NFC North news, notes and quotes

The offensive line is holding back the Bears. The Lions have differing mindsets in their first week back in action after the league's statement on hits to the helmet. And the Packers have gone 10 years without a kickoff return for a touchdown. Go around the NFC North with news, notes and quotes.


CHICAGO BEARS

It's too bad the Bears' offense is such a disaster because the defense is playing well enough to lead a team with even an average offense into the playoffs.

Come to think of it, if the Bears' strived for average on offense they'd be better off because then coordinator Mike Martz wouldn't be force-feeding a steady diet of passing plays down the throat of an offensive line that is at a competitive disadvantage against most NFL defensive lines when it come to pass protection.

The offensive line has largely been ignored in the draft for eight years. That group represents nearly one-fifth of a team's starting lineup, but Bears general manager Jerry Angelo seems to believe that talent isn't as necessary on the offensive line as it is at the other positions.

"It's not about getting great players, it's about getting the same five players playing well together," Angelo said on WBBM-AM during the team's flagship pregame show last Sunday. "When you lose a player, or players in our case, it makes it tough on the other guys because one player affects the other four."

Angelo makes a valid point that the Bears' offensive line has been hindered by injuries, which prolongs the jelling process necessary for effective offensive line play.

After starting the first two games at left tackle, Chris Williams missed almost four full games with a hamstring injury and then was re-inserted at left guard, taking over for Roberto Garza, who missed the past two games following arthroscopic knee surgery. A knee injury knocked Lance Louis out of the lineup after four starts.

Williams' injury led to Frank Omiyale's move from right tackle to left, with veteran backup Kevin Shaffer taking over for two games at right tackle. But coaches decided seventh-round rookie J'Marcus Webb was a better alternative. Louis' injury ushered Edwin Williams into the starting lineup.

But the bigger problem, and the one which no one at Halas Hall wants to acknowledge, is that none of the players who have been shuffled in and out and back and forth are difference makers.

There's a reason Webb lasted until the seventh round, Louis lasted until the seventh round last year and Edwin Williams was available as a street free agent after being cut by the Redskins: No one else thought they were very good.

The Bears have been forced to replace mediocre-to-average players with other mediocre-to-average players on the line because they have ignored the foundation on which the offense is built for eight years.

Williams is the only offensive lineman the Bears have drafted in the first round in eight years, and the coaching staff doesn't even believe he's the team's best left tackle anymore. Williams is the only offensive lineman the Bears have taken in the first three rounds of the last eight drafts. They used a fourth-rounder to take Josh Beekman in 2007, but he was cut Sept. 4, and they took Tyler Reed in the sixth round in '06.

So, with a total of 68 draft picks since 2003, the Bears have selected just nine offensive linemen, and six of them were taken in the seventh and final round. That's why they can't protect the quarterback.

You'd think Martz would have realized that by now.

NOTES

  • QB Jay Cutler's 45.5 third-down passer rating is the worst of the 29 players who have enough attempts to qualify for the NFL's rankings. In his Bears career, Cutler has 34 TD passes and 33 interceptions after he was picked off four times last week.

  • RB Matt Forte averaged 4.1 yards per carry last week, just the second time he's been over 4.0 in seven games this season. But he got just 10 carries last week, although he leads the Bears with six touchdowns and is averaging 12.9 yards per catch on a team-best 21 receptions.

  • RB Chester Taylor had back-to-back carries for 12 yards midway through the third quarter last week but did not carry the ball again and finished with 20 yards on three carries.

  • TE Greg Olsen had three catches for 43 yards, including an impressive, contested 23-yard reception, after he had been shut out in the previous two weeks.

  • WR Devin Hester was targeted eight times and caught five passes but managed just 30 yards as he twice failed to elude a single defender in the open field. He was allowed to field just one of seven punts and picked up 12 yards.

  • WR Johnny Knox tied his career best with six catches, which were good for 86 yards. His 478 receiving yards are a Bears best and rank fourth in the NFC. His 19.9-yard average per catch is tops in the NFC among players with 20 receptions.

  • WR Earl Bennett had a 48-yard reception among his four catches for 76 yards and is now third on the team with 20 catches.

  • LB Lance Briggs lasted just one series last week on the sprained ankle that kept him out in Week Six, but he is expected back after this week's bye.

    —DE Israel Idonije added another sack last week to his team-best total of 4.5, and he also forced a fumble and had two QB passes defensed.

  • CB Charles Tillman bounced back from a subpar outing against Seattle's Mike Williams to lead the Bears with eight tackles against the Redskins, while forcing two fumbles, one of which he recovered.


    DETROIT LIONS


    Sunday will be the first time the Lions take the field under the glare of the NFL's spotlight on helmet-to-helmet hits and coach Jim Schwartz has turned the issue into a teaching point.

    "The big point we made was, we're not asking anybody to slow down," Schwartz said. "We want everybody to go fast. We want everybody to be definitive with their hits and we want them to hit as hard as they want. Just lower the strike zone and try to eliminate the hits to the head."

    The Lions have one repeat offender, and that's free safety Louis Delmas. He was quite militant about the league's stance last week, saying he wouldn't let the league dictate how he played and if he had a chance to make a big hit he wouldn't let the threat of fine or suspension slow him down.

    Upon some introspection, however, Delmas has amended his stance. He first said he regretted what he said last week and then had cooler-headed teammate Jonathan Wade issue his amended statement on the issue.

    "I am just going to play as hard as I can and give it everything I have," said Wade, with Delmas nodding his agreement. "We wear helmets and we attempt to protect ourselves, but this is a physical, violent game and those things (the head shots) unfortunately come with the territory."

    Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said the league's emphasis will be in on his mind on Sunday.

    "I think you saw last weekend players adjusting the way they play," he said. "As a player I am probably as old-school as they come. But you understand the reasons for these things. We've had our share of concussions on this team and it's scary. There are a lot of injuries you can come back from but brain injuries, those are especially scary."

    Safety C.C. Brown, though, has the opposite mindset.

    "I am still going to play how I play," he said. "If it ends up being a head-to-head, it is what it is. I can't change the way I play because of some rule. That would just make me soft. It doesn't change anything for me personally. It might change other people, but not me.

    "Sometimes plays just end up like that (helmet-to-helmet) and sometimes guys go looking for a play like that. At the end of the day, you just play. You can't worry about a rule. If they are going to fine you, they are going to fine you."

    NOTES

  • QB Matthew Stafford is back and taking all the reps with the first team. "He looks the same as always," Schwartz said. "His arm looked good, he moved around good, his accuracy was good and is command was there." He completed every pass in the team's seven-on-seven drills Tuesday.

  • RB Jahvid Best (toe) still isn't practicing with the team, but Schwartz called that a precaution. He ran on the side with one of the team's conditioning coaches and looked strong.

  • WR Calvin Johnson (shoulder) is still taking treatment, but he has gone through all the reps in practice.

  • WR Bryant Johnson (foot) pulled himself out of the position drills Tuesday. He was having trouble cutting.

  • MLB DeAndre Levy (ankle) practiced Tuesday for the first time since Week Three. He took part in all the position drills, which were all the media was allowed to watch. "It was good to get him back on the field," Schwartz said. "Last week he didn't do anything and how we got him back." Schwartz wouldn't say whether he will be ready to play Sunday, only that he "is in the mix."

  • OLB Bobby Carpenter, signed last week after he was released by Miami, is taking reps at both outside and inside. If Levy plays, Carpenter will start in place of Zack Follett on the outside. If Levy doesn't play, Carpenter could start in the middle, though Landon Johnson is also a possibility.

  • OLB Zack Follett (neck) is expected to see a specialist this week. Any decision on whether to shut him down for the season will be made after that visit.

  • DE Kyle Vanden Bosch had his left leg wrapped Tuesday and didn't do much in practice. Still, he said he will play Sunday. "I feel better than I have in weeks," he said. "I'm ready to go."

  • DE Turk McBride (ankle) tried to practice Tuesday but was still hobbling.

  • QB Shaun Hill (forearm) had surgery last Tuesday. He is still expected to play in two to four weeks. The Lions have not signed another quarterback.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The Packers are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of Allen Rossum's 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 19, 2000.

    Why is that play still significant?

    It's the last time a Packers player returned a kickoff to the proverbial house. Since then, Green Bay has been mired in a drought of 165 games (including the playoffs) without a touchdown return on a kickoff, the longest active streak in the NFL.

    Will Blackmon was the best bet to end that dubious distinction — he scored on three punt returns his first four years in the league - but he never made it to the start of this season because of a recurring knee injury.

    Neither receiver Jordy Nelson nor cornerback Pat Lee has proved to be a home-run threat through the first seven games. Consequently, the Packers rank 25th in the league with a kickoff-return average of 20.9 yards, in stark contrast to the No. 2-rated clip of 29.6 yards by the New York Jets, Green Bay's opponent Sunday.

    After enduring two fumbles by Nelson on returns in the narrow Week 4 win over the Detroit Lions, the Packers are relying on Lee to provide a spark. So far, the third-year player has struggled with an average of 19.8 yards, including an anemic 7-yard return to start the Week 5 loss at the Washington Redskins.

    Lee, though, did break free for a 30-yard runback in the 28-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy went so far as to say Monday that Lee has done a good job since he took over the primary duties from Nelson in the last two games. Lee had a long return of 28 yards in the Oct. 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

    "He is pouring it up in there," McCarthy said. "He is hitting the course, and he has done a nice job the past couple of weeks."

    The Packers seemingly are turning Lee into a specialty player on kick returns. The 2008 second-round draft pick doesn't have a role on defense.

    Nelson, conversely, has been needed on offense more since fellow receiver Donald Driver has been slowed by a thigh injury in recent weeks. Nelson averaged 23.4 yards in 21 kickoff returns.

    Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said he is sticking with Lee on kickoffs.

    "Right now, I think he's doing a good job (and) adding some juice to the return unit," Slocum said. "I like the way he ran the ball into the returns (Sunday). He's got some ability to make an impact there."



    NOTES

  • DE Mike Neal and LB Brady Poppinga will miss the rest of the season because of shoulder and knee injuries they respectively sustained in games earlier this month. Neal, a rookie, was to have a torn rotator cuff repaired Tuesday. Poppinga is expected to have a second surgery on his left knee in the next week after he underwent an arthroscopic procedure last week that turned up more damage.

  • DE Cullen Jenkins is questionable to be available for the Packers' game Sunday at the AFC East-leading New York Jets because of a calf strain he suffered in a pregame warmup Sunday night. Jenkins ranks second on the team with four sacks.

  • DE Ryan Pickett, the starter opposite Cullen Jenkins (calf), also is iffy to be ready for the next game after he had to drop out of the 28-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night after only seven plays because of an aggravated right ankle sprain.

  • CB Al Harris and S Atari Bigby are under consideration to be added to the 53-man roster this week, depending on how the team plans to account for the losses of DE Mike Neal and LB Brady Poppinga to injured reserve. Harris and Bigby, both former starters, are on the physically unable to perform list and have been progressing since returning to practice last week after missing the mandatory first six weeks of the season.

  • OLB Clay Matthews didn't have a sack in his return to action Sunday night after missing a game because of a hamstring injury, but his place atop the league rankings with 8.5 sacks is intact. It was only the second time in six games Matthews didn't record a sack.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions Sunday to give him nine this season, eclipsing his 2009 total of seven. Rodgers has 235 pass attempts, not even half of last season's total of 541. He has thrown for at least one interception in five straight games, one game short of his career-worst streak late in the 2008 season.

  • WR Donald Driver, hampered by a thigh injury in recent weeks, didn't play fulltime Sunday and went without a catch for the first time since the 2001 playoffs. Driver's streak of 139 games (including the postseason) with a reception is a team record.

  • WR Greg Jennings is heating up after bristling a couple weeks ago about his lack of production in the offense. Jennings has two straight outings of six catches, for a total of 207 yards and two touchdowns. He had just 14 receptions for 183 yards and three touchdowns in the first five games.

  • RB Brandon Jackson had one of his more productive games this season Sunday with 104 yards from scrimmage, including three catches for a season-high 46 yards. Jackson also had 13 carries for 58 yards and his second rushing touchdown of the season.

  • TE Andrew Quarless had the first touchdown of his rookie season Sunday, albeit a controversial one on a 9-yard catch of which he didn't have full control as he was tackled in the back of the end zone. The Vikings didn't challenge the touchdown ruling. Quarless has seven catches for 90 yards in the last three games since the Packers lost Jermichael Finley to a season-ending knee injury.

  • RB John Kuhn hasn't been much of a factor running the football the last three games (15 carries, 33 yards) as a power complement to starter Brandon Jackson after Kuhn had a career-best performance of nine rushes for 39 yards in the Oct. 3 win over the Detroit Lions. Kuhn did convert a fourth-and-1 run at the outset of the fourth quarter Sunday but was stopped for no gain in a similar situation four plays later.


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