The Bears' coaches may have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. But they present the kind of dilemmas that coaches don't mind dealing with.
Because they feel they have three starting-caliber cornerbacks, the Bears introduced all three of them with the starting lineup Sunday, throwing a bone to Jerry Azumah, who did not start but played nickel back in passing situations.
Nate Vasher, a fourth-round pick last season, has started the first two games in place of Azumah, whom the Bears did not wish to rush back following arthroscopic hip surgery on Aug. 4. And Vasher already has three interceptions, so it may be difficult, if not impossible, for Azumah to regain his starting job across from Charles Tillman, the Bears' biggest and best cover corner.
"Nathan Vasher is a good football player," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
"And every time I've talked about playing the ball, I'm talking about how good I think Nate can play the ball when it's in the air.
"And Jerry Azumah is Jerry Azumah. He's a good football player. We need those. As I see it, you have three corners that you (can) start."
Although he played only about half the snaps last season while playing mostly as the nickel corner, Vasher still led the team with five interceptions.
On the other side of the ball, Thomas Jones' 139-yard rushing effort Sunday will quiet talk of a running back controversy with first-round draft pick Cedric Benson for a while, the debate is inevitable.
Bears' RB Thomas Jones
But Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't view that as a problem.
"I really like what we have," Smith said. "It's a long football season. The way we pounded the ball yesterday (37 times for 187 yards) you may need three good running backs, and we feel like we have three (including Adrian Peterson). Thomas had 20 carries, and he made the most of his 20. We got Cedric double-digit carries (16, for 49 yards).
"We'll need both of those guys throughout the year. I just like the progress of both of them. I think Cedric got a lot better just knowing the plays. And Thomas Jones has just played the way he's done since training camp, and that's at a high level."
BEAR PLAYER NOTES
- QB Kyle Orton avoided mistakes in his second NFL start. The rookie posted a passer rating of 103.3 while throwing his first NFL TD pass, a 28-yarder to Muhsin Muhammad.
- QB Jeff Blake saw his first regular-season action for the Bears, mopping up in a 38-6 rout of the Lions. Blake completed hiss only pass attempt for an 11-yard gain
- RB Thomas Jones bounced back big time from a lousy opener with 139 yards on 20 carries, including two impressive touchdown runs of 16 and three yards, muting any talk of rookie Cedric Benson taking his job.
- RB Cedric Benson got a much bigger dose of playing time than expected, carrying 16 times for 49 yards, including a 19-yarder as the Bears were able to pound the ball and dominate possession time.
- WR Muhsin Muhammad, who had an NFL-best 16 TD catches last season, had his first TD as a Bear, a 28-yard toss from Kyle Orton. Muhammad was hammered after the catch by Kenoy Kennedy but shrugged it off.
- WR Justin Gage had one catch for 21 yards but it was an impressive reception in traffic, barely inbounds, and he landed flat on his back but held on to the ball.
- WR Mark Bradley had one catch for nine yards, but the Bears only attempted 22 passes.
- TE Desmond Clark caught two passes for 19 yards and had five receptions on the year but with a long of just 11 yards.
- PK Doug Brien connected on his first FG attempt as a Bear, a 48-yarder from the right hash, but he missed his next two, 48- and 36-yarders from the left hash. His kickoffs were a little deeper than in the opener and the preseason.
- DE Adewale Ogunleye had an MRI Monday on his sprained left ankle and, although the Bears did not release the results, coach Lovie Smith said he expected Ogunleye to be on the field this week.
- CB Nate Vasher had two interceptions and how had three this season and eight in 18 NFL games.
- MLB Brian Urlacher had two sacks Sunday and has three this season. He has not had more than six in a season since his rookie year of 2000.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Resurgent Tampa Bay will motor into Green Bay this weekend riding a shiny, new Cadillac - RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who's broken in his rookie tires and gotten optimum mileage on a full tank to become the NFL's top rusher.
The foundering Packers, conversely, have been beset thus far by a dinged, aging clunker - Ahman Green, who's spinning his 28-year-old wheels and sputtering on a nearly empty tank.
Green, a Pro Bowl selection the previous four seasons, has been a shadow of the unstoppable rusher who led the league from 2000 to '04 with 6,848 yards on the ground. He's managed but 112 through two weeks this season and sits 22nd on the league list, 164 yards off the early pace set by Williams.
For Green, the rough start has been a carryover from a drab finish to last season. In each of his last nine games, dating to Nov. 21, Green hasn't reached the 100-yard barrier. He's gained all of 491 yards during the stretch and averaged 3.9 yards per carry, down from his career average of 4.7 entering this season.
To think, he's not even two years removed from notching 11 100-yard games and setting a franchise record with 1,883 rushing yards during the 2003 season.
Green won't have it easy trying to snap out of his career-worst, nine-game funk when the Buccaneers come to Lambeau Field on Sunday. They're the league's stingiest team against the run in 2005, yielding a minuscule average of 40 yards per game and just 2.5 yards per rush.
The Packers' maddening inability to get their signature running attack on track is a big reason why they're 0-2 for the first time in five years. The team's No. 24 league ranking for rushing average (81.0 per game) is misleading because quarterback Brett Favre accounted for nearly an eighth of the 162 yards produced in two games with a 20-yard keeper in a 26-24 loss to Cleveland last Sunday.
Packers' RB Ahman Green
Green and backups Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher have combined for just 147 yards in 41 carries. The longest run among them is a 12-yard pickup by Green in a season-opening, 17-3 defeat at Detroit.
Without the threat of ripping off a big run, the Packers are inviting opposing defenses to sit back in coverage and not bring an eighth man in the box. Cleveland kept both safeties back the majority of the game Sunday, which enabled it to disrupt the Packers' passing attack and hold them to only seven points the first three quarters.
"People are putting two corners on the perimeter and two safeties back, and our inability to affect two-deep zone coverage in the run game, we've never had that problem before," coach Mike Sherman said. "It's an issue that will continue to be a problem until we effectively attack two-deep coverage in the run game."
The Packers will get another heavy dose of it Sunday with Tampa Bay's patented cover-2 scheme, which will dare the once-imposing Green to make something happen. His last substantial run was a 27-yard gain seven games ago in a mid-December loss to Jacksonville.
"We need to have a 60-yarder come out; we need a 40-yarder to come out," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said.
PACKER PLAYER NOTES
- TE Bubba Franks has played in all 82 regular-season games since the Packers made him their first-round draft pick in 2000. The streak is in jeopardy, though, after Franks sustained a bruised left knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Cleveland. Franks was walking with crutches after the game, and he didn't participate in the team's running drills Monday. Coach Mike Sherman said Franks probably won't practice Wednesday, and his status for the upcoming game against Tampa Bay is up in the air. Franks' top backup, David Martin, is recovering from a neck stinger suffered in the last game, though he's expected to be ready for Sunday.
- OLB Na'il Diggs expects to make his long-awaited season debut Sunday. Diggs felt he was ready to play against Cleveland after practicing all week. Sherman, though, felt Diggs needed more prep time for game action after he had been out since suffering a torn MCL in his left knee during training camp Aug. 8. Paris Lenon started for Diggs at the strongside spot the first two games.
- CB Joey Thomas made his first NFL start in place of fellow second-year player Ahmad Carroll. Thomas, however, may have cost himself a second straight start after he bit on an outside move and allowed Braylon Edwards to take off for an 80-yard touchdown on a slant route in the third quarter. Earlier in the game, Thomas was called for holding, though the penalty was declined. Thomas later was sidelined a short time after taking a blow to the head while making a tackle. Carroll, who was removed from the lineup after committing four penalties in the opener, didn't have one infraction Sunday in an extensive role off the bench and is under consideration to regain the starting spot opposite Al Harris.
- SS Mark Roman's starting job also is in limbo after he whiffed on a diving tackle of tight end Steve Heiden, who scored a 62-yard touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game to essentially clinch the victory for the Browns. Earl Little, a veteran free-agent signee in the off-season, criticized Roman's gaffe after the game and is lobbying to be elevated to starter.
- RG Will Whitticker may lose his starting spot after giving up a sack and a knockdown by the Browns' Orpheus Roye. The rookie also incurred his second and third false-start penalties of the season. Candidates to replace Whitticker are Grey Ruegamer or Mark Tauscher, who would move inside from his starting spot at right tackle and give way to Kevin Barry.
- QB Brett Favre threw for three touchdowns against the Browns after the team didn't reach the end zone in the season opener at Detroit. However, Favre had two more passes intercepted, both in the opening three quarters when the offense mustered just seven points before staging a futile final-period comeback with 17 points.
- QB Aaron Rodgers remained Favre's top backup for the second straight week, though this year's first-round draft pick has yet to appear in a game.
- RB Ahman Green was held to 54 yards in 16 carries by the Browns, averaging a meager 3.4 yards per carry. Green, who had to remove himself from the game at one point in the third quarter because of his asthma, hasn't rushed for 100 yards in nine straight games, the longest drought of his five-plus years as the Packers' featured back.
- RB Najeh Davenport outdid Green with a per-carry average of 4.5 yards Sunday but had only eight rushes for 36 yards. Davenport served as the primary kickoff returner and averaged 18 yards in three returns.
- WR Donald Driver filled the No. 1 void created by Javon Walker's season-ending knee injury with a rousing effort Sunday. Driver had six receptions for a game-high 105 yards (17.5 average), highlighted by a nifty 42-yard, catch-and-run touchdown in the first series of the game. Driver has caught a pass in 50 straight games, the fourth-best streak in team history.
- WR Robert Ferguson was promoted to the starting lineup in Javon Walker's absence but had only four catches for 47 yards. Ferguson hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Favre late in the game. However, he failed to break up a third-quarter pass intercepted by Gary Baxter in the back of the end zone and wasn't always sure with his route assignments.
- WR Antonio Chatman got the nod over rookie Terrence Murphy as the third receiver. Chatman matched Ferguson with four receptions and totaled 71 yards (17.8 average). Chatman had the wind knocked out of him when he landed on the football after making a 22-yard reception in the final minute of the game. He returned to action two plays later. Chatman returned one punt for 9 yards.
- PK Ryan Longwell made his only field-goal attempt, a 34-yarder in the fourth quarter. Longwell tied his own team record of 14 straight games with a field goal, originally attained spanning the 1997 and '98 seasons.
If the Vikings are to rebound from an 0-2 start, they will have to begin taking care of the football, starting with Sunday's game against New Orleans at the Metrodome.
In losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-13 and Cincinnati Bengals 37-8, the Vikings turned over the ball 12 times. Ten of those have been by quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who tossed a career-high five interceptions in last Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Bengals. He has thrown eight picks this season, a number he didn't reach until the 12th game of 2004.
The other two turnovers Sunday came when Michael Bennett fumbled in the first quarter on a rushing play and then coughed up the ball after catching a pass in the second quarter. That led to Bennett spending the rest of the game on the bench.
"The easiest fix is to eliminate the turnovers," coach Mike Tice said.
"If we can get the turnovers settled down, everything else will start to fall into place."
That had better happen fast.
The Vikings have had 24 offensive possessions in 2005 and 12 have ended with turnovers. The team's minus-9 turnover margin ranks as the worst in the NFL. Houston and Seattle share the next worst at minus-6.
Tice pointed out turnovers have not been a major problem for his teams in recent seasons. Last year, the Vikings had a plus-1 differntial, eighth in the NFC and 18th in the NFL. In 2003, they were plus-11, second in the conference and fifth in the NFL.
Vikings' head coach Mike Tice
"We just need to stay within ourselves," Tice said when asked how he planned to address the issue in practice this week. "Everybody just stay within themselves and not try to press to make plays. That's the biggest message. The plays are good.
"They are the same plays we've been running here since 1992 when we put the offense in with Jack Burns (as offensive coordinator), Denny Green (as head coach) and Brian Billick (as tight ends coach). ... The same plays. We just need to get back to executing and play within ourselves and not try to hard to make plays. The plays will come."
Culpepper also is attempting to stay upbeat despite a terrible start.
"We've got to get into our rhythm," he said. "It's tough when things happen and you turn the ball over in a game and you're trying to battle through that. We've just got to stay positive as a team. People have been looking for reasons to doubt us anyway. That's the thing that we can't be concerned about. We've got to be concerned with the 53 guys and the coaching staff, us sticking together and fixing this and making it happen."
VIKING PLAYER NOTES
- WR Kevin Burleson, who is atop the depth chart, suffered a sprain of the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the third quarter against the Bengals and appears likely to miss Sunday's game against New Orleans. Burleson, though, is holding out hope he will be ready to go.
- FS Darren Sharper sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the second quarter against Cincinnati. He continued to play but was eventually removed in the second half. Sharper was slowed last season because of an injury to the PCL in the same knee. He will be evaluated on Wednesday. If Sharper can't go, Corey Chavous will move from strong to free safety and Willie Offord will take over at strong safety.
- CB Antoine Winfield was forced to leave last Sunday's game because of blisters on both feet that broke open. If Winfield continues to be bothered by the problem, Brian Williams will see additional time at cornerback.
- DE Kenechi Udeze had to leave the Bengals game because of a strain in his lower right leg but said he will be fine for Sunday's game against the Saints.
- MLB Sam Cowart missed Sunday's game because of a calf strain but expects to practice Wednesday and is hoping to be ready for Sunday.
- QB Daunte Culpepper has 10 turnovers, including eight interceptions, and a 41.6 quarterback rating through two games. Culpepper also hasn't been running the football as much as usual. Part of the reason for this could be an injury to his right knee that the Vikings have yet to discuss in any detail. The exact nature of the problem isn't known but Culpepper was wearing a tight elastic brace around the knee on Sunday. On his pregame radio show before the Bengals loss, coach Mike Tice indicated Culpepper was hurt in Week 1 against Tampa Bay.
- QB Brad Johnson did not see any action against the Bengals despite the fact the Vikings trailed 37-0 in the fourth quarter and Culpepper's knee was hurting. Johnson continues to serve as the holder on kicks.
- RB Michael Bennett was the Vikings' leading rusher against Cincinnati, finishing with 36 yards on three carries. Why so few carries? Bennett was benched for two series after losing a fumble in the first quarter. He was then benched for the rest of the game after fumbling again in the second quarter. Afterward, Bennett admitted he was disappointed in himself but also was frustrated that he spent the rest of the game watching. It's unclear if Bennett will get another start Sunday against the Saints.
- RB Mewelde Moore, who did not carry the football in Week 1, had a team-leading eight rushes against Cincinnati. He gained only 29 yards (3.6 average) and 14 came on one carry. Moore stands to get the start vs. New Orleans if Michael Bennett remains in the doghouse.
- RB Moe Williams started in the Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay and had a team-leading six carries. Sunday in Cincinnati, Williams was handed the ball only once as the Vikings had to abandon the ground game after falling behind early.
- WR Travis Taylor led the Vikings with seven receptions for 75 yards in the loss at Cincinnati, including a long of 19 yards. Other than Taylor, no Vikings player had more than three catches.
- WR Koren Robinson is expected to make his Vikings' debut Sunday against the Saints after being inactive for the loss at Cincinnati. Robinson said he is ready to go and is getting comfortable with the offense. Look for him to be used in the return game as well.
- WR Troy Williamson, the seventh-overall pick in the draft, had two receptions for 44 yards against the Bengals after not having a pass thrown his way in Week 1. Williamson's 23-yard reception was the longest of the day for a Vikings' receiver. He also returned five kickoffs but looked uncomfortable in the role and averaged only 13.2 yards.
- TE Jermaine Wiggins had three catches for 17 yards against the Bengals but coach Mike Tice seemed to think the ball could have gone to Wiggins a bit more.
- P Chris Kluwe continues to impress. The rookie averaged 46.7 yards (41.7 net) on three punts against the Bengals.