NFC North News

The Packers are preparing for their match-up with the Eagles, while there's a chance that Dick Jauron could land back in the division.

The Detroit Lions announced Friday the hiring of offensive line coach Pat Morris away from the San Francisco 49ers. The Lions requested permission to begin talks with Morris despite the fact his contract with San Francisco ran through the end of this month.

However, when it became apparent that Morris did not want to return to San Francisco, the 49ers reluctantly gave permission and Mariucci quickly got the deal done. Morris will replace the dismissed Carl Mauck.

"He's a heck of a football coach," said Lions Head Coach Steve Mariucci. "We've known each other for a long time professionally and we've known each other as friends for a long time too. It's a perfect fit – he'll be a nice addition to this staff."

Morris formerly was the offensive line coach for Michigan State under George Perles before joining the 49ers in his first pro assignment in 1997.

The Lions now will turn their attention to former Chicago Bears head coach Dick Jauron who they would love to hire as their next defensive coordinator. Lions coach Steve Mariucci brought back Kurt Schottenheimer last season after looking around a bit last season, but after Detroit dismal finish defensively, ranking near the bottom of the NFC, Mariucci is again looking for improvement.

Jauron is in the running for the vacant Buffalo Bills job and is said to be the front runner.

Former Jets and Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell is the Vikings' top candidate for their opening at defensive coordinator.

Ted Cottrell fell out of favor with Jets head coach Herm Edwards this season, but according to Dan Leberfeld, the editor of Jets Confidential, none of the Jets' problems should have been pinned on Cottrell.

"Ted Cottrell is a solid defensive coordinator who got a raw deal in New York," Leberfeld said. "The Jets' horrendous run defense this season was due to bad personnel, not Cottrell's schemes."

Cottrell, in fact, is one of the hottest defensive minds on the open market this offseason. He was expected to interview with Pittsburgh and San Diego if he doesn't accept an offer by Vikings coach Mike Tice, who has a limited budget with which to work.

Cottrell's defense saw significant improvement in 2002, his second season with the Jets. During the first five games of 2002, the Jets were giving up 32.4 points per game. During the final 11 games, it allowed only 15.8. In 2001, his unit finished tied for second in takeaways.

In 2003, however, the Jets defense suffered. But, according to Leberfeld, it had far more to do with injuries and personnel than coaching.

"The Jets' linebacker corps might have been the slowest in football, and they were terrible in space. Also, they were forced to start a rookie (Dewayne Robertson) at the three-technique tackle spot, one of the most important positions in the defense. This was because Josh Evans was suspended for the first half of the season because he violated the league's substance abuse policy," Leberfeld said.

"Robertson was lost, and this constantly created holes for opposing running backs to exploit. It also hurt the linebackers who weren't protected properly by Robertson. Also, the team was without its best pass rusher, John Abraham, for the second half of the season due to a groin injury.

"When you throw in the fact that the Jets lost two starting defensive backs — safety Jon McGraw and cornerback Donnie Abraham to shoulder injuries for most of the season — you can see Cottrell was dealt a terrible hand. However, he was scapegoated nonetheless."

Cottrell's times with the Jets may have been up and down, but his three seasons as defensive coordinator with the Bills appear to be more consistent. With him as coordinator, his Buffalo defenses finished sixth (1998), first (1999) and third (2000) in overall defense.

"He (would be) a good hire by the Vikings," Leberfeld said. "Players love playing for him because he is a great person. But while he is mild-mannered most of the time, he has given to some excellent fire-and-brimstone speeches in the locker room."

Cottrell's 20 years as an NFL coach would appear to be a huge asset to a young defense.

Can the Eagles stop the run?

That's essentially what the NFC divisional playoff game between the Packers and Eagles could boil down to Sunday in Philly.

Ahman Green was the first running back to expose the soft underbelly of the Eagles' once-vaunted defense but it did no good.

The Packers fumbled six times and lost to the Eagles, 17-14, when the two teams met November 10 at Lambeau Field.

"It's going to be a real challenge for them to stop the run," said an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, who went to Philadelphia on Dec. 21 and won in overtime, 31-28. "I really feel if Green Bay's going to win the game that's where they're going to win it."

When the Eagles went to Green Bay their defense ranked ninth in rushing yards allowed (97.1) and was fifth in yards allowed per carry (3.48). Then Green became the first of six running backs to surpass 100 yards against the Eagles in the second half of the season with a then club-record 192 yards in 29 carries.

The New York Giants' Tiki Barber (19-111), New Orleans' Deuce McAllister (19-184), Carolina's Stephen Davis (23-115), Miami's Ricky Williams (18-107) and San Francisco's Kevan Barlow (30-154) also gashed the Eagles in the last two months.

In their final eight games the Eagles yielded 162.1 yards rushing and 5.47 yards per rush. Thus, they finished the season ranked 22nd against the run (129.4) and 23rd in yards allowed per rush (4.49).

"The hardest decision Mike Sherman will make in running the Power-O will be who he wants to go at," an executive in personnel for a recent Eagles' opponent said. "Do we want to run right or left?"

Every defense has a couple key players whose forte is stopping the run. In the Eagles' case those players were nose tackle Hollis Thomas and strong-side linebacker Carlos Emmons.

Thomas, the team's No. 3 defensive tackle, went on injured reserve (biceps tear) after the seventh game. Emmons, voted by his teammates as most valuable player on defense, suffered a broken leg in the 49er game and also went on injured reserve.

The Eagles haven't been able to replace Thomas or run-stopping defensive tackle Paul Grasmanis, who was lost in Week 2 with a blown Achilles' tendon. Emmons, who had an exceptional game against the Packers at the point of attack, was replaced by dime linebacker Ike Reese, who at 222 is 28 pounds lighter than Emmons.

Philadelphia was undersized at linebacker to begin with. Neither Nate Wayne on the weak side nor Mark Simoneau in the middle is equipped to take on blocks.

"That's the weakest part of their football team," the scout said. "The problem with their run defense isn't their front. It's their linebackers. You can run right at those guys and win."

The Eagles' answer to stopping the run is to blitz, but when the gap responsibility wasn't disciplined some long runs were the result.

Two assistants and one scout for recent Eagles' foes all like the Packers' chances despite their status as a 5 1/2-point underdog.

"I just don't think that if Green Bay stays the course that Philadelphia can hold up to the run game that Green Bay will present them with," the scout said. "With the way that Brett (Favre) is playing right now, you put play-action in there and let him do his veteran savvy thing and adjust to the right play, I just think Green Bay has a great shot."

The Eagles haven't wowed many opponents this season.

"Philly's a hell of a team," center Mike Flanagan said. "Are we good enough to win the game? Yes. Does that mean we will? I think we're a pretty good team home and away. It's going to be whoever is playing harder."

The Eagles beat the Packers without Brian Dawkins, regarded by some as the game's premier safety, and cornerback Bobby Taylor, both of whom were out with foot injuries. They've been back since Week 12 and are playing well.

"We owe those guys," wide receiver Donald Driver said. "It's a payback."

Donovan McNabb bounced back from a poor start and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. His receiving corps is intact and his offensive line will be missing just one of its preferred starters (right guard Jermane Mayberry)

"He's a (Daunte) Culpepper type, a guy that will make you be concerned with his ability to make plays on his feet," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "I look at that as his biggest asset.

"We seem to do well in big road games with 70,000 against us. "Our team relishes that a little bit. We like playing with a chip on our shoulder."

SERIES HISTORY: Just the second postseason game between the two teams. The one other was the NFL Championship Game in 1960, won by the Eagles, 17-13, at Franklin Field. Green Bay leads the regular-season series, 23-9.

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