NFC North Game Plan: Chicago, GB Hit Road

The Bears and Packers hit the road, while Minnesota hosts the Buccaneers. Complete game plan and analysis of Detroit's NFC North rivals inside ...


The 1-0 Bears could be catching the 0-1 Saints at the most opportune time. They will be without WR Marques Colston, who fractured his collarbone against the Packers. He led the Saints last season with 1,023 yards and 84 catches, including seven touchdowns.

Another wide receiver, Lance Moore, could miss the game because of a groin injury that kept him out of the season-opening 42-34 loss. Moore led the Saints last season with eight touchdown catches among his 66 receptions for 763 yards, both of which were second-best on the team.

Defensive end Will Smith, who is arguably the Saints' best pass rusher, is also out. He is serving the second of a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Smith had a modest 5 1/2 sacks last season, but he had 13 in 2009.

But the Bears could be a bit off this week as well, considering the death of Brian Urlacher's mother, which will take him away from the team for several days, although he could return Sunday.

The Bears will try to match the pass-rush pressure they generated last week, when they got to Falcons QB Matt Ryan five times despite using blitzes sparingly. All the sacks came from d-linemen, including two from DE Julius Peppers, two more from 3T Henry Melton and one from Amobi Okoye.

The Bears have talked about a stronger emphasis on the run, but last week Jay Cutler threw to nine receivers for 312 yards, although the expected return of short-yardage/complementary back Marion Barber could result in more running plays, especially in the red zone.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bears RB Matt Forte vs. Saints LBs Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle and Will Herring in passing situations. Forte had five catches in Week 1 for 90 yards, including a 56-yard TD.

Bears NT Anthony Adams and 3T Henry Melton vs. Saints C Olin Kreutz, who was the Bears' center for the previous 13 seasons. Adams practiced against Kreutz for the previous four seasons, but Melton is a first-year starter who had two sacks last week in his first NFL start.

GREEN BAY (1-0) @ CAROLINA (0-1)

As impressed as Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was with Cam Newton's record-setting pro debut of slinging the football for 422 yards, the Green Bay coaches gained some valuable insight by the end of Carolina's narrow loss at Arizona on Sunday on how to prepare for the young quarterback. The Cardinals were liberal at crunch time with their pressure packages and finally had Newton frazzled and making some poor, rookie-esque decisions with the football. He was sacked four times.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is assertive by nature with his calls but may be compelled to go hard after Newton early in the game so as not to let him get comfortable and into a rhythm on his five-step drops to make the right throws.

The Packers will have to get home on those because the Panthers have the ability to create some mismatches down the field with skillful receiver Steve Smith and playmaking tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Green Bay's offense also could face a heavy diet of blitzes with the Panthers' 4-3 scheme under new head coach Ron Rivera.

They had Arizona QB Kevin Kolb scrambling out of the pocket several times. Aaron Rodgers is more mobile than Kolb and is lethal in making plays on the move, so he shouldn't be troubled. However, as a safeguard, McCarthy might take a page from Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and counter with a lot of quick slants and outs to pierce the soft spots of the Carolina defense, which was burned for a 70-yard, score-tying touchdown from Kolb to Early Doucet on a short cross in the fourth quarter.

The season-ending loss of talented middle linebacker Jon Beason to a torn Achilles' may make it manageable for McCarthy to get the running game going with Ryan Grant and James Starks.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Packers KR/PR Randall Cobb vs. Panthers kick coverage -- Cobb, a second-round draft pick, had a remarkable pro debut in the Sept. 8 win over New Orleans. Not only did he have a nifty catch-and-run touchdown on offense, but he tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return to paydirt. More fireworks could be in the offing from the explosive Cobb against Carolina's special teams, which surrendered a game-winning 89-yard punt return for a touchdown by Arizona rookie Patrick Peterson in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Packers CBs Tramon Williams and Sam Shields vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith -- Williams, who emerged as the team's top shutdown corner last season, isn't a given to play because of a shoulder bruise that knocked him out of the opener. Even if Williams does go, Carolina figures to try to get veteran playmaker Smith matched up against Shields, Green Bay's second-year nickel back. Shields was productive as an undrafted rookie but had an up-and-down 2011 debut against the Saints' pass-heavy attack. Shields usually lines up on the right side of the defense, which is where Smith exploited Peterson, the Cardinals' first-round draft pick, and caught both of his touchdowns Sunday, including a 77-yard strike from rookie Cam Newton as part of an eight-catch, 178-yard day.

Packers LT Chad Clifton and RT Bryan Bulaga vs. Panthers DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy -- The 35-year-old Clifton and second-year Bulaga did a solid job as the bookends to protect Aaron Rodgers (two sacks) against a decent amount of pressure applied by the Saints in Week 1. They could feel a little more heat from Carolina's new zone-blitz scheme, which went after Arizona's Kevin Kolb relentlessly. Speed rushers Johnson and Hardy each had a sack, and Hardy also forced a fumble. Johnson is listed as the right end and Hardy the left end on the depth chart, but they move around frequently.


Most interesting this week against Tampa Bay will be the involvement of the Vikings' tight ends, who are expected to be a central part of the offense but were targeted only twice in the opener.

The Bucs' run a similar Tampa-2 defense to the Vikings' scheme, which encourages offenses to throw underneath coverage to tight ends and running backs -- as Rivers did 34 times (completing 26) against Minnesota last week.

"You've got to be able to put together some first downs so you can get a rhythm," Frazier said. "Because we weren't able to do that, then it shrinks down the playbook and you miss out on some opportunities when that happens."

Starting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe played 39 of 43 snaps in the opener. Rudolph played 21 and Kleinsasser 20, including seven of eight "F" snaps in the backfield as the Vikings continue to move forward without a fullback on the roster. Even undrafted rookie Allen Reisner got on the field for two snaps.

"It's built to try to stop outside plays or big plays downfield," McNabb said of the Bucs' scheme. "But your tight ends play a major part versus a Cover-2 scheme, and we see it every day here with our guys."

MATCHUPS TO WATCH Vikings RE Jared Allen, who has at least 11 sacks each of the past four seasons, vs. Buccaneers LT Donald Penn, who gave up six sacks, nine knockdowns and 36 pressures last season. Allen had a half-sack, four QB pressures and an interception in the opener, looking more like his 2009 self than the one that struggled the first half of last season.

Vikings defense, which missed 13 tackles against San Diego, vs. Buccaneers HB LeGarrette Blount, who broke 50 tackles last season. Blount wasn't pleased with only getting five carries in the Bucs' Week 1 loss, and the Vikings need to tackle far better on the edges for their Tampa-2 scheme to go.

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