Saturday Blitz: Around the North

We target the big story lines as the Packers' NFC North rivals prepare for their Week 2 games: Miami at Minnesota, Chicago at Dallas and Philadelphia at Detroit.

Vikings vs. Dolphins

Brett Favre developed chemistry last season with Sidney Rice that helped the wide receiver reach the Pro Bowl and establish himself as an elite talent.

But with Rice out for half the season after having hip surgery, the quarterback needs another receiver to emerge as his go-to guy. There are only four candidates because that's how many wide receivers the Vikings are carrying.

The list includes Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Greg Camarillo.

Harvin was Favre's second favorite target last season, catching 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns. (Rice had 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight scores.)

While the play-making Harvin figures to remain a guy Favre looks to on a frequent basis, the player that really has to emerge is Berrian. Berrian caught 55 passes for 618 yards and four touchdowns last year, but his 11.2 yards-per-catch average fell well below the NFL-best 20.1 yards per reception he averaged in his first year with the Vikings in 2008.

A big part of the issue was that Berrian suffered injuries to both hamstrings last season and did not get on track until the end of the season. He is healthy this year but had only one reception for three yards against the Saints. He also dropped a pass.

Part of the issue was that the Saints played a Cover-2 zone that took away some potential deep balls from Berrian, but Favre knows that in order to have success Berrian has to get involved.

"He is a proven veteran and seems to be perfectly healthy," Favre said. "There were probably some opportunities that I should have gotten the ball to Bernard. Just poor reads on my part."

Berrian admitted frustration with the fact no wide receiver caught more than one pass against the Saints.

It's uncertain who if anyone will step up to take Rice's role but the receiver corps must be more productive.

"Have we replaced (Rice) yet? Will we replace him?" Favre said. "Time will tell. It's hard to replace a guy like that, the way he plays the game. ... But I like our guys. I said that after the game against the Saints. But there's no doubt we have to get on the same page and we have to do it in a hurry."

Matchup to watch: CB Asher Allen, who made his second career start last week against New Orleans, vs. WR Brandon Marshall, who caught a game-high eight passes for 53 yards in his regular-season debut last Sunday against Buffalo -- Allen started at the right corner but was moved to the left side when the Vikings went to their nickel package. Antoine Winfield would shift inside and veteran Lito Sheppard would play on the right. It's logical to think the Dolphins would like to get Marshall matched up on Allen whenever possible. And the reason isn't just experience. Marshall is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, making him a tough assignment for the 5-9, 194-pound Allen. Winfield (5-9, 180 pounds) isn't big but has plenty of veteran savvy. Sheppard (5-10, 194) could have issues with Marshall.

Bears at Cowboys

The Cowboys have more than their share of offensive weapons - three talented running backs, three big-play wide receivers and six-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten — at the command of quarterback Tony Romo.

But the Cowboys have been susceptible up front, along an offensive line that has had to deal with injuries and inconsistency. Left guard Kyle Kosier suffered a sprained knee in the preseason and has been rushed back into the starting lineup, although he isn't yet 100 percent. Right tackle Marc Colombo, the Bears' first-round draft choice in 2002, had knee surgery during training camp to remove loose cartilage. He did not play in the season opener but is expected to start against his old team.

Colombo is being hurried back because his replacement, Alex Barron, was called for three holding penalties in the final 31 minutes of the season opener, a 13-7 loss to the Redskins. The last infraction negated an apparent game-winning touchdown pass with three seconds remaining.

Winning that battle may be the Bears' best chance to upset the 9-point favorite Cowboys.


Julius Peppers clobbers Matthew Stafford.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"You're always trying to win that battle up front with our defensive line against their offensive line," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "From what I'm told they're getting their guys back this week. But we need to win that battle up front."

Northern Illinois' Doug Free, a fourth-year player, got his first-ever NFL start at left tackle last week and will be facing Bears right end Julius Peppers. But the Bears aren't looking at the Cowboys' O-line as a weakness.

"I don't know if you can just pinpoint the offensive line off of one game," nose tackle Anthony Adams said. "It was their first game. It's probably some of the same stuff that they're saying about us up front defensively, as well as offensively."

When it's at full strength, the Cowboys' front wall is gigantic and formidable.

"They've got a big offensive line," Adams said. "They're huge up front, and we're going to have our work cut out for us."

Right guard Leonard Davis is 6-foot-6 and 355 pounds. Center Andre Gurode is 6-4 and 318 pounds. Colombo is 6-8 and 320, and Free is 6-6, 320. Kosier is the runt of the litter at 6-5 and 309 pounds. He's the only Cowboys starting offensive lineman who's lighter than the Bears' two heaviest starters, tackles Frank Omiyale and Chris Williams, who both weigh 315.

If Dallas' offensive line is able to keep the Bears' away from Romo long enough for him to utilize all his passing-game options at Cowboys Stadium, it will be a long day for the visitors, especially for the defensive backs.

"I'm not too much worried about it," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. "I'm confident in our front four. Coach (Rod) Marinelli and (defensive line coach Eric Washington) do a good job of keeping those guys with the basic fundamentals, a level rush and things like that. So, as far as covering guys a little bit longer, I think 'Pep' and Tommie (Harris) and those guys are going to get after Romo pretty good. I think they'll make my job a lot easier."

Matchup to watch: Cowboys LB Bradie James vs. Bears RB Matt Forte -- Forte has thrived under the presence of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who has made him his new Marshall Faulk. Forte had seven catches for 151 yards. Bradie James will have to stop him out of the backfield on passing downs. James led the Cowboys with eight tackles in the opener and is a solid linebacker in the nickel defense.

Eagles at Lions

The Lions didn't have to wait for the Eagles to name Michael Vick their starting quarterback Sunday. They were already game-planning for him.

"No matter what quarterback they play, they have packages where both guys play," head coach Jim Schwartz said. "We would have been getting ready for that anyway, regardless of who was starting. Vick brings a different dimension, but they don't really change their passing game a whole lot. It's different because he's a left-handed quarterback and because of his mobility."


Michael Vick tormented the Packers with his legs.
Jim Luzzi/Getty Images
Teams have taken many different approaches against Vick. Some emphasize containment and stay based in zone coverages. Some play more man-based defenses and select one player, either a linebacker or a safety, to shadow or spy on Vick. Some mix and match.

"You have to have a plan for both his designed runs and his scrambles," Schwartz said. "How we do that is a big part of our game plan. We will probably do a couple of different things against his designed runs and a couple of different things for his scrambles. You need to do that for Michael Vick or else you will get a 100 yards rushing on you in a half."

Which is what he did against the Packers last week, part of his 278 total yards.

"You guys always write about the wildcat offense, well, he is the wildcat offense," defensive coordinator Gunter Cunningham said. "He's not just a quarterback, he's a runner. So the game changes and your preparation is different. You stay up late at night and you get up early in the morning. If you look at our coaching staff, they all look like zombies today."

Some of the defensive players aren't sleeping any better, what with Vick reminding them of some of their worst college nightmares.

"He brings a whole new dimension," linebacker Zack Follett said. "For me, it's like going back to the Oregon offense when I was at Cal, with Dennis Dixon running the spread."

The toughest job for any defense playing against such a run-pass threat as Vick is walking the thin line between staying aggressive and not losing containment.

"You have to contain him," Follett said. "You can't take him lightly because he can beat you with his legs and he can throw the ball deep. We're scheming up the best we can to try and take away the run and the pass.

"But you have to stay aggressive. You have to be even more aggressive. You can't sit back and wait for him to make a move. We have to attack him."

It will help if the Lions do what they did to the Bears' Jay Cutler last Sunday — get him dirty.

"He's scary," Cunningham said. "He looks like the Michael Vick of old. He's one of the best athletes in the game and I think Green Bay was shell-shocked. I don't know how much they prepared for him; they anticipated Kevin Kolb playing the whole game. They were in man underneath coverage with two deep safeties and you don't want to do that too many times with Michael Vick having the ball back there. He just takes two steps and he's off and running."

Matchup to watch: Lions TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler vs. Eagles OLB Ernie Sims -- The Lions know Sims' strengths and weakness better than most since he played here for three years, and one of his weaknesses is pass coverage. Both Pettigrew and Sheffler are 6-5; Sims is 6-0.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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