Around the NFC North
In the 14-13 loss to the Titans Saturday night, it took just a couple minutes for wide receiver Roy Williams to make an impact both ways, good and bad.
A lightning rod for debate in his short time with the team, Williams caught a 17-yard pass from Jay Cutler off a play-action fake on the first play from scrimmage, his first of the preseason.
But on the second play, Williams let an extremely catchable pass over the middle that he appeared to short-arm, glance off his fingertips into the grasp of safety Michael Griffin, who returned the interception 17 yards to the Bears' 37-yard line.
"(Jay) was just putting the ball where it needed to be," Williams said. "Right out of the gate, the first play of the game, he was on the money. The second one, that's my fault, I have to catch that one. I felt like it should have been a flag somewhere, but it's the NFL, so you have to get past that one and go the next play. I'm a guy of my word, of my performance, so I have to catch that ball across the middle."
It was interesting to hear Williams take the blame, considering five days earlier he refused to take the heat after dropping two passes, one of which was blatant.
"The drops?" Williams said when asked about it. "Who had a drop? I had a drop? I didn't have a drop. You said I had another one, too?"
The second one would have been a tough catch, given that Williams had to dive just to get his outstretched hands on the ball. But that's the kind of catch fans expect when they recall Williams' two years with the Lions (146 catches for 2,128 yards in 2006-07) under Mike Martz, who is now the Bears' offensive coordinator.
On the next series against the Titans, Johnny Knox, who Williams has replaced in the starting lineup, was in as the starter with Earl Bennett, although Williams took the majority of the first-team snaps with Knox getting occasional work with the first team.
Later in the second quarter, Williams picked up 16 yards on a crossing route, and Knox had a 21-yard reception, leaving that race still too close to call, since Williams still doesn't appear to be in sync with quarterback Jay Cutler.
Knox, who led the Bears in receiving last season, has gotten most of his preseason snaps with the second team since losing his starting job to Williams. But Knox managed to produce three catches for 32 yards in the first two games, while returning four kickoffs for 157 yards and four punts for 31 yards and handled the demotion well after some initial disappointment.
"I expect him to handle it that way," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's pretty simple. We have a starting rotation. If you're not getting the job done and you're on top, the next guy is going to get an opportunity. Our players realize that. We let everyone know that. In time, they tell us who should start and who should play and all of that. As a football player, you have to be ready and just know, 'I'm going to get my opportunity. I need to show everyone that I belong.'"
Knox had one catch for 21 yards Saturday night.
This is why head coach Jim Schwartz said what he said last year when the Lions were 2-10. This is why he told a stunned media gathering, "I see great things for this football team, great things."
The reason for his optimism was that Matthew Stafford was still his quarterback. He was hurt at the time, but Schwartz has always known what he has in this strong-armed, strong-minded kid from Dallas.
Stafford is healthy now and validating Schwartz's faith every time he steps under center.
In the 34-10 romp over New England Saturday, the Lions' third straight exhibition win, Stafford put on a clinic. Before a national network television audience and a sold-out Ford Field, he led the Lions to three scoring drives (17 points) in five drives. Playing less than a half, he completed 12 of 14 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
"We did a good job," Stafford said. "They were in an aggressive defense so we were going to be an aggressive offense. It worked out for us. We are playing mistake-free as far as turnovers go and when we do that, we are going to have a chance to be in games. We have some explosive guys on the outside and if we can just get them the ball, we can be real productive."
Stafford stymied the Patriots' defense by executing a hurry-up offense right out of the gate.
"That is part of our offense," Schwartz said. "We practice it every day. It's just something we do. When you have a quarterback that can handle the line of scrimmage and you have smart players that can handle it, it can put you in good positions. It's a weapon we can use."
Stafford connected on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Nate Burleson in the first quarter and then threw a 22-yard dart to tight end Tony Scheffler in the second. One of his two incomplete passes was dropped by Burleson in the end zone.
The 22-yarder to Scheffler was set up by a 30-yard completion to Calvin Johnson. On that play, Stafford was hit hard by Jerod Mayo as he was releasing the ball. It was the first true lick he's faced this preseason. He not only hung in and completed the throw - though it was well underthrown and Johnson made an alert play to come back for it - but he also got right back up and ran the next play.
"You judge a quarterback by his ability to get you in a good play, make good decisions, throw accurate passes and lead you to scores," Schwartz said. "He's done that."
Here's how good Stafford has been this preseason: In three games, he's 24 for 31 for 356 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating is 154.
It was the third straight game the Lions have scored at least 30 points, which means, again, all four units are scoring. Stafford, Shaun Hill (who hit Aaron Brown on a 9-yard touchdown pass), Drew Stanton (4-yard touchdown to Derrick Williams) and Zac Robinson are a combined 68 for 100 in three games, for 888 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception.
"Obviously we have some offensive firepower to do that," Schwartz said. "What you like is that it's coming from all four groups. We are getting a lot of production from a lot of people."
Green Bay Packers
Mike McCarthy, the team's head coach and enterprising play-caller, will have some desirable, but perhaps tough choices to make going into the season next week on how to best push the right buttons with his potent offense.
McCarthy has unleashed the no-huddle in the preseason after it made a cameo on game day late in the 2010 season. It has been a productive diversion for the Aaron Rodgers-led attack, so much that the star quarterback is calling for McCarthy to make it a playbook staple every week.
"Now, different teams and their schemes will kind of determine whether we use that one series or three series or no series, but I think it's definitely going to have a role," Rodgers said.
Rodgers and his first-string mates had plenty of time to work in hurry-up mode Friday, when the Packers played their third and typically most telling game of the preseason at Indianapolis. The starters played the entire first half and ran the no-huddle for all but their first series.
For the third straight outing, Rodgers engineered a touchdown drive right when McCarthy called for the fast break after the offense sputtered out of the gate in a conventional manner by huddling up and running down the play clock.
An 18-yard touchdown dart from Rodgers to tight end Jermichael Finley was the latest byproduct against the Colts, a game Green Bay pulled out 24-21 by scoring 11 points in the final minute with its backups.
McCarthy apparently is sold.
"The no-huddle is a regular part of our offense ... (and) anytime you make a commitment like we have to a certain situation, it's definitely a consideration," he said. "Aaron's doing a great job - a lot of production with the no-huddle. It will be a part of what we do."
How often the no-huddle appears on McCarthy's play-call sheets is hard to predict because he will have to take into consideration the potential downfall of being so bold after what he witnessed Friday.
The Packers were too fast for their own good. Many, especially the offensive linemen, didn't have sufficient time to catch their breath between plays.
Fatigue as a plausible reason for numerous breakdowns by the starting group wasn't lost on Rodgers.
"It was good for us to do so much no-huddle because I think we got a little tired out there," he said. "We showed we need to make sure we're ready to go by the time the season starts. It was indoors -- other than the roof (at Lucas Oil Stadium) being open -- and guys are sweating a lot, a little bit tired, and I think the fundamentals kind of went a little bit."
The Colts sacked Rodgers four times in his half of action. Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton was overmatched by All-Pro end Dwight Freeney, who had two sacks, and also committed a holding penalty that wiped out a touchdown throw by Rodgers.
The leaky pass protection this preseason -- Rodgers has endured six of the team's league-high 14 sacks -- should give McCarthy plenty of pause about how significant of a role he wants for the no-huddle this season.
"We just need to get that better, winning the one-on-one battles and (having better) fundamentals when we're tired out there," said right guard Josh Sitton, who gave up a sack Friday. "When you get tired on those long drives, you really have to concentrate on the fundamentals."
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