It's a sore subject around Halas Hall when the defense's failure to get to opposing quarterbacks comes up — and with good reason.
The Bears have just 6 sacks all season. Nine individuals in the league have more. The Bears' defensive line has a total of 4 sacks this season. Thirty-three players in the NFL have as many or more. At their current pace, the Bears will finish with 12 sacks. The fewest sacks they've ever had in a 16-game season are 28.
Assistant defensive line coach Richard Dent, the team's all-time sack leader, had 17.5 all by himself in 1984.
So it's no surprise that defensive coordinator Greg Blache gets a little testy when the lack of sacks is brought up, especially since Blache has always considered it an overrated statistic. He believes that consistently pressuring quarterbacks is more important than the occasional sack.
"Pick out any statistic you want, throw it around, stir it in a pot, cook it up and serve it with a lot of salt and seasoning on it to make it taste any way you want it to taste," Blache said. "Just add a different spice. I don't get into all of that. Move to a different question."
This season has been so bad for the Bears sack-wise that they lost one last week when the league ruled what was originally a sack by cornerback Todd McMillon to be a tackle for loss on a running play instead.
The four teams that reached the conference championship games last season ranked No. 2, No. 6, No. 10 and No. 12 in sack percentage. Of the top 10 teams in sack percentage last season, only two had losing records, and both were 7-9. But Blache refuses to overemphasize the sack.
"If sacks were important, that's what they would use to determine (who) wins a football game," he said. "Points are important. If sacks were important, they'd use that as a deciding factor (in) who wins and who loses. And they don't. The game has been around 100 years, and they haven't factored that in yet."
Defensive end Alex Brown and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher are tied for the team lead with 1.5 sacks, defensive ends Phillip Daniels and Michael Haynes each have 1, and safety Mike Green and tackle Bryan Robinson have one-half apiece. Last season Rosey Colvin had 10.5 sacks before departing for New England via free agency, Daniels had 5.5 and Urlacher 4.5.
Dent, who had 124.5 sacks as a Bear and 137.5 in his NFL career, fifth best in league history, made his mark as a pass rusher, but he knows there is a higher priority.
"Once you stop the run, then you get the right to rush the passer," Dent said. "If we don't stop the run, we don't get any right to rush the passer. Who wants to throw the ball when they can run the ball on you? That's the bottom line."
Early in the season, the Bears didn't stop the run, but they've improved significantly in that area in recent weeks and on the scoreboard. That should give them more sack opportunities.
"If we continue to get leads on teams, and they have to throw the ball to catch up, then we're going to get more sacks," Daniels said. "And also, if we continue to stop the run, we're going to get more sacks. The past three games we stopped the run, and we had opportunities, and we've been close."
The defense has done a better job this season of creating turnovers when opposing quarterbacks throw the ball away rather than accept a sack. The Bears have 8 interceptions, 1 less than all of last season.
Sunday, they'll face the Lions' Joey Harrington, who has done a tremendous job of avoiding sacks. Detroit is No. 1 in that category. But the Lions' offense is No. 31 in interceptions allowed.
"We watched the film and (coaches) said, ‘These guys don't give up many sacks,'" Daniels said. "And one of the guys said, ‘Yeah, but they give up a whole lot of interceptions.'"
SERIES HISTORY: 148th meeting. Bears have won five of past six meetings. Four of the past five games have been decided by three points, and both of last year's games went OT.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
At 6-foot-4, Gage has the same size and leaping ability to take jump balls away from most defensive backs that Robinson possessed, but not the same speed.
"He's a different kind of receiver in my opinion," Jauron said. "Marcus would catch the ball inside, but he had great, overpowering speed and size down the field. Justin I don't think has that kind of down-the-field speed.
"I'm not saying he doesn't have good down-the-field speed; he does. He can run by you. But Marcus had, at one time, rare down-the-field speed. I believe Justin is going to be a better route runner over time and maybe already (is). Justin may have better hands. Both of them are weapons."
In 1999, Robinson set the team record with 1,400 receiving yards on 84 catches with 9 touchdowns and 16.7 yards per catch. The next season Robinson caught 55 passes for 738 yards before injuries undermined his season and eventually his career. Gage's 6 receptions have netted 136 yards, 1 TD and a 22.7-yard average.
"Marcus did it over the course of a season and then ran into injury problems," Jauron said. "But in that season and a half, he was a major threat down the football field. Hopefully Justin will develop into that consistent threat down the field. We've seen it over a brief period. This guy is going to be a good player."
BY THE NUMBERS: The Bears out-gained the Lions 261-260 in total yards two weeks ago during a 24-16 victory.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you beat somebody up last week, now you're going to go walking in their neighborhood? You know they're sitting back there waiting for you. It's like when the Indians told Custer, ‘C'mon down!' They're sitting there waiting for you. We're going into their neighborhood.
"It's tough to beat somebody on the road. You go through history, you've got to be able to win on the road. The generals that couldn't win on the road didn't last real long. Napoleon was great until he had to go win on the road, then it cost him. The same thing here. We've got to be able to go and win on the road." — Defensive coordinator Greg Blache warning of the dangers awaiting the Bears in Detroit
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QB Kordell Stewart is back at the No. 2 spot behind Chris Chandler after spending three weeks at No. 3 behind rookie Rex Grossman. Stewart's marginal quad bruise was given as the reason he was first removed from the starting lineup, and the fact that he is not on the injury list for the first time in four weeks is ostensibly why he has been promoted.
To a lot of NFL teams, it would be nothing more than business as usual but to the Detroit Lions, it would border on spectacular — a two-game winning streak.
The last time the Lions enjoyed any kind of streak was nearly three full years ago when they won their first three games under Gary Moeller, who had taken over when Bobby Ross retired unexpectedly in early November, 2000.
In the 2 1/2 seasons since then, the Lions have won a not-so-grand total of seven games — two in 2001, three in 2002 and two in the first half of the 2003 season. Nowhere in that time have they won games back-to-back.
So the opportunity staring them in the face Sunday when they take on the Chicago Bears at Ford Field is meaningful. Not only for their record but for their peace of mind and to give them some kind of feeling of accomplishment in what has all the makings of another wasted season.
"What we have to do this year — somehow — is accomplish some things that maybe haven't been done recently," coach Steve Mariucci said. "And winning a couple of games in a row would be one of them.
"Having two wins in a row would be good for our self-esteem and our confidence and our spunk around here. Give us a little hope. You go through the season (and) each game is a different game in itself.
"Forget about the record of the first half of the season. We start the second half of the season at home against the Bears and it would be nice to get a win."
The Lions will be facing the Chicago Bears for the second time in three weeks. They dozed through the first three quarters of the game at Soldier Field October 26 and couldn't dodge a 24-16 loss despite a fourth-quarter rally.
With the 23-13 victory against the Oakland Raiders as inspiration, however, the Lions have been upbeat and positive all week.
"I think winning this game gives us a little life, a little confidence, a little boost," Mariucci said. "So (Chicago) is an important game for us. It's a division game, it's a rival game, it's a game we've got to make up for the effort we had in Chicago, which wasn't good enough until the fourth quarter."
Barring one of the all-time great turnarounds, the Bears might provide the Lions one of their few chances at a victory in the second half of the season.
Except for the Bears (3-5) and the San Diego Chargers (1-7), the rest of the teams on the schedule have a combined record of 35-13 — Seattle (6-2), Minnesota (6-2), Green Bay (4-4), Kansas City (8-0), Carolina (6-2) and St. Louis (5-3).
SERIES HISTORY: 128th meeting. The Bears hold an 83-59-5 edge in the series, which dates back to 1930, when the Lions were still known as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, four years before they moved to Detroit. The Bears have won five of the last six games, including their 24-16 victory at Chicago on Oct. 26.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
After completing 13 of 21 passes for 117 yards in the 23-13 victory against Oakland, quarterback Joey Harrington is averaging 5.01 yards per attempt, the lowest average among NFL starters.
His only completion for more than 14 yards was a 33-yard touchdown pass to fullback Cory Schlesinger, who surprised Raiders cornerback Phillip Buchanon by going down the sideline instead of flattening out coming out of the backfield.
Nine of Harrington's 13 completions against the Raiders went to running backs, one went to tight end Mikhael Ricks and only three went to the wide receivers — a 10-yarder to Scotty Anderson, a five-yarder to Az-Zahir Hakim and a two-yarder to Shawn Jefferson.
"We called some shots down the field," coach Steve Mariucci said. "We threw one and just missed Billy Schroeder. We called several others and the ball was checked down a couple times, for very good reason.
"A couple of times I would like Joey to give our receivers a chance if they are even or have a step on a defender. That's an area that hasn't been as productive as it needs to be.
"It's quite obvious our backs are catching more passes than our receivers, and our tight ends, too. So we continually look for ways to improve that."
Except for the 33-yard completion to Schlesinger and a 19-yarder to Schroeder late in the Chicago game October 26, Harrington hasn't had a completion of more than 15 yards in the past three games.
Harrington agrees he needs to go downfield but says it's possible to win by playing the short passing game, combined with a solid running game.
"You can get by," Harrington said, "but you have to take a shot every once in awhile. You've got to take a chance down there but you have to pick your spots wisely; you can't just force something down there just because you haven't thrown the ball down the field in awhile.
"Some times it's just getting in the right play against the right defense and kind of falling into one, but you do need to take your shots every once in awhile just to let them know you're a threat to go deep."
It would be a step forward if they could beat Chicago for their first back-to-back victories since owner William Clay Ford hired Matt Millen as his president/CEO in January, 2000.
And Mariucci sees gains to be made in areas that might not be reflected in the final record.
"We hope to get some of the injured guys back," he said. "Artose Pinner, love to see him play. See when and where we can get Luther Elliss back in the loop. And, hopefully, we'll get Charles Rogers back at some point. And just see the continual progress with some of our younger players, keep our veterans fresh and healthy so they can keep playing and keep practicing each day.
"You always want a better record than (2-6), as is the case right now. It's no consolation but there are some playoff teams with 2-6 records, as well. That's how the injury thing can affect a football team, including ours."
"What happens with football players and coaches," Mariucci said, "is we work through the Thanksgivings, Christmases, New Years, Halloweens and birthdays and all those sort of things. Life sort of stops in the fall. Maybe we celebrate in the spring."
Harrington, who is 25, said he wished Mariucci a happy birthday, shook his hand and gave him some advice.
"Congratulations," Harrington told him. "Don't get too close to 50 too quickly. I told him I'm getting older and as you get older you're going to find things start to slow down a little bit. You don't move quite like you used to. You'll wake up in the morning and your joints will ache a little. I tried to pass on some of the knowledge I've gained over my 25 years."
BY THE NUMBERS: 40 — Number of games the Lions have played in the past 2 1/2 seasons without winning two in a row.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I am satisfied with the job that Matt has done. I believe that we're headed in the right direction." — Lions owner William Clay Ford on the job security of Matt Millen, who has a 7-33 record since taking over as the Lions president/CEO three years ago.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Perhaps owner William Clay Ford could make an encore appearance to tell the Lions players to relax and have fun playing the game. That's what he told them a week ago and they responded with a victory against the Oakland Raiders.
Injuries are putting the Lions in somewhat of a bind. They have a number of players injured but not injured badly enough to put them on injured reserve, so coach Steve Mariucci has virtually no wiggle room on the 53-man roster.
With CBs Dre' Bly and Jimmy Wyrick down last week with injuries, the personnel department headed by Sheldon White came up with Doug Evans and Jacoby Shepherd. Both played well in the win against Oakland and it's likely they'll see heavy duty again Sunday against Chicago.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Lambeau Field is one of the least hospitable venues for any NFL team to visit. As strange as it might seem, Andy Reid gets the Packers Monday night right where he wants them: in Lambeau with winter fast approaching.
No NFL team is close to the Eagles when it has come to winning road games in the 21st century. Under Reid's even-handed direction the Eagles own a 21-7 regular-season record on the road since 2000, a .741 winning percentage that dwarfs that of runner-up Pittsburgh (17-11, .630).
Moreover, the Eagles have been the NFL's winningest team in November and December since 2000 with a mark of 21-5, slightly better than the Packers' 20-7.
This will be the Eagles' fourth road game in five starts. After losing two at home to open the season, they've gone 5-1 counting road victories at Buffalo, the Giants and Atlanta.
The Packers, who are 14-14 on the road under Mike Sherman, are 13-1 at home in November and December since he took over.
"I'd say that historically not many people get on the bus outside (Lambeau Field) happy," an assistant coach for a recent Eagles' opponent said. "It ain't easy there but I think the Eagles' arrow is pointing up. They haven't played as well as in the past but you've got to give them credit for holding it together with all the injuries."
Nine of the Eagles' 21 road victories have been as an underdog, topped by the 7-point line they overcame last November in San Francisco. Reid, a 4-point underdog when he lost at Lambeau Field, 6-3, in Week 3 of 2000, is a 4 1/2-point underdog Monday night.
What's also of interest is that five of Reid's seven road losses were by 3 points or less. The Eagles' recent road success was preceded by their 1-22-1 run of road futility from 1997-'99.
"The Eagles are not an incredibly difficult team to defend," an assistant for another recent Eagles' foe said. "I would have a hard time not picking Green Bay but I think Philadelphia's a tough team. They fight hard and they're well-coached."
SERIES HISTORY: The 32nd regular-season meeting. The Packers lead, 22-9.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
To put it simply, Green hasn't been able to hang on to the football this season. Five fumbles in seven games, including four lost, had been killing the Packers at the most inopportune times.
Two weeks ago, after a loss at St. Louis, coach Mike Sherman guaranteed that Green's fumbling problem would be fixed. On Sunday night, when the Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 30-27, it was fixed.
Green carried 21 times for 137 yards and caught five passes for 52. He didn't fumble once.
"I'm more proud of him for not turning the ball over on that turf," running backs coach Sylvester Croom said. "They hit us hard. It was humid in there for those guys. We did a great job of protecting the football. They were grabbing at us all night."
The Packers amassed 261 yards on the ground, their highest total since Week 5 in 1985 when Gerry Ellis and Eddie Lee Ivery led a 285-yard assault against Detroit.
"I'm as proud of this group as any group I've ever coached since I've been in the business," said Croom, who began as a college coach in 1976 before moving into the NFL in 1987.
The Packers weren't able to run effectively in a 30-25 loss to the Vikings at Lambeau Field on opening day. Afterward, defensive tackle Chris Hovan said the Vikings were the more physical team.
"They challenged us from the point of being physical," Croom said. "Some of the things they said. They did challenge us as an offensive team about our physicalness.
"Hey, we were committed to running the football tonight. That was the game plan. We wanted to be able to get outside on ‘em but we still had our power game. We never get away from that."
"Every time I throw, hand off and take snaps it aggravates it," Favre said Wednesday. "It doesn't feel any worse or any better today. We played about as good as you can play (in Minnesota). When we're on top of our game it's hard to stop us."
Favre will continue to wear a splint on his right thumb, which was broken Oct. 19 in St. Louis.
"What he's doing is phenomenal, it really is," coach Mike Sherman said. "I just have to say that. It's not extraordinary for him. It's extraordinary for anyone else."
Favre said X-rays this week showed no calcification of the bone. That should start happening in about two weeks "if I don't get it hit," he said.
Favre said there was discussion at one point about having surgery on the thumb.
"I wanted this game," he said after the Vikings game. "Everyone but my teammates were against me and expecting me to play different. I felt I needed to come in here and prove everyone wrong. This is what it's all about. It feels great.
Not your garden variety type of effort, either. Superhuman effort. Fanatical effort. All-out effort.
"Effort means everything," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "It's a crucial element to pass rush. I think every single one of us can take that up a notch."
When you lack top talent, like the Packers do up and down their 10-man defensive line, the best alternative is to work harder and be in better condition than the opponent. Old-fashioned hustle and determination can make up for lots of sins and account for a lot of sacks.
"I think it can make a hell of a difference in a pass rush," center Mike Flanagan said. "A mediocre player with supreme effort can be a good player but it's not going to make him a great player. You get guys like (Grant) Wistrom and (Leonard) Little of the Rams, they were all over the place. They're non-stop effort guys."
What drives entire units or individual players to rush the quarterback like there's no tomorrow one week and then slack off the next?
"If I had that answer how to get a guy to a point where he has so much motivation and desire, that crazed, wild and fanatical effort, I'd write a book and probably wouldn't have to play football," Kampman said. "There's a lot of buttons that need to be pushed. Ever since high school I've learned that it's very hard to get all those buttons pushed for every single person."
Over time, opposing scouts have praised the effort level of three defensive linemen on the Packers' roster: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Chukie Nwokorie and Kampman.
Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin would rather build his players up than tear them down. He coaches much like he was coached at Fresno State, where he had 19.5 sacks as an undersized end in 1986.
"An effective coach," Franklin said, "is a person who can get (a player) to do what a normal human being wouldn't do so they can become what they always wanted to be.
"It's not like sitting behind a desk. You've got to get into a guy's mind, a guy's head and get guys to believe, to think they're invincible. You've got to believe in them more than they believe in themselves. A lot of times it sinks in and they can achieve."
Glenn leads the 6-2 Cowboys in receptions with 32, in receiving yards with 432 (13.5 average) and in receiving touchdowns with five. After the Philadelphia game last month, Glenn said he hesitated about rejoining Bill Parcells but ultimately decided, "It couldn't have been worse than what I had last year, when they were using me sparingly but I was out there a majority of the game. I beat myself over the head all last year trying to figure out why they didn't throw me the ball. Maybe they were using me to clear out for the other guys, I don't know."
Football players love to reinvent the truth after they leave one team and find success with another. Earth to Terry, Brett Favre threw you 110 passes last season, just seven fewer than Donald Driver, and it's your fault you didn't do more with them.
Glenn dropped seven passes. Despite his speed, he averaged merely 3.91 yards after the catch because he went down so easily. Favre didn't go to him deep more often because he didn't have field presence, didn't always separate against the better cornerbacks and wasn't strong enough to take the ball away in a crowd. Three times he ran highly questionable routes on passes that turned into interceptions.
Plus, he looked like a candidate for the last rites whenever a defender hit him squarely, or even half squarely. Among his many hurts in Green Bay were a hyperextended right knee, a sprained left knee, migraine headaches, concussions and a bruised tailbone. As a little guy, his blocking for Ahman Green was more miss than hit.
Two executives in personnel for other teams ranked the Cowboys' wide receivers this way: Joey Galloway first, Glenn second and Antonio Bryant third.
"Actually, he's playing pretty good for him (Parcells)," an AFC scout said. "He's running nothing over the middle. Everything's down the field."
Sherman knew Glenn was too small for the West Coast offense, but considering the alternatives he figured the positives of the trade outweighed the negatives. But when Driver won the split end job, it left the Packers with two undersized wide receivers. That forced Glenn to run some short underneath routes, which he clearly didn't want to do.
Neither Robert Ferguson nor Javon Walker have shown more than modest improvement but at least they have the size to go across the middle and muscle up for Ahman Green, even if it means delivering crack-back blocks. And, with offensive coordinator Tom Rossley absolutely refusing to allow Brett Favre to get hit by calling deeper drops, the Packers wouldn't have utilized Glenn's vertical skills, anyway.
"I think (Barnett) is going to be a heck of a football player some day," Sherman said. "He's not there just yet but I think he's progressing nicely. He approaches the job like you would think some of the great players in this league have, like the Jerry Rices and the Brett Favres."
Williams, the ninth pick, has really been coming on for the Vikings.
"The last couple games he's played real well," guard Mike Wahle said. "Physically, he's really gifted. Big guy. Moves well. Learning to use his hands. He plays extremely hard, like the rest of those guys."
Other possibilities could be St. Louis linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, safeties Mike Doss of Indianapolis and Ken Hamlin of Seattle, pass rusher Terrell Suggs of Baltimore and cornerbacks Terence Newman of Dallas and Marcus Trufant of Seattle.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7.68 — That's what the Packers averaged per rush Sunday night in Minnesota (34-261). That's their best average in a game since Week 4 in 1985, when they had 8.64 against St. Louis (25-216).
QUOTE TO NOTE: They'd be crazy for taking it. I could understand the reasoning why, because they just want to be better and bigger and all that, but you're playing Russian roulette with your health. You should never compromise your health for something like that. I know none of our players take it." — Packers strength coach Barry Rubin on steroids, body-building androstenedione and weight-loss aid ephedra.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Packers and Carolina Panthers both claimed defensive tackle Grady Jackson on waivers Tuesday but he was awarded to Green Bay because they have the worse record.
Jackson, 30, will play both nose tackle and three-technique tackle behind Gilbert Brown and Cletidus Hunt. The Packers have been high on him for years and view him as possibly a major contributor if he toes the line and gets his weight under control.
"I think he can help us in pass rush," Sherman said. "He'll get a crash course in football when he gets here. We're going strictly off tape. He's made a fair amount of tackles and sacks. We'll take whatever we can right now."
Nose tackle Rod Walker was placed on injured reserve. He will need more shoulder surgery and possibly arthroscopic knee surgery.
The Packers cut defensive end Michael Landry off the practice squad and replaced him with tight end Tony Donald.