NFC North Report Card: Week 9

The Bears have a two-game lead in the division despite not receiving high marks for their performance against New Orleans. See how the Bears stack up to the competition.

-- For the seventh time in eight games, rookie Kyle Orton was held to 150 yards or less, completing 12 of 26 passes for 137 yards and a 43.3 passer rating. He did have three clutch completions to Muhsin Muhammad for 85 yards, including a 22-yarder that set up the game-winning field goal. Orton also fired a four-yard TD to Justin Gage, who was back in the starting lineup because of the season-ending knee injury to Mark Bradley. Gage led all receivers with four catches, but managed just 28 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Thomas Jones was rested in the second half after aggravating his bruised ribs, but the Bears ran the ball even more effectively after he sat down. Rookie Cedric Benson (79 yards on 14 carries) and journeyman backup Adrian Peterson (58 yards on six carries) had career games as the Bears totaled 183 yards on the ground and averaged 5.7 yards on 32 carries.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- LB Hunter Hillenmeyer and CB Nathan Vasher had interceptions and the Bears allowed just one completion of 20 yards or more. The Bears also had three sacks and several hurries of QB Aaron Brooks. Donte Stallworth and Joe Horn combined for just five catches and 64 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- For the first time since the season opener, the Bears allowed a team to rush for more than 100 yards, which the Saints did by halftime. But the Bears stiffened after that and permitted just 29 rushing yards in the second half. WLB Lance Briggs was especially effective with 13 tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- The return game was mediocre at best, but coverage units were outstanding, and P Brad Maynard appears to be completely recovered from a nagging calf strain that has plagued him for almost a month. Maynard grossed 48.7 yards with a net of 44.2, and he allowed just seven return yards on six punts. K Robbie Gould missed a 47-yarder, but hit from 35 and then the game-winner from 28 with six seconds remaining.

COACHING: B -- Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera screamed at his squad at halftime for the way they had been gouged in the running game, and the Bears reverted to the stingy unit they have been all season. It appears the coaching staff has brought rookie RB Cedric Benson along at just the right pace to spell workhorse starter Thomas Jones now that he's showing signs of fatigue.

-- Quarterback Joey Harrington, forced back into the starting job by injuries to Jeff Garcia, hoped to infuse new life into the Lions passing game, but it didn't materialize. Harrington was sacked four times, intercepted twice and pressured most of the game. He completed 28 of 48 passes for 263 yards and the Lions were 9-for-17 on third down conversions but they could not move the ball consistently through the air, in part because of the absence of starting WRs Roy Williams and Charles Rogers. Scottie Vines had his first 100-yard receiving game with nine catches for 109 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The Lions managed only 58 yards on 20 rushing attempts against the Vikings defense -- which ranked 29th in the NFL against the run. The Vikings were giving up an average of 165 yards per game rushing. RB Kevin Jones left the game with a bruised nerve in his arm after carrying seven times for 15 yards, and the Lions had to go to their passing game after falling behind 24-0 in the second quarter. QB Joey Harrington led the Lions rushers with 17 yards on four carries.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Vikings didn't take an early 24-0 lead and QB Brad Johnson didn't have to throw a lot against the Lions. When he did, however, he had little difficulty, completing 15 of 22 throws for 136 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions sacked him three times but didn't put a lot of consistent pressure on him.

RUSH DEFENSE: D-plus -- The Vikings were able to run both RBs – Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore -- freely, especially in the first half. Bennett and Moore consistently got outside the Lions defense for sizable gains, especially in the first half when Bennett averaged 6.9 yards on nine carries and Moore averaged 5.8 yards on six carries. Although the Lions slowed them down somewhat in the second half, the Vikings rushed for 164 yards and averaged 4.7 yards for the game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- The Lions continued to struggle with special teams. They gave up a 30-yard punt return, setting up the Vikings' first touchdown, to Mewelde Moore and gave up a 49-yard kickoff return to Koren Robinson. Meanwhile, the Lions' own kick returner, Eddie Drummond, averaged just 20.3 yards on six kickoff returns and 6.0 on two punt returns. K Jason Hanson missed a 52-yard field goal attempt, breaking his streak of six in a row from 50 or beyond. P Nick Harris had a good day, averaging 52.6 yards on five punts, with a net average of 45.8 without a touchback.

COACHING: D -- The Lions seem to be in a state of suspended animation. There's no zip, there's no fire. Even after the collapse in Minnesota, there was no outrage. If the players have given up on the season -- as it seemed after the latest loss -- it could become an even longer, uglier second half of the season, and there seems to be little coach Steve Mariucci is able to do to get them going.

-- Mistakes admittedly made by quarterback Brett Favre and wide receiver Donald Driver, the injury-depleted offense's remaining two proven playmakers, were huge in keeping the Packers from possibly pulling off an upset victory. Favre failed to go to his hot read, tight end Donald Lee, when the Steelers defense sprung a second-quarter surprise in the red zone with a zone blitz. Consequently, Favre was popped in the pocket by cornerback Bryant McFadden, fumbled and watched helplessly as safety Troy Polamalu ran the other way 77 yards for a touchdown to keep Pittsburgh ahead. Fast forward to the fourth quarter, and usually reliable Driver allowed a short pass to glance off his hands and into those of safety Tyrone Carter, setting up Duce Staley's clinching TD run. Favre was only 20-of-35 passing for 214 yards with a lowly 63.3 rating and didn't have a touchdown pass for just the second time this season.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- In Favre's postgame assessment, "We didn't blow their socks off, but we were fairly effective at running the football." That's probably more than what the coaching staff expected after it turned to its fifth featured back of the season, Samkon Gado, to try to pick up a few yards against the Steelers' fifth-rated run defense. The un-drafted rookie, who's been with the team all of three weeks, was summoned after starter ReShard Lee fumbled on the team's third play from scrimmage. Gado showed an early burst with runs of 8 and 10 yards, but he had only two gains of more than 4 yards the last three quarters. He needed 26 carries to notch the team's single-game high of 62 yards, a paltry average of 2.4 yards per carry. Lee, filling in at the outset for injured Tony Fisher, never took another handoff after his early miscue.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Steelers' predictable reliance on keeping the football on the ground with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out because of injury limited the opportunities the Packers had to disrupt a passing attack orchestrated by Charlie Batch. He threw the ball only 16 times, completing but nine of them for a whopping 65 yards. For just the second time this season, cornerback Al Harris shadowed the opponent's marquee receiver on both sides the entire game, effectively subtracting Hines Ward from the Steelers' scaled-back game plan. Ward had only one reception, a gain of 12 yards late in the third quarter that was Batch's longest completion. Tight end Heath Miller was held to two catches for all of 11 yards. Linebacker Robert Thomas had an easy interception of a badly thrown downfield pass by Batch in the second quarter. The Steelers didn't convert a third down in seven opportunities, excluding a game-ending knee taken by Batch, and five of those were stops on called pass plays.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Packers surrendered 154 yards on the ground, marking only the fourth time this season a team has amassed triple figures against the top-10 rushing defense. While a big chunk came on receiver Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard reverse on the game's opening play, a stout front line wore down in the fourth quarter and couldn't contain the previously rusty Staley. Taking over for starter Willie Parker, who suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter, Staley pounded away for 76 yards in 15 carries for a gaudy per-rush average of 5.1 yards. He had eight carries for 45 yards in the final quarter, including a clinching 3-yard touchdown run on a missed tackle by linebacker Nick Barnett at the line of scrimmage. When Parker was in the game, the Packers held him to a measly 13 yards in five carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Ryan Longwell misfired on a field-goal attempt for the fourth time, already equaling his season total of last year, but this time, he blamed himself, not holder B.J. Sander, for the 31-yard chip shot pushed wide right late in the first half that spoiled an 18-play, 9 1/2-minute drive. Aside from that glaring miscue, the special-teams units were solid across the board. Sander, in his primary role as punter, had his best performance of the year, kicking three times amid a swirling gust inside Lambeau Field and averaging 49 yards on the nose, equaling his season high. More impressive was his season-best net average of 44.7 yards, which kept the electric Randle El in check on all three of his returns (4.3 yards average). Packers punt returner Antonio Chatman had a career-long runback of 36 yards late in the game and averaged 16.5 yards in four returns.

COACHING: C -- No league peers are going to take pity on head coach Mike Sherman, but he and his staff on the offensive side had their hands tied even tighter with the indefinite loss of Tony Fisher to a broken rib sustained the previous week. ReShard Lee became the fourth starter at running back, but he lasted only two plays after fumbling, a sign that Sherman has zero tolerance for mistakes in a season filled with them. Samkon Gado carried the load admirably the rest of the way and likely will make the start Sunday at Atlanta, but the Packers will have to endure growing pains with the un-drafted rookie who needs some seasoning. Penalties were in abundance yet again, particularly senseless ones like back-to-back false starts in the red zone that set up Favre's costly fumble and subsequent TD return by Polamalu. The repeated transgressions, game after game eight weeks in, don't reflect well on the coaching staff. Sherman, though, accepted culpability for the pivotal play by Polamalu, saying in hindsight he shouldn't have exposed Favre to the ensuing blitz on third down with an empty backfield.

-- This grade isn't a poor reflection of how Brad Johnson played in his first game replacing Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Johnson proved to be exactly what the Vikings needed: a game manager. He passed for only 164 yards and leading receiver Travis Taylor caught four balls for a grand total of 27 yards. But Johnson did not throw an interception and had a rating of 115.0.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Vikings put together their third 100-yard rushing game of the season as a team, and Michael Bennett contributed only the second 100-yard performance by an individual. Bennett, the forgotten man in the offense, had a season-high 18 carries for 106 yards and also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass. Bennett's re-emergence in the offense had to be partially attributed to an offensive line that put together its most complete performance of the season. It didn't hurt matters that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers sat out because of a knee injury.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- After a miserable performance a week earlier at Carolina, the Vikings rebounded against a Detroit offense that won't strike fear in the hearts of anyone. The Lions had the overmatched Joey Harrington at quarterback and the depleted receiving corps had to rely on Scottie Vines. Nonetheless, the Vikings did their job, getting interceptions from cornerback Antoine Winfield and free safety Darren Sharper. Coach Mike Tice was much more involved with the defense during the week leading up to this game and it showed as the Vikings used different alignments to confuse Detroit and also switched to a dose of cover-two in the second half. Winfield, who openly complained about the scheme against the Panthers, had a team-high 11 tackles and also broke up two passes.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- Back to playing a 4-3 base defense after three games in a 3-4, the Lions rushed for only 58 yards and quarterback Joey Harrington led the way with 17 yards on four carries. Kevin Williams looked far more comfortable back at the 3-technique after struggling to make things happen on the end and situational pass rusher Lance Johnstone contributed two sacks of the team's four sacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- This continues to be the Vikings' most consistent unit. Signing Koren Robinson was worth the investment, simply because of what he provides on kick returns. He averaged 33.7 yards on three returns and had a long of 49; Mewelde Moore had a 30-yard punt return in the second quarter to set up a touchdown. Paul Edinger made two of three field-goal attempts, making kicks of 21 and 40 yards and missing from 52. Coverage on Detroit's Eddie Drummond was good both on punt and kick returns.

COACHING: B -- Mike Tice spent the week focusing on the defense and it paid off as the unit, switched from a 3-4 back to the 4-3, was much improved. The one thing to keep in mind is Detroit's offense looked offense and wasn't helped when running back Kevin Jones left in the first quarter because of a nerve contusion in his arm. Backup quarterback Brad Johnson, stepping in for the injured Daunte Culpepper, appeared very comfortable with the offense. The key for this week is to see if the staff can prepare the team to even looked competitive in a road game.

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