A Bears offense that looked sick in its last outing gets the perfect antidote at noon Sunday at Soldier Field — the 49ers' defense.
No team has allowed more than the 32.3 points per game that the Niners have permitted, which is a beautiful thing if you're a quarterback coming off a four-interception, six-turnover performance like the Bears' Rex Grossman. Or a running back who can't seem to get into a rhythm or break a long run, like the Bears' Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. Or a go-to wide receiver who has three catches for 12 yards in the last two games, like the Bears' Muhsin Muhammad.
The 49ers' defense is No. 28 in total yards allowed per game (362), 119 more than the Bears, who are No. 4 (243.2). San Francisco's defense has provided an abundance of opportunities for opposing passing games. It has allowed almost as many passing yards per game (242.3, 30th in the NFL) as the Bears' defense has allowed total yards.
Sunday is an ideal situation for Grossman to get back on the horse, and for the running game to mobilize.
"Playing as bad as I did, I have a bad taste in my mouth," Grossman said. "I'm looking forward to playing again to get the bad taste out of my mouth to move on."
The Bears' quarterback spent part of his free weekend in Louisville, Ky., watching show horses owned by his parents win a top prize, and as a studio analyst at ESPN in Bristol, Conn. Before he left, he endured a film review of the Cardinals game, which taught him some lessons that he hopes will prevent a recurrence of that performance.
"I have to make sure I have a good pre-snap read, make sure I'm reading the defenses right and not predetermining things and not trying to do too much," Grossman said. "I have to run the offense. I got away from that and got into some bad habits."
For most of this season, Grossman has directed a passing game that far overshadowed the running game that was a staple of the Bears' attack last year. Bears coach Lovie Smith insists that this is still a running team, and Jones would love to contribute more to the attack, but it's not up to him.
"I don't have a choice," said Jones, who had just 11 carries and 39 yards in Arizona. "I don't call the plays. I run what's called. If they call a run, I'm prepared to run the ball. If they call a pass play, I'm prepared to block whoever I need to block. We're all a team on offense, we're 6-0 and we're winning. So as long as we're winning football games, it doesn't matter how we do it."
The Bears are only 24th in rushing with 97.7 yards per game, and they're tried for 29th with a 3.2-yard average per run. The passing game, which is No. 10 in yards, had been picking up the slack before the fiasco in the desert, when Grossman completed just 14 of 37 passes.
"I didn't play very well and I'm motivated and re-energized to go out and play the way I am capable of playing," he said. "I didn't allow other players to get into a rhythm. We had so many three-and-outs we couldn't get into our game plan. The Cardinals played extremely well and with a lot of intensity and everything like that but still, we beat ourselves a lot."
Because of the bye week, Grossman and the offense have had too much time to beat up on themselves, but Sunday they'll have a chance to beat up on a 49ers defense that has been a punching bag most of the season.
The Bears used the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft on Cedric Benson, with the idea of making him their featured runner. But they used him to carry the ball just once against the Cardinals in Week Six, and he didn't play at all in Week Three. In each of the other four games he's had between 10 and 14 carries.
With the Bears' ground game languishing at No. 24 in yards and No. 30 in average gain per run, coaches might be looking more closely at the merits of Benson and starter Thomas Jones, who has averaged 19.3 carries per game. Benson said he doesn't have any idea if a greater role is planned for him, but he'd like to know.
"If they're planning on doing it, I wish they would tell me so I can prepare instead of hoping I just catch (on at) the end or something," Benson said. "I have no idea on a week-to-week basis. I wish they could be a little more upfront and more business-like about the situation."
Coach Lovie Smith hinted that Benson wouldn't have to wait long to get playing time against the 49ers.
"We're going to play him early," Smith said, "and we expect him to play well."
Smith added that he wasn't put off by Benson sounding off.
"I'm OK about our players speaking their minds anytime," Smith said. "I'm sure most of the time they'll say the right thing."
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said Benson has been kept in the loop, but even if he isn't privy to the game plan, he needs to prepare as if he's the starter, just like any other backup.
"He should know (his role), and we should talk to him, and I think we have," Turner said. "I know (running backs coach) Tim Spencer and I have talked about Cedric going in on the third series or that he's going to go in at least two series in the first half or whatever. We've talked about it, and maybe I assumed that Tim talked to him, and I'm pretty sure he did."
"You've got to prepare like you're a starter, and he's got to be ready to play 50 or 60 plays if that's what it's going to take. He has to prepare that way, and I think he does. I think he's practiced well, he's prepared well, he goes into the games ready to go."
Jones hasn't done anything spectacular to hang on to the starting job, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. But Benson hasn't done much to win the job, averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. Benson and his backers want to see what kind of numbers he could put up with a steady diet of handoffs.
"It's hard to get into (a rhythm) when you're in for a series, out for a couple, in for a couple, out for a quarter or something," Benson said. "You never do."
Benson has carried 47 times but has yet to break a run of 20 yards or longer. He also has missed a couple assignments, something that isn't likely to happen with the veteran Jones in the lineup.
For now, all Benson can do is wonder what it will be like to be the starter, which he does frequently.
"I often daydream about it, having a good game, having a big game, getting 100 yards or just getting in the groove," Benson said. "But I don't do all those things."
According to coaches, more opportunities for Benson are likely, beginning Sunday.
"He needs to be in more," Turner said. "We have to get more (running plays), and we have to get him more involved. Thomas is a very good player, and we're going to get Thomas his carries. But we believe Cedric is, too, and we've got to get him in."
"We hope he'll be ready to go," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's making a lot of progress."
Ogunleye led the Bears with ten sacks last season, but he has just 1.5 this season, while his backup/replacement, rookie Mark Anderson, has 6.5, which is tied for third best in the NFL.
"It was tough to watch and be one of the biggest cheerleaders out there, but we're 6-0 and I'm excited," Ogunleye said. "We didn't lose a step, and I'm happy about that. But I'm a leader out there, so I have to get out there. I can't do this. I can't watch from the sidelines too long. They need me to play, and I'm going to be excited in the next couple weeks to get out there."
According to Ogunleye, Smith makes the ultimate decision on when players with hamstring injuries return to the field.
"I thought I was back for Arizona, but they put me down," he said. "It's not my call. When it comes to hamstrings, it's coach Smith's call."
Both Turners were standout athletes in Martinez, Calif., where they were raised by their mother in a single-parent home.
"She kind of directed us toward sports at an early age to give us some type of father figure in our household," the Bears' offensive coordinator said. "I think that's where that got started, and we were fortunate to have really good coaches coming up. We had real good high school coaches that got both of us interested in the Xs and Os. They talked Xs and Os with us, and it got both of us really interested in that."
Turner said he talks frequently with his brother during the football season, but maybe not quite so much this week. Still, his older brother remains one of Ron Turner's most useful sources of knowledge.
"We usually talk early in the week about the game they just had or we just had," Turner said. "This week we won't talk quite as much, and if we do, it'll be more about how his son did in his game Friday night or something like that, but we talk all the time. And we share ideas all the time. I'm still picking his brain and learning a lot of football from him.
"In the off-season I'll watch some film, and I'll see something, and I'll call him and say, ‘What do you think of this?' Or, ‘In this coverage, what do you guys do to attack this coverage?' If something new comes up defensively, I'll go immediately to him and ask him or pull his film out and look at it and see how they attack it. I'm still learning a lot of football from him."
BY THE NUMBERS: The 59 points that the Bears have allowed are their lowest yield after six games since 1934, when they permitted 34 points. The defense has allowed less than 10points in nine straight home games, a streak which began on Oct. 16, 2005.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Yeah, it's always good to have an opponent. It makes it easier." — Bears QB Rex Grossman, when asked if it was nice to have an opponent this week after last week's bye.
To paraphrase Lions coach Rod Marinelli, the record doesn't lie.
It's one of Marinelli's pet theories as he is evaluating NFL players, that videotape of games and practices don't lie. And as the Lions hit the bye week break, the same theory applies to their 1-6 record, as distasteful as it might be.
"Yeah, because that's what it is," Marinelli said. "That's all I can say. We've got to win those close ones. It's like that every week. You can look more into it (like) ‘Man, we're close' but in this league you've got to win them.
"You have to win those games at the end. Maybe a couple more stops on defense here, one or two there and pull that thing together a little bit tighter and we would have given ourselves an opportunity to win."
Marinelli has refused to let the Lions take comfort from "almost" winning close games. Four of their six losses have been by seven points or less. It was 9-6 against Seattle, 31-24 against Green Bay and the New York Jets, and 41-34 against the St. Louis Rams.
And they held a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter at Minnesota before losing by nine, 26-18.
Close? All it means to Marinelli is that the Lions weren't quite good enough to finish the job and, until they are, they will have a problem winning games. And the theory has begun soaking in on his players as well.
Wide receiver Roy Williams says he looks at the Lions' talent and doesn't see a 1-6 team, and that's what he finds so bothersome.
"We're not a 1-6 ball club, in my opinion," Williams said. "Everybody else around the world might say we're a 1-6 ball club but to me and this team, we're not a 1-6 ball club even though our record is 1-6.
"To me, there's no such thing as 1-6. That's my expectation coming in; there's no such thing as a one-win team. Especially this team. We're not a 1-6 ball club. You kind of want to re-set.
"We've got a whole second half to play and we can still get in the playoffs. We've got to win nine in a row. Are we capable of doing it? Yes. We have to do everything right. We've got to be disciplined on defense and we've got to be disciplined on offense.
"I play offense and I can't talk about the defense. I play offense and we've got to get our stuff together."
Quarterback Jon Kitna says he doesn't let himself look at the Lions' 1-6 record as some sort of aberration.
"I don't ever look at it that way because if you look at it that way, you forget that you're the reason you're there," Kitna said. "You should have done better, we should have done our job better and our record wouldn't be 1-6.
"So, instead of saying, ‘Well, we should have done this,' or ‘we should have done that,' let's fix it and do that next time. Try to get better. We are what our record says."
The only question now is what the record will say the Lions are on Jan. 1 after they complete the remaining nine games on the schedule.
Center Dominic Raiola says he will try to watch the Atlanta-Cincinnati game on Sunday to get an idea of what to expect when the Lions return from the bye week to meet the Falcons on Nov. 5.
"I'll try to catch that game to get a head start on next week," Raiola said. "I'll try to get away from it a little bit but it's tough to do."
The best distraction for the Lions might be to get a look at another of Detroit's professional teams — the American League champion Tigers baseball team.
"I'll definitely catch up with the Tigers," Raiola said. "Just hope to see a World Series victory, that's pretty much what I'm looking forward to."
"We bring a lot of guys in to take a look, see what's out there just so you know where everybody's at," Marinelli said.
Harris led the NFL last year when he dropped 34 of his 84 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line with only two touchbacks for the entire season. He has not been that accurate this season. He has eight touchbacks already this year, compared to six punts downed inside the 20, a factor that has hurt the Lions field position.
Special teams coach Chuck Priefer has not soured on Harris, however. And place-kicker Jason Hanson trusts Harris totally as his holder on PATs and field goals.
"We like our punting," Marinelli said.
The knee had bothered Rogers since training camp and, since he was going to be idle for five weeks (four games and the bye), the Lions decided it would be a good time for him to get the knee taken care of.
"It went well," coach Rod Marinelli said. "He's doing his rehab down there."
Marinelli indicated one of the Lions trainers would visit Rogers in Texas to check his progress in the rehab. He will be eligible to return from the suspension for the Thanksgiving Day game against Miami at Ford Field.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 — The Lions' longest winning streak in six seasons. They won back-to-back games against Oakland and Chicago in 2003, and had back-to-back wins against Chicago and Houston to open the 2004 season. The rest of their 17 victories (including their lone win this year) have been preceded and followed by losses.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It sucks being 1-6 but, hey, who says we can't win nine in a row?" — Quarterback Jon Kitna on the Lions record going into the bye week.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Don't look now, but the Packers have hit the century mark in running the football.
After going the entire 2005 season without ever averaging 100 rushing yards per game and finishing 30th in the league with a franchise-worst clip of 84.5, the ground game is showing signs of a renaissance. One huge run by Ahman Green was the impetus for this season's average to surge to 100.2 yards per game after six games.
For all of the mounting skepticism about the Packers' adoption of the zone-blocking scheme and the battered Green's effectiveness, the four-time Pro Bowl halfback might have provided a dual-purpose salvo Sunday. His 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the 34-24 win at Miami started with flawless execution by the blockers and ended with Green's sprinting away from the pack.
"If you're going to run the ball, you need to do that in order to be successful. But, in the same respect, what do we have to do to win football games?" right tackle Mark Tauscher said Wednesday. "Last week, we needed that 70-yard run to win a football game. The more of those we get, the better the chance and the more percentage we have of winning games."
The Packers waited nearly two years to the day for Green to rip off a substantial run. He missed the majority of last season because of a ruptured thigh. Although Green recovered in less than a year and was ready for the start of this season, he wasn't the powerful, electrifying runner he had been as recent as a couple years ago.
He may never be again, given the excessive mileage from eight-plus years in the league, but first-year head coach Mike McCarthy is convinced after witnessing Green turn on the afterburners Sunday that more big runs are in the cards.
"I think anytime you take the ball that distance, regardless of where you're at in your career physically or wherever you're at in the football game, that speaks volumes. It's hard to bounce that ball from 70 yards out," McCarthy said.
Green still isn't 100 percent healthy, however, in part because McCarthy admittedly leaned too much on him at the outset. Green averaged 25 touches in the first three games, which contributed to hamstring fatigue and soreness as he compensated for the thigh injury.
Consequently, Green was shut down for two games before returning Sunday on the condition he wouldn't be run into oblivion. He was limited to 18 carries and racked up a season-high 118 yards.
"I'm very happy with Ahman. I think we did the right thing playing the high side of caution with his hamstrings," McCarthy said. "He's putting his foot down, and he's taking (the designed) one cut. He's running very physical. I'd have to say he's back."
In an attempt to ensure that Green will make it to the end of the season, McCarthy said it's a matter of "being smart" in using him. Fifteen to 20 touches a game will be the aim.
Buoyed by the overdue long dash to the end zone, Green feels he can do more with less.
"I knew it was just a matter of time before we'd get a big run and have a big game rushing," he said. "For me with the zone scheme, I ran with it at Nebraska and ran with it in high school. It takes time, but once everybody is on the same page, it can be a deadly weapon."
Hawk has been getting ample opportunity to make plays in recent weeks. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is relying more on a nickel scheme, rather than a dime look, on passing downs that keeps Hawk on the field along with Barnett.
"A.J. Hawk is a player that gets better every week, and we need to continue to put him in positions to be an impact player," head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday.
Hawk is on pace to finish with 155 tackles, which would be the second-highest total by a Green Bay rookie. Rich Wingo had 166 in 1979, which also led the team that season. Barnett ranks second with 134 tackles in 2003, which also topped the team chart that season.
Barnett has been the Packers' tackles leader each of his first three years in the league, improving to 162 in 2004 and a club-record 194 last season.
An opposing back has yet to run for 100 yards this season. The streak of non-100-yard rushers is seven games, going back to the end of last season.
The Packers ranked 23rd against the rush last year, giving up an average of 125.6 yards, and allowed five 100-yard games by an opposing back.
The Packers and St. Louis each has endured an average game length of 3 hours, 14 minutes — the longest for teams that haven't played an overtime game. Arizona is fifth on that list with an average running time of 3:10. Two of the Packers' games, including last Sunday against the Dolphins, lasted 3:27.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 — Runs of at least 60 yards by Ahman Green in his nine-year pro career. Green has the most such runs among active players, two more than No. 2 Corey Dillon.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's important to win at home. We know that. But, it's just important to win, period. We need to get something started here and get some momentum built and start really making that push as an improving football team, to get more wins on the docket." — RT Mark Tauscher on the Packers' bidding for their first win at Lambeau Field this season after three losses.