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Peterson, Vikings win again without much passing

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Peterson, Vikings win again without much passing

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings don't have a secret to success, really, because their formula is so obvious.

They used it again to beat the Chicago Bears and stay in the playoff chase.

``We won the way we're designed to win,'' coach Leslie Frazier said after the 21-14 victory Sunday. ``We talk all the time to our team about what Viking ball is, and today was a perfect example of it.''

They took an early lead - 14-0 midway through the first quarter - which allowed them to turn Adrian Peterson loose for a career-high 31 carries that yielded 154 yards, a rather routine total for him these days. Then the defense went to work on trying to disrupt Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's rhythm, sacking him twice, forcing several errant throws and most importantly grabbing two interceptions.

``If we're able to build some sort of lead, I think our defense can handle pretty much any offense in the league,'' defensive end Brian Robison said Monday. ``I really do believe that. ... We have to make sure we jump on every team we play and keep going at it that way.''

The Vikings (7-6) have led from start to finish in six of their seven wins this season. Only the opener against Jacksonville required a late rally. Without much proof they can move the ball in a hurry with long passes, comebacks are a lot harder to make happen. So this is the way it has to be for now, as long as Christian Ponder is unable to get comfortable in the pocket and regularly connect with his downfield receivers, open or not.

The Vikings sure aren't shying away from this old-fashioned methodology, either.

``We're probably not going to win a lot of games when we throw the ball 40 times. That's not who we are. We're not going to overcome two or three turnovers in a game. That's not the way we're built right now,'' Frazier said.

Minimizing turnovers, of course, is the other prerequisite for this strategy. While the Vikings netted 100 yards passing or less for the fourth time this season on Sunday, they posted their third win in those situations.

These days in the NFL, winning while throwing so little is almost unfathomable, but that's what the Vikings have been doing. Ponder was picked off once, another bad ball off his back foot that fell well short of intended target Jarius Wright, but that came with 32 seconds left in the first half at the Chicago 20. It wasn't in the end zone, like last week at Green Bay, and it wasn't in Minnesota's territory to give the Bears good field position.

Frazier said again Monday he believes a championship can be had with this blueprint, but Ponder's performance since the first month of the season has provided plenty of evidence that it won't work without improvement in the second-year quarterback's footwork, throwing mechanics and decision making.

``Whether it be moving around in the pocket, stepping up or moving to the left or to the right, all these things are part of him being successful,'' Frazier said. ``We're always working on his fundamentals and his technique at the position, and we'll continue to do that.''

Ponder finished 11 for 17 for just 91 yards. He's averaging exactly the same amount of yards per passing attempt - six - as Peterson is per rush. Frazier went out of his way to praise Ponder for what he did against the Bears, but without Percy Harvin the Vikings only appeared comfortable with Ponder rolling out on bootlegs or throwing short passes underneath the coverage on play-action fakes to Peterson.

``He has to be comfortable in the pocket. He has to be sure of himself, and he has to make certain throws in order for us to be successful,'' Frazier said, acknowledging the impossibility of victory without at least some contribution from Ponder.

He did that against the Bears, completing six of his seven passes on third downs, with four of those completions moving the chains. Ponder also zipped a perfect pass to Devin Aromashodu on a post route in the second quarter that Aromashodu let bounce off his shoulder in the end zone.

Leading 21-7 after Harrison Smith's interception return for a score, the defensive touchdown that makes the formula even more fail-proof, the Vikings took the ball at their 1-yard line with 48 seconds left in the third quarter. Their position was precarious, but Ponder found Michael Jenkins twice on that drive to convert third downs.

They stalled at the Chicago 41 and had to punt, but only after more than 6 minutes were taken off the clock.

``I thought we executed a lot better,'' Ponder said. ``Obviously there are a few things we have to get better at and improve upon, but we're excited,'' Ponder said.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Jodie Meeks' season...

Player: Jodie Meeks

Position: Shooting guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $3.3 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.5 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.9 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.3 FT%, 49.1 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 11/29 at Sixers - 21 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal, 5-for-11 FG, 3-for-6 3PT, 8-for-9 FT

Season review: The Wizards took a flier on Jodie Meeks last summer in what seemed at the time to be a low-risk contract with a potentially high reward, if he could stay healthy and play to his career norms. They were in obvious need of help at backup shooting guard and three-point shooting for their bench.

Meeks fell short of those expectations for a variety of reasons. Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he could not make shots at the clip the Wizards were hoping for. His field goal percentage was not far off from what he posted in recent years, but his three-point percentage was nowhere near the 38.8 percent he shot in his previous four seasons.

Meeks bottomed out midseason, shooting 28.9 percent from three in December and 28 percent in January. Those numbers ticked up beginning in February, but Meeks never fully gained the trust of his coaching staff. He rarely got hot enough to alter games and his best stat-lines often came in blowouts. 

There was a domino effect from Meeks' struggles, as starting shooting guard Bradley Beal had no one to spell him. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player this season.

For Meeks personally, it was a bittersweet year because staying healthy was no small feat. He had a run of bad luck and finally broke out of it this season. On the other hand, he never made the impact he felt he was capable of and that wasn't easy for a guy joining a new team and a new locker room.

Meeks' 2017-18 season was ultimately defined by more than his shooting woes. First, he expressed interest in a trade in February and did not get his wish. Then, he was suspended for allegedy using performance-enhancing drugs after the regular season ended. He was out for the playoffs and will miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season without pay as he waits out a 25-game ban.

Meeks may or may not serve that suspension as a member of the Wizards. He has a player option for next season worth $3.5 million. He has yet to inform the team of his decision, but the expectation is that he will pick it up. Given how poorly his season went and ended, it would likely be the smart move financially for him to opt in and hope for better results next season.

Potential to improve: Shooting percentage, perimeter defense, passing

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

Tim Frazier, PG

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

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