yards, and his receivers made plays with the game on the line in the closing minutes. Diggs, who finished with 95 yards on six catches, tied the game with 1:49 left when he caught a ball and made a great spin cut to shake the defender on his way to a 40-yard touchdown. After the Bears went three-and-out, Bridgewater connected with Charles Johnson for a 35-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired. Johnson, who was on the field because Diggs hurt his knee on the previous play, leaped high into the air to grab a jump ball before safety Antrel Rolle had a chance to get it. It was Johnson’s only catch of the game.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus. Adrian Peterson didn’t have a run longer than 12 yards, but he also lost yardage on only one of his 20 carries for 103 yards (5.2). It was a steady stream of solid runs against a Bears defense that was overmatched up front with the release of nose tackle Jeremiah Ratliff the week before. Bridgewater showed his deceptive speed with a 19-yard run on the game-tying touchdown run late in the game. Jerick McKinnon also had a 16-yard run on one of his two carries.

–PASS DEFENSE: C. The Vikings played some tight coverages, but Alshon Jeffery gave the Vikings problems again at Soldier Field. He was targeted 15 times, catching 10 balls for 116 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown over Xavier Rhodes, who had good position in the end zone but lost on the jump when Jeffery went up to grab a perfectly-thrown pass. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler also threaded a 19-yard completion past nickel back Captain Munnerlyn on third-and-long to extend a touchdown drive in the second half. The pressure wasn’t as good overall as last week, when the Vikings overwhelmed the Lions with seven sacks. There was only one sack, by rookie end Danielle Hunter, but the Vikings’ dangerous blitz packages did bring some well-timed heat.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus. Bears running back Matt Forte left early in the third quarter with a knee injury. So that helped hold the Bears under 100 yards (97) and a 4.0 average (3.9). Forte had 41 yards on 10 carries. Jeremy Langford stepped in with 12 carries, but had only 46 yards. The Bears had only one run longer than 10 yards.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus. Blair Walsh’s early-season issues appear to be well behind him now. He made all three field-goal attempts from 43, 48 and 36 yards to win the game as time expired on the team’s first win at Chicago since 2007. In the first quarter, it was the punt return team that gave the Vikings a 7-3 lead on Marcus Sherels’ team-record third career punt return for a touchdown. Sherels might have had the easiest part to fill on the play. The Vikings set up a perfect wall that allowed him to get to the sideline and score untouched. Punter Jeff Locke wasn’t particularly strong, but he did place three of his four punts inside the 20.

–COACHING: A. Coach Mike Zimmer won his second consecutive road division game in as many weeks. The Vikings hadn’t won at Chicago since 2007. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner struck a nice run-pass balance that would have worked much better had Bridgewater not made the poor choice on the interception and connected with the wide-open Wallace on the deep route. Defensively, the Vikings used scheme and speed to put a clamp on the Bears’ screen game early on. The blitz packages also helped in multiple key situations as the Bears went just 3-for-12 in third-down conversions. And on special teams, coordinator Mike Priefer designed the blocking scheme for the 65-yard punt return touchdown and called it at the right time considering the direction and the low hang time on the punt.


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