Around the NFC North

One aspect of the Bears that hasn't been failing them is their pass rush, but how will that perform Sunday night against the Packers? Green Bay looks to be getting healthier in their defensive backfield for the quarterback-challenged Bears. And Detroit's defense is thriving on turnovers. Get news from around the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS

After just four games, the Bears already have 16 sacks, tied with the Giants for the most in the league, and well ahead of last year's pace, when they had 40.

And they should have plenty of opportunities to pad that total Sunday night, given the style of offense the Packers seem to prefer this season. While practically ignoring the run, the Packers have thrown the ball an NFL-high 170 times, which is 10 times more per game than the NFL average. Favre's offensive line has allowed him to be sacked just eight times, though. By comparison, Bears quarterbacks have thrown 142 passes and been sacked 15 times.

Ironically, the Bears' proficiency at getting to the quarterback hasn't translated to overall success, since they're sharing the NFC North cellar with the Vikings at 1-3 and have already allowed 95 points, including 82 after halftime.

"Normally when you're able to get to the quarterback like that, good things are happening, not with just your defense, but with the team," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I think in time that will happen. If you continue to get good pressure, you'll force a quarterback to throw some bad passes, which will lead to takeaways, which we need to get. We haven't peaked by any means yet."

The Bears have produced just seven takeaways this season, far from the pace of last season, when they had a league-best 44. But Bears right end Mark Anderson is tied for sixth in the league with four sacks, while tackle Tommie Harris, left end Wale Ogunleye and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher have three each. Beating the Packers' blockers is just part of the equation, though, according to Harris.

"I've got my hands on him plenty of times," Harris said, "but he gets rid of the ball fast."

And Favre isn't throwing deep as often as he has in years past.

"He's doing a pretty good job this year controlling the ball," Anderson said of Favre. "(But) as long as we get the pressure with the linebackers and the front four, I think we can make some things happen."

Anderson was the most pleasant surprise on last year's Super Bowl team when the lightly regarded fifth-round pick contributed a team-best 12 sacks while playing less than half the snaps as a situational pass rusher. He was promoted to the starting lineup in the off-season because coaches believe he's also a solid run defender, despite being on the light side at just 255 pounds. Anderson, who was the runner-up in defensive rookie of the year voting last season, believes he's a better all-around player than he was a year ago.

"The off-season I worked out with a couple of veterans," said Anderson, whose first NFL sack came against the Packers' Brett Favre. "Just trying to learn the system better, coming off the ball quicker, coming off the edge and using my hands. I think I probably developed just a little bit."

Ogunleye is playing as well as well as he ever has since joining the Bears in 2004. He leads the linemen with nine solos and 19 total tackles, and his 3 quarterback hurries are second to Anderson's four. The seven-year veteran said that even though Favre's throwing the ball a lot, he's not always susceptible to sacks.

"They're using the passing game as a running game now, which is a little frustrating because they get the ball out fast," Ogunleye said. "That short passing game is helping out a lot. It's helping those guards out a lot because they don't have to block as long. Guys are (still) getting to Favre. (But) for some reason, when Brett gets in trouble, his feet are still helping him get out of trouble."


DETROIT LIONS

Look at the rankings for total defense, and the Lions are awful. They rank 29th, allowing 381.8 yards per game. But look at the standings, and the Lions are good. They're 3-1, heading into Sunday's game at Washington.

A big reason for that is takeaways. The Lions lead the NFL with 13 — nine interceptions, tied with Dallas for most in the league, and four fumble recoveries.

While they have allowed a lot of yardage, the Lions have had a knack for making big plays at big times. In Sunday's 37-27 victory over Chicago, they intercepted two passes inside the Detroit 10 and returned another interception 64 yards for a touchdown.

Joe Barry put an emphasis on takeaways after he took over as the Lions' defensive coordinator in January.

"The first thing that leads to takeaways is playing hard and playing fast and doing things right and doing your job," Barry said. "Usually when you do those things, the takeaways, they seem to fall in. That's what we preach.

"We preach playing hard and playing fast and getting 11 hats at the ball. When you have hats at the ball, chances are, if the ball pops out or the ball's in the air, the more hats you got there, the more opportunities you have for takeaways."

There is still skepticism about the Detroit defense. The Lions' three victories have come against teams with suspect offenses — Oakland, Minnesota and Chicago. When the Lions played a team with a traditionally good offense — Philadelphia — they lost. And lost badly. Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Kevin Curtis made the Lions look silly in a 56-21 game.

But the Lions say that loss was an aberration, and Barry is proud of how his players bounced back, particularly cornerback Keith Smith, who struggled against the Eagles.

"I take my hat off to Keith and all the guys that they were able to step up and respond, because that's hard," Barry said. "That's a difficult deal going through what they went through. But you've got to have a short memory. You've got to put that in the past and move on, and that's what they did."

The Lions hope they will earn respect if they keep making big plays.

"If we can continue, man," defensive tackle Shaun Rogers said, "hopefully we can be a better defense than we're recognized for."


GREEN BAY PACKERS

The signs were encouraging at practice Thursday that the Packers defense will have its entire starting secondary intact for the game Sunday night against the Bears.

Cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson, who have been battling an assortment of injuries since the start of the season, and free safety Nick Collins, who has a bruised knee, took part in a good portion of the workout.

Yet, the team has lost a key backup for an indefinite period.

Second-year cornerback Will Blackmon sustained a broken right foot toward the end of practice Wednesday. The injury wasn't disclosed until after Thursday's practice.

"It was a just a play where he cut underneath on a route," head coach Mike McCarthy said.

Blackmon was to undergo more tests to determine the severity of the fracture.

He suffered a bone break in the same foot in a May 2006 minicamp and was sidelined for five months. Blackmon played in just four games as a rookie before being lost for the rest of the 2006 season in November with a ribs injury.

Blackmon's injury-prone career to date also includes a broken left thumb he incurred late in the preseason this year, which prevented him from opening the season as the punt returner. Blackmon was on the verge of reclaiming those return duties and was pushing inconsistent Jarrett Bush for the nickel-back role on defense.

"It's very unfortunate. I feel terrible for Will," McCarthy said. "Will was coming on strong. We all saw what he did as a returner (in the preseason). We thought he and Jarrett Bush were right there neck and neck as the No. 3 corner. It's a shame because he was contributing on special teams and was really making a move."

Blackmon was on stand-by this week as an emergency nickel back because of the uncertainty of Harris' recovery from chronic back spasms that flared up toward the end of last Sunday's win at Minnesota.

Speculation arose that Harris would need to miss a game for the first time in his career. Harris said Wednesday, though, that he anticipated playing Sunday, although he conceded that he would comply if team doctor Pat McKenzie were to decide this weekend that it's in Harris' best interests not to play.

McCarthy is hopeful that Collins, who was hurt in the last game but finished it, will play Sunday.

The defense could be without tackle Colin Cole, however. Cole suffered a mild concussion in practice Wednesday and was held out Thursday. He was sensitive to light.

Cole is No. 4 in the tackle rotation. He could be replaced Sunday by Justin Harrell, this year's first-round draft pick, who has yet to be activated for a game.


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