Black-and-Blue Review: Week 4

Three weeks into the season might be a little early to start focusing on rookie of the year honors, but Lions wide receiver Roy Williams has to be one of the early favorites.

His production has escalated in each game and the combination of toughness, flair and edge have made him an immediate hit.

Williams, the seventh player taken in the first round of the draft last spring, leads all NFL rookies in total yards from scrimmage (278), in receptions (17), receiving yardage (277) and touchdowns (4).

He started with four receptions for 69 yards in the Lions' season opener at Chicago, followed up with another four for 73 yards in the home opener against Houston and topped it off with nine catches for 135 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles.

He has scored two touchdowns in both the Houston and Philadelphia games.

More impressive than Williams' statistics, however, has been the way he plays the game.

The Lions knew when they drafted him they were getting a smooth, athletic receiver capable of catching the ball and running away from defenders.

What they couldn't be sure of was how he would adjust to the NFL game - the grabbing, the pounding and the extra-curriculars that are part and parcel of life in the big leagues.

As it turned out, they might have gotten more than they bargained for.

At 6-feet-3 and 212 pounds, Williams is longer and leaner than some NFL receivers - say, for instance, last year's offensive rookie of the year Anquan Boldin - but he doesn't mind mixing it up in the line of duty.

In fact, he has been extremely physical in the way he plays the game. He has battled corners and safeties for the ball, he has knocked safeties out of the way en route to the end zone, he has fought for extra yardage - and got it - and he does not go down easily on the first hit.

It's enough to make teammate Fernando Bryant, a 5-feet-11, 175-pound cornerback, glad he's playing for the same team.

"He's so strong, he's so big, he's so fast, and then the way he catches the ball - he has so many good attributes," Bryant said. "He catches the ball with his hands. I mean, you don't see that."

News & notes
--The Lions' bye week has been spiced up considerably by the exchanges between quarterback Joey Harrington and Fox sideline reporter/former NFL defensive lineman Tony Siragusa.

Siragusa was working the Philadelphia 30-13 victory over the Lions on Sunday with Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston and had some choice uncomplimentary words for Harrington. Nothing to do with football but with his perception of Harrington, the person.

The exchange went like this, with Stockton and Johnston egging Siragusa on.

"He seemed a little different than what I expected," Siragusa said. "I thought he was a little bit too over confident in the meeting, just a different kind of guy.

"Not a meat and potato guy. Very sophisticated man. That's as much as I can go into right now."

Johnson: "More champagne and caviar than meat and potatoes?"

Siragusa: "Yeah, I wouldn't see him going out and ordering a beer any time soon."

Stockton: "In other words, he may not be your kind of guy, Goose?"

Siragusa: "He's the kind of guy that's on the other side of the club than I am. He's over there with the champagne and caviar and also the strawberries and chocolate."

Stockton: "We get the idea."

Siragusa apparently arrived at his conclusions during a production meeting Friday before the game.

The normally low-keyed Harrington was clearly annoyed with the comments that put him in a very unmanly light.

Am I supposed to care what he says?" the Lions quarterback said, when asked about the comments.

"I'm not his kind of guy? Why, because I was cordial in the production meeting? Because I tried to be articulate? Because I smile when I play? Because I enjoy myself out there?

Because I'm not a Billy Bad-Ass?

"I was raised a certain way. I was raised to be polite, I was raised to look someone in the eye and when they ask you a question, you answer it."

Harrington seemed miffed not so much that he was being criticized but that the criticism had nothing to do with his football skills.

"If he's got a problem with the way I play, then go ahead and say it," Harrington said, "but if he looks at how I play, I don't think he'd be making those comments.

"If he looks at how I work, I don't think he'd be making those comments. If he came to the parking lot and checked to see whose car was the last one out of here each day he wouldn't be making those comments."

Harrington did take one shot at Siragusa, however.

"It's nice playing in front of the best linebacker in the history of the game, isn't it?" he said, a reference to the high point in Siragusa's career, when he was playing with Baltimore's All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis.

9 - Times Lions quarterback Joey Harrington has been sacked in the first three games of 2004, including five by the Eagles last Sunday. He was sacked only nine times during the entire 2003 season.

"Hey, you can be an ass if you want but you can still be a great player." - Lions cornerback Fernando Bryant on the antics of Philadelphia wide receiver Terrell Owens designed to draw attention to himself.

The bye week couldn't have come a moment too soon for the Lions, who are hoping the extra week of rest before the Oct. 10 game at Atlanta will help them get back several starters.

The most likely to return is cornerback Dre' Bly, who suffered a sprained knee in the season opener Sept. 12 and was expected to require 2-4 weeks for a comeback. The most recent loss was rookie running back Kevin Jones, who suffered a high ankle sprain Sunday against Philadelphia and is likely to be out a minimum of 2-4 weeks.

With the lack of depth on a team that is trying to rebuild from a 10-38 record over the past three years, the loss of every starter cuts deeply. Coach Steve Mariucci urged his players to get plenty of rest during the bye week and come back as healthy as possible.

The Lions re-signed fullback Stephen Trejo, a strong special teams player they released in the final roster cuts Sept. 5. With fullback Cory Schlesinger coming off a strained hamstring, Trejo might be pressed into duty there also.

--DE James Hall has only two pins remaining in his broken left thumb. One of the surgically inserted pins came out in the Lions' 30-13 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday; the others are expected to remain in place another 6-8 weeks while the healing continues. Hall is playing despite the injury, which requires a bulky padded cast on his left hand and makes it virtually impossible for him to grab an opponent's jersey.

--C Dominic Raiola used the Lions' bye week to have a surgical procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat. QB Joey Harrington had a similar procedure for a similar problem two years ago and has had no problems with a racing heartbeat since. It is expected he will be ready to play Oct. 10 in Atlanta.

--CB Andre Goodman, who has missed two games with a thigh injury, will get an extra week of rest during the Lions' bye week. Coach Steve Mariucci is not certain he will be ready for the Oct. 10 game in Atlanta but is hoping he will be able to start practicing and perhaps play against the Falcons.

When the NFL schedule came out in March the Packers' home game Sunday against Giants looked like a piece of cake.

Two weeks ago, the Packers might have been looking ahead to the Giants game at Lambeau Field and thinking "pushover."

Not now. No way. Not even close.

Since absorbing a 31-17 defeat on opening day in Philadelphia, the Giants have won at home over Washington (20-14) and Cleveland (27-10) to draw momentum heading into road games in Green Bay and Dallas.

Oddsmakers have established the Packers as a 7-point favorite remembering that Chicago won at Lambeau Field just 10 days as an 8 1/2-point underdog.

"You know how this league is," an executive in personnel for a recent Giants' opponent said. "I don't see a lot of blowouts."

Suddenly, the Packers have become vulnerable at home after a decade of domination. Counting playoffs, they're merely 6-5 at Lambeau Field in their last 11 games after going undefeated in 12 homes games immediately before that.

The Giants took the ball away seven times against Washington, their highest total in a non-strike game since 1986. Last week, they caught the injury-decimated Browns at a perfect time.

"I'd sure think the Packers would be a pretty heavy favorite," an offensive assistant for a recent Giants' foe said. "They got some real breaks against the Redskins and got the Browns on a really bad day when they had some guys out and just didn't play well.

"You don't see them as an elite team but anybody can beat anybody. You've got to play."

Coach Tom Coughlin's team is tied for the NFL lead in takeaways with 10 and ranks first in turnover differential at plus-8 one year after tying for last at minus-16. Of coaches who began their careers after 1969, Coughlin entered 2004 with the lowest turnover average per game (1.46) during his nine-year in Jacksonville.

The 47th meeting. Packers lead, 24-20. The Giants are 0-4 in Wisconsin since beating coach Dan Devine in his Packers' debut, 42-40, at Lambeau in September 1971.

News & Notes
Shortly before the season, defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said: "We don't want any of (the defensive linemen) to play more than 35 snaps. The whole goal is to try to keep their snaps low enough so we can have them fresh in the fourth quarter."

Obviously, it isn't working. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had no sacks and just two knockdowns in three games. He is playing too much as well. Out of 182 possible defensive snaps, he has played 165, or 90.7 percent.

Mike Sherman and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin have argued how well "KGB" holds up against the run. Funny, but many opposing coaches and scouts don't see it that way at all. He's been the point-of-attack target of many a ground game since becoming a full-time player, he's constantly fooled and he shows fatigue late in games.

It all changed for Gbaja-Biamila late in the Week 5 game of the 2002 season against the Bears in Champaign, Ill. That's when Joe Johnson suffered a season-ending triceps injury and "KGB" became a starter for the first time.

In the first 29 games of his career, Gbaja-Biamila did what he does best: rush the passer. In those 29 games, he averaged 23.5 snaps, played 27.9 percent of the downs and registered 19 sacks.

Since Johnson's injury, "KGB" has played 33 games, averaged 56 snaps and played 84.7 percent of the downs. But despite being on the field for 32.5 more snaps per game his sack total of 19 was exactly the same.

Remember when Gbaja-Biamila was terrorizing opponents? He had three sacks racing straight up the field against Detroit left tackle Jeff Backus in the '01 opener. He played 58 percent of the snaps that day at Lambeau Field.

Two weeks later against Carolina he had two sacks in 21 snaps. Then he had three sacks in 22 snaps the next week at Tampa Bay.

The injury to Johnson and the utter failure of Jamal Reynolds almost forced the Packers to play "KGB" 78.9 percent of the time in the final 12 games of '02. But then, after Sherman blew his choice of restricted free-agent tenders on Gbaja-Biamila and in turn became vulnerable to an offer sheet from Philadelphia, he lavished an $11 million signing bonus on him one season before the Packers had to do anything.

It was bad enough that Sherman overpaid "KGB" a year prematurely. But what was equally as short-sighted was his decision to play him even more (87 percent) than he had in '02, as if to justify the expenditure.

The law of diminishing returns has hit the Packers right between the eyes. Coming off a disappointing season in which the best tackle that he beat for a sack was Minnesota's Bryant McKinnie, Gbaja-Biamila was flat as flat can be throughout training camp and then did next to nothing in the first two games. He was better against the Colts.

In almost comic response, the Packers have been playing him more than ever before.

Let's face it. At 27, "KGB" is what he is, a fifth-round draft choice who surprised some people in his first two years. The Packers misread the market in March 2003, panicked when the Eagles began sniffing around and then threw $37.3 million at him, conveniently glossing over his many shortcomings.

What do the Packers have to lose by playing other like R-Kal Truluck and Corey Williams? Gbaja-Biamila is too small to begin with against the run and isn't making plays against the pass, either. Pretend he's making the minimum, cut his play time somewhere in half and maybe he'll become a feared designated rusher once again.

--The Packers will be forced to count an additional $300,000 against their salary cap after quarterback Tim Couch filed a grievance against the team. The hit of $300,000, half of Couch's base salary of $600,000, will count until the grievance is resolved.

Couch contends that the Packers released him Sept. 5 when he was injured. He played 12 snaps against Tennessee two days before being cut.

Last week, Couch had his right arm checked out by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. Andrews told Couch to rest for two to four weeks.

"I read the medical report," coach Mike Sherman said. "I'm very comfortable with it ... when he saw Dr. Andrews he said he needs to rest his arm."

Couch either dropped out or missed 12 practices during training camp but never complained to team physician Patrick McKenzie about his arm, according to Sherman. Couch had various arm problems during his five seasons with the Cleveland Browns but said several times in August that his problem in Green Bay was soreness in the biceps.

The Packers have indicated they never performed diagnostic testing on Couch's arm because he almost never sought treatment.

The grievance procedure involves obtaining medical reports and depositions and can take months to be completed.

PersonnelB --The Packers are trying to decide if they should trade cornerback Mike McKenzie. The Saints apparently are willing to part with a second-round pick but the Packers have been holding out for a first.

--RB Ahman Green continues to give way to Tony Fisher on about 30 percent of the snaps. "I don't question his stamina," coach Mike Sherman said. "But look around the league at how backs play. If we have an opportunity to give him a blow, we try to do that."

--RB Tony Fisher is solid on blitz pickup, a decent runner and an outstanding receiver. However, he needs work on screen passes. Twice in the last two weeks he prematurely broke into the pattern, enabling defenders to tackle him for losses just before his blocker could pick him up.

--T Mark Tauscher will face DE Michael Strahan Sunday. "Tausch absolutely rises to the occasion," coach Mike Sherman said. "Tausch is an amazing guy. Michael is a hell of a player but I'd put my money on Tausch."

--FB Nick Luchey has started the last two games over William Henderson but they're basically splitting time. "Luchey is definitely more dependable and accountable this year," coach Mike Sherman said. "At 270, he's a big fullback and defensive backs and linebackers must contend with him."

--TE David Martin is off to a slow start even though he plays extensively. The Packers love his speed but can't integrate him into their pass offense.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings can say what they want about having the depth to sustain their ridiculous amount of injuries, but this is a Super Bowl contender that might have reached its breaking point in terms of losing starters and key players.

Yes, they're 2-1 entering their bye weekend. But they're coming off a victory over a 1-2 Bears team that somehow was rocked even harder by injuries, especially on defense (No Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown, Charles Tillman, Jerry Azumah, etc., etc.). And guess what? The Vikings only won by five, 27-22, and were in danger of losing had Bears QB Rex Grossman not blown out his ACL on a touchdown run at the two-minute warning.

"The way we overcame the injuries makes this a very satisfying victory," coach Mike Tice said.

He's right, especially considering a loss would have been devastating heading into a bye.

But let's not get carried away with how far the Vikings can go without E.J. Henderson, Chris Claiborne, Jermaine Wiggins and Matt Birk, not to mention the players who already are on injured reserve (Mike Rosenthal, Jim Kleinsasser and Ken Irvin).

"We didn't panic," receiver Kelly Campbell said when asked about the injuries. "We were calm and played Viking football. We know now that if we go out and do that, nobody can stop us."

The Eagles already did, 27-16 on Monday Night Football two weeks ago. Granted Philadelphia is the best the NFC has to offer and it was playing at home on national television. But that game proved the Vikings aren't mature defensively and can be stopped offensively, especially outside the Metrodome.

And now it appears the Vikings will come out of the bye with a trip to Houston minus six players who were scheduled to begin the season as starters (and Irvin, the nickel back who blew out his Achilles' tendon during warm-ups before the season-opener against Dallas).

"Like I've said," Tice said, "this is not golf. You just have to move on."

Houston is beatable with a depleted roster, although the Vikings are horrible on the road, on grass and against lesser opponents. Anyone who disagrees should review last year's road losses to San Diego, Oakland, Chicago and Arizona.

The bye at least gives the Vikings a chance of getting Birk, Wiggins, Henderson and Claiborne back in time for the next game. But they're more likely to sit out until at least the following week at New Orleans.

That's right. The Vikings come out of the bye with consecutive road games. They return home to play back-to-back games against Tennessee and the Giants before hitting the road for back-to-back games at Indianapolis and Green Bay.

It's not an easy stretch for a depleted Super Bowl contender. If some of the current injuries don't heal quickly and new ones appear, it could be an impossible stretch, even for a Super Bowl contender.

News & Notes
--QB Daunte Culpepper and RB Onterrio Smith have an ongoing debate about which of them has the "best feet" on the team. "My personal opinion is it's between he and I," Culpepper said after the 27-22 victory over Chicago. Smith had a career-high 198 yards from scrimmage against the Bears, including a 38-yard run in which he left a trail of would-be tacklers after darting left and right in traffic. "There's no telling where I'm going to end up when I have the ball in my hands," Smith said.

--WR Randy Moss raised his dukes in defense of teammate WR Nate Burleson following a violent fourth-quarter hit by Bears safety Todd Johnson. Johnson was penalized for unnecessary roughness for lowing his shoulder into Burleson's head on an incompletion. Burleson popped up and was running back to the huddle when he noticed Moss confront Johnson. Soon, Moss and CB R.W. McQuarters were locked up in a battle, drawing a circle of Bears players, which in turn created a rush of Vikings players. After the game, Moss took a shot at the Bears' style of play, saying, "If (Vikings) coach Mike Tice taught us to play like that, then we'd have gotten even. But that's not how we play the game. We play straight up, and we play fair."

--OT Nat Dorsey left Georgia Tech a year early. He was selected in the fourth round of this year's draft with the intention of spending a year working on his strength and easing into the NFL. Four games later, he's starting at right tackle. He played all but the first two series of the Chicago game in place of Adam Haayer, a stopgap starter who was replacing Mike Rosenthal, who is on injured reserve because of a foot injury. "You know why Nat left Georgia Tech early?" Tice asked. "He was mad the Tech coaches didn't nominate him for all-conference. He didn't expect to make it, but he thought he should be nominated. The Tech coaches didn't nominate him because they wanted to motivate him. They wound up motivating him right to us in the fourth round of the draft."

--LB Chris Claiborne, who strained his left calf on the second play of the Bears game and didn't return, "guaranteed" he would play against Houston on Oct. 10. Of course, he made two similar guarantees last season, but didn't play because of injuries.

--Kelly Campbell's calf is among the many injury problems Tice has to deal with. Fortunately for Tice, Campbell's injury is minor, which allowed the coach to poke fun at Campbell's smallish calves (they're no bigger than a defensive lineman's forearms). "Kelly's calves aren't but that big," said Tice, creating a small hole with his right thumb and forefinger. "I'd say that's a minor injury when he gets a calf injury."

--DT Chris Hovan continues to live a quiet existence on the line's interior. He had only two assisted tackles against the Bears. He's trying too hard to make big plays. Coach Mike Tice criticized him after the season-opening victory over Dallas, but has since backed off.

--DE Lance Johnstone is at his best when he plays 10-15 plays a game. Coordinator Ted Cottrell brings him in as a pass rusher, and sometimes allows Johnstone to stand up and pick his rushing lane before the snap.

--RB Onterrio Smith is scheduled to have his appeals hearing this week or early next week. The Vikings are preparing as if his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy will begin next week.

--TE Jermaine Wiggins (hand) might be ready to play next week. He has been out since breaking his left hand at Philadelphia in Week 2.

--C Matt Birk has a high left ankle sprain and is doubtful for the Houston game. However, he has vowed to keep his streak of 67 starts alive.

0 -- The Vikings' interception total after three games. They had eight after three games last season.

"We thought Nat was a `next-year' guy. It turns out he's a `next-week' guy." Coach Mike Tice, referring to rookie fourth-round draft pick Nat Dorsey, who will become the team's third starting right tackle when the Vikings resume play at Houston on Oct. 10. Starter Mike Rosenthal (foot) is on injured reserve. Adam Haayer, who started in last week's game against the Bears, will return to being a backup at the four non-center positions.

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