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updated: 11/24/2012 8:32 PM

Peterson, Vikings running to glory

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  • Less than a year after major knee surgery, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is on pace to finish with the best season of his career.

      Less than a year after major knee surgery, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is on pace to finish with the best season of his career.
    Associated Press

 
 

After struggling through some early adversity, the Minnesota Vikings have found the key to their offense.

His name is Adrian Peterson.

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A Bears offense searching for an identity and for a way to stanch its opponents' pass rush might consider relying more on its own Pro Bowl running back -- Matt Forte.

What Peterson has done this season defies explanation. Just 11 months after suffering ACL and MCL tears in his left knee, Peterson, who already was the best running back of his generation, is having his best season.

He's like the $6 Million Man -- he's better than he was.

The 6-foot-1, 217-pound 27-year-old leads the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards and is on pace for what would be a career-best 1,805 yards.

If maintained, his 5.8-yard average per carry also would be his best.

No team has held him to fewer than 123 yards in more than a month and, in his last four games, Peterson is averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

"He's elite," said Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. "He hits that cut and, man, he's downhill violently, then (he has) that second, third cut in the open field. He's just a great competitor."

Many players who suffer the same injury as Peterson don't consider returning to full speed for at least a year. When his injury occurred, and A.P. said he'd be back for the season opener, few believed it. No one doubts him now.

"Genetically, he's a little bit different," said Vikings coach and former Bears cornerback Leslie Frazier. "His desire and determination, it's hard to measure that. He's just wired differently.

"It's amazing what he's been able to accomplish after coming off such a severe injury."

While the Vikings (6-4) have hitched their wagon to Peterson, the Bears (7-3) have underutilized Forte. Only once in the past four games has he carried the ball more than 16 times.

Without questioning the play-calling, Forte says he's not getting the ball enough.

"I want the ball a lot, but it really depends on how the game's going," he said. "If we're down by a lot, we can't run the ball the whole game."

Last week was the only time the Bears trailed by a large enough margin early in the game to abandon the run, and even then Forte got 21 carries.

The problem was he managed just 63 yards. In the past two games, both losses, Forte has 37 carries, and his longest run was 8 yards.

"We're not playing up to par, like we're supposed to be playing," said Forte, who still is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and is on pace for 1,026 rushing yards.

"We're not playing as good as we have played, as good as we can play; none of us. Everybody across the board has to play better. We have to run the ball better, catch the ball better, block better, everything."

Conventional wisdom says that until the Bears run the ball better, the offense as a whole will continue to struggle.

In the Bears' 3 losses, in which they've scored just 23 total points, Forte has averaged just 44.3 rushing yards and 3.0 yards per attempt.

In the 6 victories that Forte has participated in (he missed the St. Louis game with a sprained ankle) he has averaged 84.7 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per attempt.

Establishing Forte early against the Vikings and 2011 sack champ Jared Allen will make it easier for the rebuilt offensive line to pass protect.

"When you can establish the running game, it definitely keeps those guys from firing off," Bears center Roberto Garza said.

"When you're just throwing the ball those guys are just trying to get to the quarterback. When you establish the run they have to worry about the run first."

Running repeatedly at a premier pass rusher and making him have to take on blockers and stop the run also can take some of the juice out of his pass rush.

"You definitely want to double-team a guy and get shots at him and try to wear him down," Garza said. "But Jared Allen is a pro; he's a (heck) of a football player, so how much it affects him, we'll see."

As for the Bears' defense, it has contained Peterson in recent years as well as anyone. In four games since 2009, Peterson averaged just 67.3 yards and 3.4 yards per attempt, although he scored 4 touchdowns.

But in the previous four games he gashed the Bears for an average of 138.5 yards and 6.2 yards per tote with 8 touchdowns.

"He's always a concern," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Unfortunately I've seen a lot of his best games from the other side of the field. It will be a big challenge for us.

"Everything works off of them being able to get their running game going. It all starts with him on the offensive side of the ball."

Sounds like a plan.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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