Chicago Bears (3-0): at Giants (1-2)
Whether it's his tenuous job security or a diminished tolerance for mistakes and poor play after three straight non-playoff seasons, Lovie Smith is not the same "players' coach" he was considered his first six seasons with the Bears.
In Monday night's victory over the Packers, the only thing six-year starter Tommie Harris' $40 million contract bought him was a seat on the bench.
In the offseason, the Bears thought enough of right cornerback Zack Bowman to move him to the higher-profile left side ahead of seven-year starter Charles Tillman. But it only took one missed tackle Monday night for Bowman to be told to grab some bench, too.
Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, the Bears' leading receiver in the final four games last season and a favorite of quarterback Jay Cutler, was also inactive against Green Bay, even though he led the Bears' wideouts with five catches and 71 yards in the season opener.
What's the message Smith is trying to send?
"We don't try to send messages or things like that," Smith said, even though he and every player on his team knows that isn't accurate.
"It's the same philosophy we've always had," Smith said. "We hold the players accountable on the football field. We look at what they do on the field, and we play the guys that give us the best opportunity to win. Players realize that, too. That is why they are anxious to go out there on the football field and prove that they can help the team win that week and that's who we are going to go with."
That's a great philosophy, but if that were always the case, Harris wouldn't have been allowed to sleepwalk through two years of mediocre-to-poor performances and still keep his starting job in 2008 and '09.
Now it's about what have you done lately, not potential. There is no more playing favorites or coddling; the best players play.
"The standard has been the same for everybody," linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. "I think it just goes to show whether it's Tommie Harris, one of our finest D-linemen, or Zack Bowman, one of our finest defensive backs, it doesn't matter. It could be me. You could see me getting yanked next week if I don't perform. That's the standard. We all understand it. It's our job to perform, and if we're not doing that, then we expect that the next person is more than capable of replacing us."
That's the beauty of depth. It provides the luxury of not having to suffer along with the inconsistencies of underperforming starters or seeing the team suffer when a starter is injured. And that appears to be another difference this year. The Bears actually possess the kind of depth that allows them to bench starters who aren't performing to their potential without suffering any dropoff.
The Bears played just as well, maybe even better, with Matt Toeaina starting in place of Harris and Tim Jennings stepping in for Bowman. Ditto when right tackle Frank Omiyale had to move to left tackle after Chris Williams suffered a hamstring injury on the first series against the Cowboys, and Kevin Shaffer came off the bench to play right tackle. Williams remains out, but the Bears haven't missed a beat.
"It says that we have good depth, and each year that's what you're trying to do, get that best group together," Smith said. "We talk about depth an awful lot. Now we're getting a chance to just not talk about it but to see that depth really come up.
"Some years it just doesn't work that way. But during the course of a year, injuries come up. All different types of things come up, that will maybe make you go to that next guy in line. Players realize that too, especially some of the guys that have been around here for a while. We keep telling them, 'If you deserve to play, eventually something will happen where you'll get an opportunity to do that.'"
This year, Smith is also telling players that if they don't perform, they will not play. But he says it's not a situation where no one's job is safe.
"Every job, if you are performing well, your position is safe," he said. "(But) if you are the starter, you have to play a certain way or the next guy gets an opportunity. Our guys know that, and they're OK with that."
Matchups to watch
Bears LT Frank Omiyale, who is starting in place of the injured Chris Williams, vs. Giants DRE Osi Umenyiora — Omiyale was the Bears' left guard last year and started the season at right tackle before moving over to fill in for Williams.
Bears RT Kevin Shaffer vs. Giants DLE Justin Tuck — Shaffer is a better run blocker than pass protector, but he did an admirable job against Packers OLB Clay Matthews last week, preventing him from adding to his league-best sack total of six.
Minnesota Vikings (1-2): Bye week
The Vikings should know exactly where their season is headed by the end of this month.
After starting 1-2 and then having a bye on Sunday, Minnesota will embark on its toughest stretch of 2010 beginning a week from Monday night as they face the Jets at the New Meadowlands.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Realistically, one would have to consider a 2-2 record in those four games to be an accomplishment. The issue is the Vikings have put themselves behind the eight-ball with season-opening losses at New Orleans and against Miami at home.
There is little question that coach Brad Childress will spend the week drilling the "one-game-at-a-time" mantra into his players' heads as they prepare for the Jets.
In fact, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams was using that phrase before the Vikings embarked on their bye.
"We have to take one game, one week, one opponent (at a time)," he said. "That's all we can play. We can only get one win that week. That's what we have to focus on."
The Vikings are coming off a 24-10 victory over Detroit in Week 3 at Mall of America Field, but their passing game needs to get on track if they want to have success against quality opponents.
One encouraging fact for Minnesota is that its defense has performed very well and should keep the team in games.
The pass defense, which has been suspect at times in recent seasons, should get a boost now that rookie cornerback Chris Cook has returned from a knee injury and is playing regular snaps in the nickel defense. Cornerback Cedric Griffin also has returned after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament in the NFC championship game last January and is starting again at the right corner. Cook (6-2) and Griffin (6-0) give the Vikings good size in the defensive backfield.
Good news at the bye
Running back Adrian Peterson appears to be back to elite form. After averaging a career-low 4.4 yards a carry last season, Peterson is up to 5.6 yards per carry through three games.
He also leads the Vikings with 13 receptions and is consistently playing on third down for the first time in his career.
Peterson was outstanding against the Lions, racing for an 80-yard touchdown that was the longest run of his career and showed that he has a fourth gear that was missing for much of 2009.
Bad news at the bye
Brett Favre played better than anyone could have expected last season, throwing 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions. So far, he hasn't provided a repeat performance.
Seemingly unable to get on the same page with many of his wide receivers — and no doubt missing the abilities of Sidney Rice (hip) — Favre already has six interceptions this season and has only two touchdown passes.
Last season, Favre posted a career-best 107.2 passer rating. Through three games this year, that rating is at 60.4. That puts him near the bottom of quarterbacks in the NFL.
As for Rice's return, he is expected to miss at least half the season after undergoing surgery.
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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 email@example.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.