NFC North News

‘Tis the season to be benched if you are a quarterback on a losing team in the NFC North, as the Lions and Bears are making decisions with their volatile QB situation. The Packers, who tried out two former Vikings, simply look like a team in dissention.

Last week backup Chris Chandler started because of Kordell Stewart's leg injury. This week, when the Bears host the Lions at Soldier Field at noon Sunday, Stewart can play, but Chandler's still the starter.

"Did we make the change because of injury?" coach Dick Jauron said on Wednesday. "No, the change was made because Chris should have the chance to play our quarterback position. So injury is not a question right now, and we'll see where it goes."

"It" has apparently escaped Stewart, who says because of the bruised quadriceps that he isn't capable of playing with the mobility that is his greatest asset, and so he was under the impression Wednesday that he wasn't being benched. Either that or he was in denial.

"The only reason I'm not in there, for the most part, in my opinion, is because of my injury," Stewart said. "That's the way we have to approach this. It's not a situation where I've just been yanked and I'm sitting on the bench and watching Chris and now all of the sudden it's like, ‘Did he get a fair shake at it?' I have to go off of what's going on right now. Last week, early on in the week and toward the end, it just couldn't happen with how we do things when I'm in there. Right now, it's a situation that's pretty similar. But the injury's getting better."

Told that Jauron said his injury wasn't the determining factor in Chandler getting another start, Stewart said: "I'm not confused. I am not confused with what I'm saying. Just make sure you understand what I'm saying. And what I gave you just now is my answer to what you're talking about."

But it isn't what Jauron said.

"I don't know what he told you," Stewart said. "I gave you my answer."

There was some acceptance from Stewart, who admits that neither he nor the team has lived up to preseason expectations.

"In all fairness, I had five games to get in there and play, and things were shaky all the way across the board," Stewart said. "Obviously for myself, it wasn't what I anticipated it to be or what I wanted it to be, what I would have liked for it to be. But this is where we are, and this is really how we have to handle it and deal with it.

"This is a business. If that's the decision that coach Jauron wants to go with to allow this football team to move forward in a direction to hopefully get some wins, that's fine. But I know with where I am, and how I play the game and how I put forth the effort all the way until the end. Right now, I wouldn't be at that percentage that I would like to be at. For me."

If and when Stewart gets another chance apparently depends on how well Chandler plays. And, with a three-game schedule that includes the 1-5 Detroit Lions sandwiched around the 1-5 San Diego Chargers, he could play pretty well. The Lions are No. 28 in defense, and the Chargers are No. 30.

"Chris Chandler is our 1 right now," Jauron said. "I expect every guy that's starting to do well, and if he does well and we win, then obviously we're not going to make a change."

Stewart is questionable this week with a sore quad, but he took several snaps at Wednesday's practice and said he was "much better" than last week. A decision on whether he is No. 2 or No. 3 on Sunday will be made later in the week.

How long Stewart remains an afterthought will determine whether he joins the infamous list of Bears quarterbacks who failed to live up to their advance billing.

  • Coach Dick Jauron was blunt in his explanation for demoting $21 million cornerback R.W. McQuarters.

    "The specifics of this past game were obvious to everyone," Jauron said. "He did not have one of his better games certainly, but it was (also) based on performance to this point. It wasn't just based on one game. Everybody in this business is going to have a bad game. It was my decision that overall we weren't getting from him what he's capable of giving us all the time, in terms of production. I have not had a problem with his effort. He's making the play when he gets there, he's making the tackle, he's making the play on the ball when he's there."

    But McQuarters, who signed the lucrative five-year extension four days after the Bears completed their 13-3 regular season in 2001, has not been in position nearly enough to justify his salary or a starting position. He will be replaced by Jerry Azumah, who was demoted for inconsistent play in favor of rookie Charles Tillman after three games. McQuarters will take over Azumah's nickel corner spot, playing in passing situations that require an extra defensive back. "I was a little surprised," said McQuarters. I wasn't happy about it."

    McQuarters was beaten for a TD pass by Bobby Engram on Sunday, his first score in three years. McQuarters also committed a pass interference penalty in the end zone, giving Seattle the ball at the one-yard line and setting up another TD.

    "I think as a player, I think one thing that hurts the most is when someone questions your effort, when someone questions what you give," said McQuarters, although Jauron didn't do that. "I don't agree with that. I do agree there's been some times where I had some opportunities to make plays and I didn't. I had a bad game last week. And I agree with that, that's about it."

  • The bad news is that the Bears list 10 players on this week's injury report, eight of whom are considered starters. The good news is that all 10 are questionable. While technically that means there is a 50-50 chance of playing, in reality it usually means players play. However, it hasn't seemed like many of the Bears' injured players have been in a rush to get back on the field in recent weeks.

    The list includes running backs Anthony Thomas (foot) and Adrian Peterson (ankle), wide receivers Marty Booker (ankle) and Ahmad Merritt (neck), quarterback Kordell Stewart (leg), defensive end Phillip Daniels (toe), linebacker Warrick Holdman (ankle), tight end Desmond Clark (toe), safety Mike Green (groin) and defensive tackle Keith Traylor (knee).

    Traylor and Stewart are the only two who practiced on Wednesday.

  • RBs Rabih Abdullah and rookie Brock Forsey split carries with the first team at Wednesday's practice because of injuries to Anthony Thomas and Adrian Peterson. Abdullah had seven carries for 10 yards this season and Forsey has one attempt for five yards.

    BY THE NUMBERS: Since entering the league as a sixth-round draft pick in 1999, Paul Edinger has produced a greater percentage of his team's points than any kicker in the NFL.

    Since then, Edinger has accounted for 36.1 percent of the Bears' total points. Edinger has 336 career points, including 45 this season on 13 of 13 field goals and 6 of 6 extra points.

    Edinger is one of just six kickers in the NFL with perfect accuracy this season, and only two of them have more field goals, Carolina's John Kasay (14) and Indianapolis' Mike Vanderjagt (15).

  • Anthony Thomas, Kordell Stewart and Adrian Peterson have combined for 678 of the Bears' 743 rushing yards this season, and all three are questionable this week. Only Stewart practiced on Wednesday.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not going to start putting gag orders on guys and (say), ‘Let's be subservient,' and just bow our heads, and if you feel like you got kicked, bow your head and shuffle off. That's not the way I want them to be. I'd like them to stand tall. If you feel strong about something, you have passion about something, you have an opinion about something, say it. If you're willing to take the consequences be a man.

    "The problem with our society (is) so many people are afraid to be a man. Everybody just wants to run and cower down. Let somebody else stand up and take the fight. If you feel (strongly) about something, say it. And I have no problem with my guy (taking a stand). I wish there were (more guys like that)." — Defensive coordinator Greg Blache on players like MLB Brian Urlacher and CB Charles Tillman criticizing the officiating.


    Although Jerry Azumah will be promoted and flip-flop with R.W. McQuarters in the starting lineup, with McQuarters taking over the nickel job, Azumah will cover the slot receiver when both are on the field, with McQuarters lining up on the corner.


  • RB Rabih Abdullah, who has never carried more than 16 times in any of his five NFL seasons, could be the starter on Sunday because of injuries to Anthony Thomas and Adrian Peterson. Abdullah has seven carries for 10 yards this season.

  • LB Joe Odom will head back to the bench Sunday if Warrick Holdman (ankle, questionable) can play. In two starts, Odom has 18 tackles.

  • DT Keith Traylor could be back in the starting lineup Sunday after missing three weeks following arthroscopic surgery. The 340pound Traylor should help the Bears' run defense, which is ranked No. 31, although the Bears were No. 32 before he left the lineup.

  • S Bobby Gray will replace Mike Green (groin, questionable) in the starting lineup Sunday if Green, who did not practice Wednesday, cannot go.

    DETROIT LIONS After three days of uncertainty, Joey Harrington has resurfaced as the Lions starting quarterback.

    Coach Steve Mariucci pondered the situation — considering giving backup quarterback Mike McMahon a start in the game Sunday at Chicago — but decided before the start of practice Wednesday he would stick with Harrington.

    Mariucci's concern was obviously legitimate. He would not have made an issue of it — knowing the controversy it would create — if he had not felt concern.

    He might have been better off keeping that concern to himself because it appears now that he is less than 100 percent sold on Harrington, who was designated the Lions' quarterback of the future when they selected him with the No. 3 pick in the 2002 draft.

    The perception — probably correct — is that if McMahon had played even slightly better than he did coming off the bench against Dallas (5-for-20, 51 yards, 1 interception, 1 lost fumble), he probably would have gotten a start against the Bears.

    That is something both Mariucci and Harrington will have to live with until the position is solidified, one way or the other.

    In the meanwhile, the Lions move on, trying to salvage something out of a season that has been a total disaster since the season-opening 42-24 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

    The Lions currently rank No. 30 in the NFL in total offense and No. 28 in total defense. Only five teams have scored fewer points; only nine have given up more points. Only one team — the 1-6 Atlanta Falcons — has a record worse than the Lions' 1-5 start.

    Their problem is not the inconsistent play at quarterback. Their problem is that they do not have enough NFL caliber players.

    Injuries have contributed significantly to the Lions' downfall but injuries are just one of the variables that impact NFL teams and the Lions are not the only team with injury problems. And the fact is that some of the players they lost through injuries — including cornerbacks Chris Cash, Andre' Goodman and Chris Watson — are not Pro Bowl-caliber players; they are average players who happened to be the best at their position on the Lions roster.

    The Lions problem is that they did draft well in the late 1990s and new president/CEO Matt Millen has done nothing to improve the situation, particularly in the skilled positions.

    The wide receiver position is a good example. Millen has signed three unrestricted free agents — Az-Zahir Hakim, Bill Schroeder and Shawn Jefferson — and drafted three receivers — Charles Rogers, Scotty Anderson and David Kircus — and the position is still a major problem.

    Harrington is throwing to receivers who are unable to get open and have not made even the most routine NFL catch on a consistent basis.

    The running back position is another example. With James Stewart out for the season after undergoing surgery on a dislocated shoulder, the Lions' running game has fallen on hard times. Olandis Gary and Shawn Bryson are trying to pick up the slack but the Lions are averaging only 85-yards per game and only 3.9 yards per carry.

    Mariucci's decision to keep Harrington in the quarterback role might have calmed the troubled waters temporarily but it's hard to imagine they'll have smooth sailing the rest of the year.

  • Coach Steve Mariucci spent three days deliberating on a starting quarterback for the Bears game and then decided to keep the status quo — Joey Harrington.

    Harrington's poor play in the 38-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday put his job in jeopardy but the even-worse play by his backup Mike McMahon apparently convinced Mariucci to keep Harrington in the starting role.

    "I've got to take more into consideration than just the last game," Mariucci said. "I've got to take a lot of things into consideration — practice and meetings and past performance and health and potential and everything like that. So the decision we made was to continue with the depth that we have and make it better."

    Harrington completed just five of 13 passes for 30 yards and was intercepted twice before being benched late in the first half; McMahon completed only five of 20 for 51 yards, was intercepted once and lost a fumble.

    Harrington was asked whether his confidence had been shaken by Mariucci's indecision on the quarterback job.

    "I think losing 16 games in the last two years is going to humble anybody," Harrington said. "But it doesn't take away from my confidence. I'm just as confident now as I was coming into last season, coming into my senior season (at Oregon).

    "This is the game of football. I play the game of football and I know I can play it well. As much as it does humble you in this kind of situation, it doesn't take away from my confidence at all."

  • Running back James Stewart will miss the entire season because of a dislocated shoulder suffered in the final preseason game Aug. 28 against Buffalo.

    That doesn't mean he's not feeling his teammates pain in their 1-5 season, however.

    "It hurts because you had so many high hopes for this season," Stewart said. "Obviously, it didn't start the way we wanted. Not being a part of it hurts as well. Your teammates are out there striving to get wins and you want to be a part of that struggle."

    Although he is not the big-play threat Lions president/CEO wants in the Lions backfield, Stewart has been the team's most productive running back since Barry Sanders retired on the even of the 1999 season.

    Stewart rushed for 1,184 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns in 2000 and gained 1,021 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns in 2002, although he played on 14 games.

    Stewart has one year left on his contract but there has been speculation the Lions will not bring him back next year.

    "The only thing I can do is worry about getting myself back fully healthy," he said. "Once that happens they'll have to come to me and we'll have to sit and talk."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 9 — Number of years since the Lions have had a really good quarterback controversy. Former coach Wayne Fontes juggled Rodney Peete, Erik Kraemer and Rodney Peete to a 10-6 record in 1993. Current coach Steve Mariucci set off a minor quarterback controversy this week before sticking with Joey Harrington over Mike McMahon for the game Sunday at Chicago.

  • The Lions are putting their three-season road losing streak on the line again Sunday when they play the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago.

    Their 19-game road losing streak currently ranks as the third-longest in NFL history. They are tied with the 1983-85 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 1988-1991 Atlanta Falcons.

    The only teams with longer road losing streaks are the 1981-84 Houston Oilers with 23 in a row and the 1983-86 Buffalo Bills with 22 in a row.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We discuss a lot of things. We discuss the entire team each week with Mr. Ford and Bill Ford Jr. and the scouts and the front office. He leaves those things up to me as to who we're going to play and how we're going to play them." — Lions coach Steve Mariucci on whether owner William Clay Ford influenced Mariucci's decision to stick with Joey Harrington as the starting quarterback.

    The Lions are still hurt by the fact they have four roster spots tied up for the punter and kick return positions, due to injuries to P John Jett and PR/KOR Eddie Drummond.

    They signed temporary replacements KR Reggie Swinton and P Nick Harris last week, filling two roster spots they could have used — perhaps more advantageously — for DT Luther Elliss and rookie RB Artose Pinner.

    The Lions can use help in both the defensive line and offensive backfield, but until Drummond and Jett are available — probably another two or three weeks — the Lions will have a difficult time freeing up roster space.

  • QB Mike McMahon might have missed his chance to start at least one game by playing poorly in the Lions' 38-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. McMahon played the second half in place of starter Joey Harrington, who completed only five of 15 passes for 30 yards with two interceptions, but McMahon's play was just as bad or worse. After two days of deliberation, coach Steve Mariucci decided Wednesday to stick with Harrington against Chicago on Sunday.

  • WR Charles Rogers, the Lions leading receiver, is one game into an anticipated 4-6 week absence due to a broken right collarbone. He will miss his second game Sunday when the Lions play at Chicago.

  • SS Corey Harris suffered a strained neck in the Lions' 38-7 loss to Dallas and did not practice when the Lions returned to work Wednesday. He is listed as questionable but it appears he has a good chance of playing if he is back in practice by the end of the week.

  • RT Stockar McDougle has a shoulder injury and was held out of practice when the Lions returned to work Wednesday for their game Sunday at Chicago. McDougle and LT Jeff Backus have been the best and most consistent of the Lions offensive linemen this season.

    The Packers were in the midst of some heavy damage control this week after safety Darren Sharper ripped some of his underachieving teammates on defense during a locker-room interview Monday.

    Green Bay entered the bye week with a 3-4 record and a defense ranked 29th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. The Packers are tied for 10th in takeaways with 12.

    "Every time I lace up those pads, I'm going out there trying to win but also understanding that I have to make something happen out there," Sharper said. "If you get paid to do that and they're not calling your name a lot on that loudspeaker, then I think you're not only not earning your job, you're not earning your check.

    "So those people who just got a lot of money recently, if you're not hearing their name a lot, then they could have (given) that to somebody else, right?"

    Sharper signed a six-year, $30 million contract ($7 million signing bonus) in February 2001.

    Although Sharper didn't name names, it was obvious he was referring to the lack of production the Packers have gotten out of end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, three-technique tackle Cletidus Hunt and end Joe Johnson, who played six games before blowing out his quad.

    "KGB" signed a seven-year, $37.3 million deal in April that included an $11 million signing bonus. Hunt signed a six-year, $25.35 million deal in February that contained a $6 million signing bonus. Johnson signed a six-year, $33 million contract in March 2002 that contained a signing bonus of $6.5 million.

    "We definitely have the talent to win, and win more than we have," Sharper said. "You think about it last year, we had six starters missing from our defense and we beat New England, who was the defending champion.

    "So talent I don't think necessarily has anything to do with it. It's more energy, more effort and execution. Effort can beat talent sometimes."

    Johnson didn't have a sack and was playing poorly before his injury. "KGB" is underachieving with three sacks. Hunt hasn't done much and has one sack.

    Gbaja-Biamila didn't like the idea of someone on the team pointing the proverbial finger.

    "We need to stick together, encourage one another and pointing fingers is not the way to unite," he said. "That can divide a team. That's unfortunate."

    On Tuesday, after seeing the stories and meeting with coach Mike Sherman, Sharper threatened to cut off interviews for the rest of the season, insisting that his thinly veiled criticism had been taken out of context.

    "I never criticized any of my teammates," Sharper said after practice Tuesday. "There were names in there. That was (expletive) up. It was taken out of context."

    One of the more quotable players on the roster, Sharper almost always has been accessible and candid both on a daily basis and after games, whether the Packers won or lost.

    Those days, however, might be over.

    "There's going to be a moratorium," Sharper said. "Whoever wrote it, just blame them for not having any more comments the rest of the year. If I've got to worry about what I'm saying getting taken out of context, then I'm not saying nothing. I have nothing else to say to anybody the rest of the year.

    "I said it was the whole collective defensive effort. I always connected it to a team effort. I always want to see what I can do better. I always point to what I can do."

    Sharper matured as a pro by playing alongside LeRoy Butler and also by watching him deal with reporters. Many times during Butler's 12-year career in Green Bay he got in hot water with coaches Mike Holmgren and Sherman about something he said in the media, and more than once Butler vowed that he was done talking to the press.

    But Butler took pride in fulfilling his media responsibilities and it was never very long before his face started popping up again on TV or his words in newspapers.

    "I'm not going to get into what I talked to my player about," Sherman said. "What was written in the paper is not what he communicated today. He has a whole different opinion than what was said in the paper."

    Obviously, Sherman is sensitive to situations when a player calls out other players, whether he identifies them by name or by their bank account.

    "My philosophy has always been, if you have an issue with somebody, you go tell that person face-to-face," Sherman said. "That's how you deal with issues in life. I don't believe you use other forums to get your point across.

    "You look that person in the eye and tell them what you think and you let him respond to that. Sometimes it can be confrontational, but sometimes the truth is confrontational."

    Without mentioning defensive coordinator Ed Donatell by name, Sharper also called for more blitzing.

    "I know he felt kind of bad about it because he said it really wasn't what he meant," said Donatell, who hadn't read the story. "Darren's a competitive player and he works his (expletive) off for us. I just think he's one player that loves to make plays. He's a team player. People get antsy and frustrated. That's part of it."

  • Nobody connected with the Packers' run defense is looking for a pat on the back but at least they don't have to put up with the constant criticism that accompanied their every failure a year ago.

    "The reality is, we're not there yet," coordinator Ed Donatell said. "It's a work in progress, but we have some faster guys and we have improved."

    In 2002, the Packers allowed 4.84 yards per carry, the second-worst yield in the NFL behind Seattle and the second-worst in the Packers' history. After seven games this season they've given up 4.32 yards, which ranks 22nd in the NFL.

    "That's still too high," rookie middle linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We need to get that down drastically to 3-point something. We're not happy with just improving on last year. We want to be No. 1 in the league at that."

    Green Bay also has reduced its per-game rushing allowance from 124.9 yards last year, which ranked 21st in the NFL and was the Packers' highest since 1990, to 116.1, which ranks 18th.

    Coach Mike Sherman decided in January, or shortly after Atlanta gouged his defense for 192 yards on the ground, that changes had to be made. So he elected not to re-sign middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson and cornerback Tyrone Williams and then cut weak-side linebacker Nate Wayne.

    For replacements, Sherman drafted Barnett in the first round, traded for cornerback Al Harris and signed outside linebacker Hannibal Navies.

    One thing Sherman didn't do was ask Donatell to make more than subtle alterations in his one-gap scheme of run defense.

    "That's because everyone believes in our base run defense," safety Darren Sharper said. "Everyone was assigned a proper gap so you know what gap to be in."

    Almost every team in the NFL and college football uses a gap-control system to stop the run. The space between each offensive lineman is a gap. Defensive teams normally designate each gap with a letter whereas offensive teams assign each hole with a number.

    In NFL terminology, the gaps on each side of the center are the A gaps, the gaps between the guards and tackles are the B gaps, the gaps between the tight end and tackle or outside the tackle if there is no tight end are the C gaps and the widest gaps are the D gaps.

    "The well-coached teams all do this," Sharper said. "The teams that have poor run defenses and are badly coached, they might not. My third year (1999), we had horrible run-fit defense. We didn't know where we needed to be. We weren't assigned gaps, nothing like that. We weren't really coached well on what proper gaps to be in or how to take on blocks. "

    Asked if defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas or coach Ray Rhodes were responsible, Sharper said, "Both. If the head coach don't see it's right he's got to make corrections."

    The Packers played a two-gap scheme of run defense for much of the 1980s under coordinators Dick Modzelewski and Hank Bullough, as did almost every other team. A defensive lineman was asked to play directly over an offensive lineman and control the gap on either side, which made for stubborn run defenses but almost eliminated the defensive linemen as pass rushers.

    Some teams, such as the New York Giants, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and New England, still incorporate some two-gapping within their scheme.

    "But you don't see a team that philosophically utilizes it on almost every first down anymore," said Mike Eayrs, the Packers' director of research and development. "Simply because the league has become such a passing league on first downs. You want to get the linemen up the field so they can get into a pass-rush mode rather than having them framed at the line of scrimmage ready to slide to where the ball has been going. All of a sudden the ball isn't going. So what people do is play the tendency by dropping a safety down to kind of clean up the run."

    In 17 games last season the Packers allowed 12 rushes for 20 yards or more. The only 20-plus run by a running back this season was a 67-yard touchdown by Chicago's Anthony Thomas through the A gap that was Barnett's responsibility.

    "I was getting carried away trying to make a play and just abandoned my responsibility," Barnett said. "You don't make the same mistake twice. You've got to be more sound."

    In a normal 30-rush game, Sharper estimated that every player on defense would be in the correct gap on 20 to 25 of the plays. Linebacker Na'il Diggs was the first Packers' defender mentioned by Sharper as being sure in gap responsibility.

    Toughness, strength, size and ability to tackle in your gap are critically important as well. The best run defenses usually have the best people.

    "If you've got killers up front it don't matter if they're in the wrong gap or whatever," Sharper said. "You can find a way to make plays."

  • Ahman Green, the NFL's second-leading rusher with 734 yards, was limited to 35 yards in 20 carries by the Rams. That was his lowest yardage since he was 16-31 in that Vikings' game and his lowest average since he carried 10 times for 11 yards (1.1) against Tennessee in Week 13 of 2001.

    The Packers had averaged 176.3 rushing in the three games before St. Louis. They had been running their trademark misdirection plays, power-gap and weak-side counter plays, stretch plays and isolation plays with an attitude that said, ‘I don't care how you line up or who you line up with, we're going to run it down your throat.'"

    The Rams' front seven played superbly. They stunted and slanted on almost every down, breaking up the Packers' blocking schemes, and their linebackers made crisp, hard tackles of Green in one-on-one situations.

    "At the point of attack it seemed like we were about to break it and then somebody would beat a block on the back side and catch us from behind," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "We just didn't cut off and seal back side as good as we've done. You have to be able to run the ball. We tried."

    If it hadn't been for three draw plays on which Green gained 17 yards, his numbers would have been even more horrendous. His other 17 carries were for 18 yards, including three for minus yardage, five for no gain and three for 1 yard.

    "The game's faster on turf and they run this (defense) extremely well," guard Mike Wahle said. "It's a speed game and they're built for this. They do it well."

    Rossley insisted there was no way the ground game could have become predictable because the Packers run the plays from so many different formations and personnel groupings.

    "They're a very good front," Rossley said. "Leonard Little and three No. 1 picks. You've got to block the back side."

  • Javon Walker has made impressive catches in traffic of 25 and 26 yards in the last two games and still hasn't dropped any of the 36 passes thrown to him. He has 18 catches for 259 yards, a team-high 14.4-yard average and two touchdowns.

    The Packers are shuffling Walker into the game on almost an equal basis with starters Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson. Last week, wide receivers coach Ray Sherman estimated hat Driver played 40 to 50 snaps, Ferguson played about 40, Walker played about 30 and Antonio Freeman played eight to 10.

    Sherman, who works from the sidelines, orchestrates the substitutions. Once Sherman hears the play called by Rossley, he determines if one of the players might be best suited to run a particular route. He also monitors the receivers' level of fatigue.

    In the weeks ahead Sherman hopes to do a better job of equalizing playing time between Walker and Ferguson. Walker plays flanker, Ferguson plays split end and Driver plays both interchangeably.

    "Any one of those guys can start," Sherman said. "They don't care who starts. They're all going to have to play because we've got to make this stretch run."

  • Linebacker Na'il Diggs hasn't been as productive in the last few games as he was early in the season and Donatell said he knows the reason why.

    "I believe he's gutting it out for us," Donatell said. "He's got all kinds of nicks."

    Diggs suffered a sprained knee against Seattle in Week 5 but played in the last two games. He also has suffered from elbow and shoulder problems.

    Donatell would like to use Diggs on an alternating basis with Nick Barnett as the linebacker in the dime defense but Diggs' health hasn't permitted it.

  • Second-year running back Tony Fisher has watched in recent weeks as some defenders have taken to submarining fullback William Henderson as he makes lead blocks for Ahman Green. Most defenders take on blocks using a shoulder to maintain leverage and stay on their feet, but Fisher says the Packers have run the ball so well that teams are sacrificing one defender in hopes that others can tackle Green.

    "They shouldn't be doing that in the NFL," Fisher said. "That's placing William in jeopardy of getting hurt. What they're trying to do is cause a big pileup in front of Ahman."

    Some St. Louis players also submarined in front of the Packers' pulling guards.

    As they dive at the blocker's leg, defensive players grab at Green's feet and then kick their legs in an illegal attempt to trip him up.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 3 — Minimum number of road games the Packers must win in the final nine games to finish the season 10-6.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Right now we're playing like a low-level defense. Teams feel like they can move the ball on us any time they want to." — S Darren Sharper.

    The Packers are carrying 10 defensive linemen but aren't happy with more than two or three. The bottom of their roster currently includes nose tackle Terdell Sands and tackle Larry Smith.

    On Monday, the Packers had four defensive linemen in for tryouts. The list included Lorenzo Bromell, Maurice Anderson, Colin Cole and John Hilliard.

    Bromell had 25.5 sacks in five seasons for Miami and Minnesota but his career went south and he has been on the street since being cut by the Vikings in late August. Desperate for a pass rush, the Packers brought him in remembering how well he rushed from inside on dime situations for Miami.

    Bromell, however, wasn't impressive in terms of agility or quickness, and he also tired too quickly to suit the Packers.

  • QB Brett Favre suffered a hairline fracture underneath his right thumb early in the St. Louis game but kept playing. He sat out practice Tuesday and Wednesday before leaving for his home in Mississippi and the bye weekend. Favre said he definitely would play Nov. 2 against Minnesota. He also didn't rule out the possibility that he could have played Sunday.

  • RB Ahman Green (ankle) didn't practice this week but should be fine.

  • RB Tony Fisher (groin) said he definitely would be available for the Vikings game.

  • NT Rod Walker has torn cartilage in his knee but still might be ready for the Vikings.

  • NT Gilbert Brown (knee) still isn't all the way back to health.

  • LB Na'il Diggs (knee, shoulder) did some work Tuesday but took off Wednesday.

  • CB Mike McKenzie (back) made it through the St. Louis game on guts but was given Tuesday and Wednesday off for personal reasons.

  • DE Joe Johnson underwent season-ending surgery Tuesday for a torn quad.

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