Saturday Blitz: Around the North

Brett Favre tells ESPN that he expects to start on Sunday at New England and that he wouldn't have made the trip otherwise. In Detroit, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham faces an old foe in Mike Shanahan. And in Chicago, it's a much-needed bye.

Minnesota Vikings (2-4): at Patriots (5-1)

Brett Favre told ESPN that he expects to start on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

"My expectations are to play and play well enough for us to have a chance to win this game," Favre told Ed Werder, adding that he wouldn't have made the trip unless he expected to start

Favre returned to practice on Friday with his left ankle heavily taped, and he tossed a few easy passes during warm-up drills. But Favre, whose NFL-record streak of 291 consecutive starts is in jeopardy, did not roll out or take any significant dropbacks during the brief portion of practice that was open to the media.

That he could start would be no small feat considering Favre suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle and an avulsion fracture in his left heel in Sunday's loss at Green Bay. He was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.

Favre, 41, was wearing a walking boot on Wednesday as he addressed the media, but on Thursday he had gotten rid of the boot and had a wrap around the ankle area.

Asked on Thursday if he thought he could play this week, Favre said: "I wouldn't put anything past me, to be honest with you."

Coach Brad Childress declined to offer his observations on Favre's mobility during Friday's practice, and suggested it would be a game-time decision with the future Hall of Famer.

"He's been a little better every day," Childress said of Favre's progress. "Whether it's good enough to play in an NFL football game remains to be seen. I'm just taking it a day at a time. That's all we can take it."

Part of Favre's plan is to wear a size-15 inch shoe on his left foot if he does play. He ordinarily wears a size 14. Favre wanted to give that a test on Thursday to see how it would feel. The Vikings' athletic training staff would put a splint or some type of protection in the shoe as well.

As far as talking to Childress to make a determination about playing, Favre said: "We haven't talked really. I've been getting treatment. I don't think that is an unusual thing with me (to not have discussed it yet)." Favre's injury is the latest bit of bad news for a team that has dropped seven games in a row on the road, including a loss to the Jets on Oct. 11 that began this four-game stretch during which the Vikings are 1-2.

Nonetheless, Childress isn't about to panic.

"We have 10 games left," said Childress, whose team lost four games all last year during the regular season and made it to the NFC title game. "I'm not calling anything a crisis point. We've got to work ourselves out of this. I believe we've got the players and the coaches to work ourselves out of this."

Matchup to watch

Vikings WR Randy Moss, who has caught 12 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in three games with Minnesota, vs. Patriots CBs Darius Butler and Devin McCourty. Moss is going to be out for revenge in a big way in this game and it will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick and Co. decide to try to stop him. Butler, a second-year player, and McCourty, a rookie, are almost certain to get safety help when they are matched up against Moss. The issue is that the Patriots are still going to need to find a way to slow Percy Harvin, who has been playing very well of late, not to mention running back Adrian Peterson. Given all the Vikings' weapons, Moss should be averaging more than 13.8 yards per catch.

Detroit Lions (1-5): vs. Redskins

The best matchup between the Lions and Redskins might not take place on the field Sunday. Two old warriors are going to be matching wits on the sidelines for the first time in a couple of years.

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been trying to stop Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's offenses for more than 25 years. From 1996 through 2008, when Cunningham was with Kansas City and Shanahan with Denver, they met twice a year.


Gunther Cunningham
Leon Halip/Getty Images
"Mike, if you're listening," Cunningham said on Thursday, "I think you know what I'm doing and I know what you're doing. I'm ready."

Believe it or not, there is a picture of Shanahan on Cunningham's desk.

"Yeah, it's in color, too," Cunningham joked. "I consider it a real privilege to have him as a friend. This game is going to be really special for me."

In those legendary Chiefs-Broncos battles from 1996 through 2008, Shanahan had a 14-12 edge. But in the two seasons Cunningham was coach of the Chiefs, he beat Shanahan four straight times.

"They obviously have a mutual respect for each other," said Lions tight end Tony Scheffler, who played for Shanahan in Denver. "Just going back to my years, I remember things coach Shanahan would say about Gun and the way his players played for him. It's going to be fun to see them interact and go at each other on Sunday.

"It's just two great football minds on opposite sides of the ball."

There certainly won't by any surprises either way.

"His system is very special and I know a lot about it," Cunningham said. "I can run his plays myself. I was watching him on TV the other day and he ran a bootleg, once, twice, three times, and I said, 'Mike,' and sure enough he ran it four straight times."

Cunningham said a lot will be determined by the Redskins' first 15 plays from scrimmage.

"The interesting thing in this game is going to be those first 15 plays," he said. "He's probably the No. 1 coach in history in scoring points on the first drive. I battled that every year. We had some success but it was difficult."

Matchup to watch

Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall. After getting picked off four times by Hall last Sunday, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said if he had it to do over, he would go at Hall again. The Lions feel the same way. Hall is a ballhawk, but he can be exploited. Particularly in the red zone, look for Stafford to throw it early and often to Johnson.

Chicago Bears (4-3): Bye

It's easy to overlook how well the Bears' defense has played for most of the season, especially as the team was losing three of four games heading into this weekend's bye.

But, while the offense has struggled mightily with everything from converting third downs, to protecting the quarterback to punching the ball into the end zone from a yard away, the defense has more than held its own. The Bears have allowed 17 points or less in five of their seven games.


Jay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"The numbers are good," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's always good to be up there in total yardage (the Bears are No. 5), but we don't look at that a lot. We look at scoring defense; we're right at the top (No. 2), third downs (No. 1), taking the ball away (tied for No. 2). The guys have played hard and played well throughout. I'm pretty pleased with where we are headed into this next phase."

While new offensive coordinator Mike Martz has gotten most of the publicity, most of it negative, new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has quietly gone about leading a group that has performed consistently throughout the first seven weeks.

"We've been very, very solid," Marinelli said. "We're playing at a very high level. The consistency is what's pleased us. Down in and down out, just playing the snap and playing together as a team, the discipline, those things have been really good, so we just have to maintain that."

Defensive end Julius Peppers was the big-ticket offseason purchase for the defense, and while he has just two sacks, he has been a presence in most games and created opportunities for other players, such as defensive end Israel Idonije, who has a career-best 4.5 sacks.

"Our system is all based on teamwork," Marinelli said. "Sometimes you have to give up an opportunity to make a play to allow a teammate to make a play, and that's the discipline we're looking for. Everything I've seen on tape they have (responded to that). The consistency, the fundamentals, all the details it takes to play our system and the effort, and teamwork."

Offensively, coaches once again say they need to run the ball more.

They've been saying that since the 17-3 loss to the Giants in Week 4, when just 16 running plays were called. They said it again after the 23-20 loss to the Seahawks, when there were just 12 running plays. And now they're saying it yet again after running the ball 16 times in the 17-14 loss to the Redskins last week.

Starter Matt Forte has carried the ball just 90 times this season, 28 less than he had after seven games last season. His workload was expected to drop off a bit this season after the Bears signed unrestricted free agent Chester Taylor in the offseason, but Taylor has just 44 rushing attempts.

"I'm real fresh," said Taylor, who averaged 117 carries a season the past three years as Adrian Peterson's backup with the Vikings. "I feel fresher than I have in a long time. I'm just waiting until the time comes."

Only twice in seven games have the Bears run the ball more than 19 times.

By the numbers: 31 — NFL-high number of sacks allowed by the Bears, including 27 of Jay Cutler. The Bears are on pace for 71, which would break the franchise record of 66 set in 2004 under offensive coordinator Terry Shea, and with Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn and Rex Grossman at quarterback.


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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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