NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears say they aren't looking past the winless Buffalo Bills. Lions rookie Jahvid Best is hoping November treats him better than October. And the Packers are getting a little more consistency with their offensive line this year, but there have been a few changes.


CHICAGO BEARS

The Bills are the NFL's only winless team, but there's no chance the 4-3 Bears will be looking past them when they square off Sunday at Toronto's Rogers Centre.

It's not just that the Bears are on a two-game losing streak, have lost three of their last four games and need some momentum before they embark on the difficult part of their schedule. It's more that the Bills are not playing like an 0-7 team.

"I don't even look at teams' records," Bears running back Matt Forte said. "It's the NFL. Everybody is good, so I don't worry about records."

The Bills have lost each of their last two games in overtime by three points, to the Ravens and Chiefs, both of which are 5-2 and in first place in their respective divisions.

"We realize they haven't won a game," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But watching them on video, they will get your attention."

The Bills' problems stopping the run — they're last in the NFL — have been well documented, but they're No. 6 in passing yards allowed and No. 9 in average gain per running play.

"They're playing better," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "They've got talent. I'm worried about the offense. They move the ball well. They have good running backs. The offensive line plays well together. And the quarterback's throwing it good. So it's a big challenge for us on the road. We'll see how good we are."

In the five games that Ryan Fitzpatrick has started at quarterback, the Bills are averaging 22.8 points after scoring a total of 17 in the first two games. Fitzpatrick's 91.1 passer rating is 11th in the NFL, and he's thrown 12 touchdown passes vs. five interceptions.

"Fitzpatrick has done a great job since they moved him in," Smith said. "He's a tough guy. I don't know if I've seen him slide. He won't run out of bounds. He just has a running back mentality, which is good to have at the quarterback position."

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Harvard product is the Bills' second-leading rusher with 159 yards on 22 attempts for a 7.2-yard average.

"Just watch them on film," said linebacker Lance Briggs. "They're playing a lot better the last couple games than earlier on. They're running the ball real well."

Underrated Fred Jackson is the Bills' starting running back, but rookie C.J. Spiller adds a big-play dimension. He's averaging 25.4 yards on kickoff returns. Spiller and punt-returner Roscoe Parrish give the Bills a formidable duo. Parish leads the AFC with an 11.4-yard average.

"They're not what their record is," Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. "They're a good team. They're a dangerous team. They're not terrible at all. They look good on film. They lose close games in overtime against good teams. You just can't let them get a victory."

A loss for the Bears would be more than embarrassing; it could also leave them with a better record than just five teams in the tightly bunched NFC.

With five of their next eight games against teams with winning records plus two against the underachieving but dangerous Vikings, the Bears cannot afford a loss Sunday.

"This next stretch in November will determine quite a bit," Smith said. We feel like we're in great shape to make our run. We have all of our guys that we feel comfortable with. We're in good health."

But a loss Sunday could leave the Bears on the critical list.

NOTES

  • In his assessment of the Buffalo Bills defense, Bears coach Lovie Smith made special mention of their secondary.

    "On the back end, we keep hearing about this Byrd guy or somebody like that," Smith said. "We have a hard time getting his name right. One of our coaches continues to talk about him. So we have to be conscious of him back there, too."

    As a rookie last year, Bills safety Jairus Byrd tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions. He is the son of Bears assistant defensive backs coach Gill Byrd, who played cornerback for the San Diego Chargers for 10 years, made the Pro Bowl twice, holds the team record with 42 career interceptions and led all NFL cornerbacks in interceptions for three straight seasons (1989-91). But Gill Byrd never had nine interceptions in a season.

  • Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who has called roughly twice as many pass plays as run plays, promises to put more emphasis on a ground game that has virtually been ignored and is tied for 26th in yards per game.

    "Absolutely. We do need to run the ball more," Martz said. "As that last game went on (a 17-14 loss to the Redskins, in which the Bears had 16 run plays and 44 pass plays), we were way more effective in the second half than we were earlier (10 carries, 60 yards). So it'll force an opportunity to do that and we will absolutely."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 31 — Number of sacks the Bears have allowed, the most in the NFL and eight more than the next-worst team.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Coming out of OTAs in shorts, I thought I had a group that was going to go into training camp and rock and roll. But then you put pants on them and you put shoulder pads on them, and some of those guys you saw flying around there in shorts, we were like, 'Where did they go?' You're looking around for them; they disappeared." — Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice on his group.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Rookie running back Jahvid Best wasn't sorry to see October go.

    After earning NFL rookie of the month honors for his work in September, Best's production sharply declined in October.

    He amassed 307 total yards and five touchdowns in three games in September, but managed just one fewer yard (306) in four games last month and hasn't scored since Week 2. He averaged 3.26 yards per rush and 6.65 per reception in October.

    He has just 297 yards rushing and averaging just 3.3 yards a carry on the season; not exactly what the Lions envisioned when they traded up to the first round to draft him at No. 30.

    "I thought when he had some daylight last week he ran very well," coach Jim Schwartz said. "But he didn't have a whole lot of daylight. Some of that was because of the defense and some of that was because of the blocking.

    "But ultimately it boils down to the running back. It's his responsibility to make plays and make people miss. He's been nursing an injury that affected his ability to play. He's put that in the rear view mirror and we expect good things from him the rest of the year."

    Best has battled two separate turf toe injuries this season, one on each foot. But before playing the Redskins last Sunday, Best said he was as close to 100 percent as he's been.

    Yet, he managed just 48 yards in 12 carries against the Redskins, and 20 yards came on one run. Although he said he felt he had the same explosiveness, there wasn't much evidence of it. He looked tentative, so much so that the Lions benched him in favor of veteran Kevin Smith for most of the second half.

    "Jahvid is getting better," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "He's not been 100 percent but he looked better last week. Kevin gave us a spark and we are going to need that. It felt good to have two players, to have that change of pace. We can build off that."

    It will be imperative for the Lions to find some way to run the ball against an aggressive, free-blitzing Jets defense this week. They need to run to keep the defense honest and to extend drives. Otherwise, the Jets, as coach Rex Ryan likes to say, will "ground and pound" the Lions all day.

    "We're close," offensive tackle Jeff Backus said of the Lions running game. "We just have to get more consistent. We have had flashes of a successful running game, we just haven't been consistent enough with our blocks or seeing the holes or what have you. It's going to come around."

  • Wide receiver Nate Burleson probably summed up Sunday's Jets-Lions game as well as anyone could.

    "If I wasn't playing, this is a game I would for sure be watching," he said. "There's going to be a lot of really good matchups."

    The headline matchup, made so by a challenge thrown down by Jets coach Rex Ryan on Wednesday, will be a Lions' offense that has averaged 38 points a game at Ford Field against a Jets defense that Ryan called "the best in the NFL."

    In his teleconference with Detroit media, Ryan was asked if he thought the Lions would reach their average against his defense. Ryan said, "Nope, I don't. I don't believe that's going to happen. Come out and prove me wrong, but I doubt it."

    Thirty-eight points might be asking a lot out of the Lions' offense, but the Lions are confident they can and will be able to move the football and score points.

    "We're not looking to uphold any kind of statistical number," Burleson said. "We will just see what happens. We've been playing against good defenses all year and it's going to be fun to play against another good defense. We're excited and we're juiced up. It's going to be fun."

    If they are going to move the ball, it more than likely will be on the strength of quarterback Matthew Stafford's arm. The Lions haven't been able to run the ball consistently, even against defenses that are generous against the run.

    The Jets have the fourth-best rushing defense in the league.

    Said Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan: "They have a great scheme. They make a commitment to be great against the run and they have cornerbacks that they feel can match up with any receivers in the league. We like the challenge."

    Linehan has been brilliant this season at picking apart sturdy defenses like the Jets with a diverse short passing game. He has utilized running backs, tight ends and receivers in a series of well-disguised screens and bubble passes. He has also thrown liberally out of two-tight end sets, using wide receiver Calvin Johnson to clear out the safeties and throwing crossing routes underneath.

    You have to figure he would devise a similar attack for the Jets. Although, on Wednesday, neither he nor Stafford shied away from the idea of challenging Jets corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

    "They do like to play a lot of man coverages and we usually like it when there is man coverage on Calvin," Stafford said. "Obviously, they have a lot of confidence in their guys, and matchups always matter when you are trying to decide where to throw the football. But I like my guy in those situations."

    The Jets yield 15.7 points and 307.3 yards per game, 218.6 through the air. The Lions average 23.6 points, 332.9 yards and 250.6 yards passing.

    "We have confidence no matter who we play," Burleson said. "There isn't a team on the schedule that we're scared of. It's a good feeling going into every week feeling like we have a chance to win."

    NOTES

  • WR Calvin Johnson's three-touchdown effort against the Redskins last week earned him NFC offensive player of the week honors, as well as this compliment from Jets coach Rex Ryan: "He is a premier receiver," Ryan said. "It should be illegal to have a guy that big and fast and talented."

  • QB Matthew Stafford had an interesting take on his duel with Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Both are members of the 2009 draft class, Stafford No. 1 overall and Sanchez No. 5. "I don't think it matters if I threw for 500 yards and he threw for 75; if he wins the game, he's the guy you all (media) are going to say is the better guy. We're going to do everything we can to try and win the game, but it's not me vs. him. It's me vs. their defense and him vs. our defense."

  • The Lions announced on Wednesday that the Jets game was sold out. That's the first time in recent memory the Lions have sold out a non-Thanksgiving Day home game by Wednesday. "It's just a great testament to our fans," club president Tom Lewand said. "We have gotten great support all year. Even last week when we didn't sell out, it was loud and they had a great impact on that game. We have had a great home-field advantage."


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    At this same juncture last season, the Packers were getting ready to trot out their sixth different starting offensive line when they met the Dallas Cowboys in the ninth game of the season.

    The fallout from so many alterations wasn't good. While the Packers beat Dallas 17-7 to improve to 5-4 en route to finishing strong at 11-5 and making the playoffs, they had allowed 41 sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers before finally getting things solidified along the line the following week.

    Thanks to continuity with the offensive line for most of the first half of this season, the Packers have done appreciably better in keeping Rodgers upright. He has been sacked 16 times through eight games, as the Packers' only lineup change up front occurred in Week 5 with top rookie Bryan Bulaga inserted at right tackle to replace an injured Mark Tauscher.

    Bulaga remains the starter with Tauscher still on the mend from a shoulder sprain, but a third different starting five this season could be in the offing Sunday night, when the Packers host the Cowboys.

    Left guard Daryn Colledge didn't practice Thursday after not doing much the previous day because of a back injury that flared up this week.

    "I am concerned with Daryn Colledge," head coach Mike McCarthy said after Thursday's practice. "Daryn doesn't miss practice very often, and he doesn't miss games. We'll have to see where he is and see if he can go at practice tomorrow."

    Colledge has played every game since the start of his rookie season in 2006 — a total of 75 games, including the playoffs. Of those, Colledge has 71 career starts.

    Colledge's playing streak also was in jeopardy earlier this season after his right knee was rolled into by nose tackle B.J. Raji in practice. Colledge made a quick recovery, though, and made the start in the Week 3 loss at the Chicago Bears.

    If Colledge can't give it a go Sunday, Jason Spitz likely would make the start at left guard. Spitz has been a backup all season after starting 47 games at both guard spots and center from 2006 to '09.

    "Jason's played a lot of football for us, has been a starter here in the past," McCarthy said. "So, we're very confident in Jason, and also T.J. Lang has taken reps inside. We feel we're in a good situation from a backup standpoint throughout our whole offensive line."

    Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton went through the full practice Thursday and should be good to make the start. Clifton has a sore hamstring in addition to the knee pain he's endured on a weekly basis.

    The Packers, however, could be down to only two tight ends Sunday — Donald Lee and Tom Crabtree. Rookie Andrew Quarless returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday but isn't over the hump with a shoulder sprain he suffered in the win at the New York Jets last Sunday.

    "We're obviously not going to be in whole lot of three tight ends (formations) unless Andrew goes," McCarthy said.

    NOTES

  • Damage control with severely injured Pro Bowl wideout Donald Driver started in earnest this week.

    The durable 12-year pro won't play Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, marking the first game Driver will miss because of injury in more than seven years.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that Driver did further harm to a strained and bruised quadriceps by trying to play on it the previous two games.

    "He's on crutches," McCarthy said. "It's something he's been dealing with the past month, and it's best to shut him down."

    McCarthy emphasized the decision to sit Driver isn't as simple as erring on the side of caution, what with the Packers to have their bye the following week.

    "We want to line up with our best 45 to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I'm not trying to save anybody," McCarthy said. "If I felt Donald Driver could play and contribute in this football game, trust me, Donald Driver would be out there, and he would be the first one to make that statement. I'm not trying to play it safe; I'm not trying to save this guy for that game."

    Driver told McCarthy he plans to play in the Packers' first game after the bye, Nov. 21 at the Minnesota Vikings.

    James Jones and Jordy Nelson will have to pick up the slack alongside starter Greg Jennings in Driver's absence.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers went through the full practice Thursday for a second straight day and, barring a setback on the field Friday, will be good to make the start Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Rodgers is on the injury report after suffering a left ankle sprain toward the end of the Packers' win at the New York Jets last Sunday.

  • OLB Clay Matthews, the league leader with 9 1/2 sacks, is expected to play Sunday, but his week of practice has been restricted to being on the field for only the jog-through portion at the start each day. Matthews suffered a shin injury in the last game, and the team is keeping the left-side starter off the field as much as possible to preserve him for Sunday.

  • DE Ryan Pickett will try to test his right ankle sprain Friday morning at the outset of practice to see whether he might have a chance to play Sunday after missing the last game because of the nagging injury. Pickett starts on the left side, but the Packers have enough depth to get by without him for this game if the ankle doesn't respond to the testing.

  • DE Cullen Jenkins, the right-side starter, is expected to be OK for the game. Jenkins still has a sore calf, with which he played against the Jets after he didn't play in the previous game and then didn't practice much last week. He has been on a similar schedule of limited work this week.


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