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Updated: October 12th, 2011 7:05pm
Notebook: Vikings may not see struggling, banged-up Julius Peppers

Notebook: Vikings may not see struggling, banged-up Julius Peppers

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The news that Julius Peppers may miss Sunday night's game surely wasn't met with disappointment inside Minnesota Vikings headquarters.

The Chicago Bears' standout end is off to a slow start this season, and he failed to record a sack in two games against the Vikings in 2010. But the Vikings have seen the impact Peppers can make -- he had three sacks against them while playing for Carolina on Sept. 17, 2006, and benched left tackle Bryant McKinnie with a sack among nine unofficial pressures on Dec. 20, 2009.

"I don't know what his status will actually be on Sunday," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "But his absence, you would think, would have not a positive effect. He's one of those guys you have to account for every single play on defense if you're an offensive player."

A five-time All-Pro who got a six-year, $91.5 million contract from the Bears in Mach 2010, Peppers sprained his left knee in Monday's loss to Detroit. Coach Lovie Smith downplayed the injury on Wednesday as "minor," but the Chicago Tribune reported it's a medial collateral ligament sprain that could sideline the 31-year-old one to three weeks.

"I think you have to plan as if he's going to play unless you find out for sure that he's out," Frazier said. "You don't want to be surprised if he's lining up on Sunday and not have a plan for him. He can change games."

It hasn't happened this season. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Peppers has been in on three sacks and recorded only 13 total QB pressures in five games this season. In 2010, he had eight sacks and was among the NFL leaders with 60 total pressures while also grading out well against the run.

In the Bears' first meeting against the Vikings last Nov. 14 at Soldier Field, Peppers played half of his snaps on each side of the line and got three QB pressures against right tackle Phil Loadholt, compared to one against McKinnie. In the rematch on Dec. 20 at TCF Bank Stadium, Peppers played 36 of 50 snaps (72%) on McKinnie's side and got one pressure against each tackle.

Loadholt and the Vikings line are coming off their best game in Sunday's win over Arizona. Taking Peppers out of the mix would be a significant blow to the Bears' Tampa-2 defensive scheme, which -- like the Vikings' -- relies heavily on a four-man rush.

"He's done some good things," Loadholt said. "We'll be ready for him when the time comes."

Other side

The Bears didn't practice on Wednesday, but Peppers was estimated as a nonparticipant on the injury report. So was right tackle Gabe Carimi, the rookie out of Wisconsin who suffered a dislocated right kneecap in Week 2 at New Orleans.

That's not good news for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who already has been sacked 18 times this season, took a beating in Monday night's loss at Detroit and will have Vikings ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison coming after him on Sunday.

"He's been knocked to the ground a few times this year," Bears coach Lovie Smith said, "but he keeps getting up and I thought he handled a tough situation very well this past week."

Cutler finished that game 28-of-38 passing (73.7%) for 249 yards, a touchdown and a 99.6 rating. The Lions sacked him three times on the way to a 24-13 win, but Frazier called his performance "outstanding" considering the circumstances.

There's never any doubt about Cutler's arm, and he has enough athleticism to keep plays alive when the pocket breaks down. But the Bears' shoddy protection unit -- even worse with Frank Omiyale starting in Carimi's place -- continues to create problems in Mike Martz's offense, which relies heavily on precise routes and timing.

In five career games against the Vikings, Cutler is 100-of-154 passing (64.9%) for 1,097 yards with a 97.8 rating, six interceptions and 13 touchdown passes -- his most against any NFL team.

"He's a mobile quarterback," safety Jamarca Sanford said. "He can move around. He can hurt you with his feet. So when he scrambles, you have to plaster (coverage). He just does a good job of making plays with his arm and the feets."

Workout warriors

The Vikings continue to work out free-agent tackles. On Tuesday, they reportedly hosted Ryan Harris, a Minneapolis native who started 34 games for Denver from 2007 to '10.

Harris signed with Philadelphia in the offseason but was waived/injured after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back in late August.

According to multiple reports, they also hosted guard Garrett Chisholm, an undrafted rookie out of South Carolina who briefly was on the Miami Dolphins' practice squad last month.

Quick hits

• Even with a win on Sunday, the Bears (2-3) will remain at least two games back of the NFC North Division lead, with Green Bay and Detroit both still unbeated at 5-0. "You can't get too far behind," Smith said. "This isn't a sprint, though. There's a long ways to go. The best teams right now have five wins. You don't get in the playoffs with five wins. So, every goal we set at the start of the season is still there. But you have to make a stand and eventually starting playing good, consistent football, and that's what we need to do."

• CB Antoine Winfield (neck) was the only Vikings player who didn't practice on Wednesday and probably won't until Friday at the soonest. WR Percy Harvin (ribs), LB E.J. Henderson (knee) and LB Kenny Onatolu (hamstring) were limited and Allen (eye) and FS Husain Abdullah (pelvis) were full participants.

• Carimi, Peppers, WR Earl Bennett (chest) and DT Matt Toeaina (knee) were estimated as nonparticipants in practice for the Bears. CB Charles Tillman (hip) was listed as limited and DE Corey Wooten (hand) as a full participant.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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