Around the NFC North

The Bears aren't happy with their defense, which is supposed to be their strong suit. The Lions are struggling to get their running game changed over to a successful path. And the Packers could be without one of their defensive stars for the opener against the Vikings.

CHICAGO BEARS

Coach Lovie Smith is not pleased with the Bears' defense, which is supposed to be the team's strong suit, especially after Thursday night's 37-30 preseason loss to the 49ers.

"Defensively, after we looked at it in detail, we have a lot of improvement to make," Smith said. "We're better than that. It's as simple as that. There's no need for panic or anything like that, but that's not acceptable, and we'll play better defense in the future."

One problem is that the Bears will have precious little game action to make the improvements since the starters will only make token appearances in the preseason finale Thursday in Cleveland.

"It's what we can do in practice," Smith said. "We haven't decided exactly how much we're going to play our guys in this (last) game. We're going to do whatever we need to do to get ready for the Colts, so that may be a little bit more (at practice) than what we normally do."

Having allowed 37 points and 425 total yards to a 49ers offense that was the NFL's worst last season, the Bears are rightfully concerned about what could happen in the regular-season opener against the Colts, who were No. 3 in scoring last season and No. 5 in total yards.

Smith said the coming practices would more closely resemble those from training camp, but even though missed tackles were a major problem vs. the 49ers, he said his team would not resort to live tackling in practice.

"I don't think you need to," he said. "We haven't ever (done that), and we don't plan on doing that right now. That's not the answer. We made some mistakes (Thursday) night. I wouldn't say that it was all tackling."

Well, what else was it? Fits within the scheme? Missed assignments?
"All of the above really," Smith said. "We had some missed tackles; we made mistakes. We didn't play as hard as we need to from time to time. We got in position to make some plays, and we didn't."

Some defensive players didn't seem overly concerned, pointing out that it's still the preseason.

"A lot of us are trying to pace ourselves, and that's myself too," said 25-year-old defensive tackle Tommie Harris. "It's difficult the older you get to go out in a game and know that none of this stuff matters. But you still have to play full speed; you still have to go hard. Now it's up to us. I think we need to turn up the pace a little more, change our attitude a little more. But I'm not going to panic. I think our guys are capable of doing a great job."

The Bears have already allowed 90 points while losing each of their first three preseason games, and veteran safety Mike Brown said the defense can't hide behind the excuse that the preseason doesn't count.

"That's a horrible excuse," Brown said. "There was a lot at stake out there (Thursday). We wanted to come out and show what type of defense we're going to be for the season. If we play like that, obviously we're going to be a pretty bad defense. It's going to be a replay of how we were last year — 28th, 29th, 30th in the league."

The Bears were actually 28th in total yards allowed last season and 16th in points allowed in a 7-9 season. In 2006, the Bears finished fifth in yards and third points allowed en route to Super Bowl XLI. Defensive players have talked frequently about duplicating their accomplishments from 2006, but so far, that's all it's been — talk.

"We talk about it, but talking about it and doing it are two different things," Brown said. "We wanted to come out and show the people that we can be a dominant defense. Everyone just has to look in the mirror, see what type of player they want to be, see what type of defense we want to be and go from there. Because if we play like we did (Thursday) night, we're not going to win many football games."


DETROIT LIONS

The biggest preseason issue for the Lions has been the running game. After firing pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the Lions committed to the run this season.

It is the heart of their team approach — from opening up the field for wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams, to keeping the pass rush away from quarterback Jon Kitna, to controlling the clock and keeping the defense off the field.

It has been a work in progress. The Lions have pounded the run in practice, but they struggled to run in their first three exhibitions.

When running back Kevin Smith finally broke free and ran for a 35-yard touchdown in the third exhibition game against Cleveland, the rookie celebrated his first NFL score by just sitting on his knees in the end zone.

In the game, Smith, the expected starter, had two carries for 45 yards and a touchdown, but also eight carries for zero yards.

"It's a sigh of relief, especially with me, because I take pride in it," Smith said. "So when I'm out there gaining zero yards or one yard, it doesn't matter whose fault it is, because it feels like my fault. It doesn't matter if seven guys were free to hit me. It still feels like there was something I could have done. It does feel good when you get in there."

Smith has 86 yards on 22 carries in the preseason. Veteran Tatum Bell has only 26 yards on 16 carries.

The Lions point out that they have installed a new zone-blocking scheme, a zone-blocking scheme requires chemistry, and chemistry requires rep after rep after rep.

Kitna, a 12-year veteran, said his experience has shown teams installing new running systems take off after their bye weeks. The Lions' bye week falls after their third game this year.

"It's going to take some time," Kitna said. "It will. You can't just change your whole philosophy on how you run it and expect it to just click overnight."

The Lions also caution that you can't get a read on the running game in the regular season because the starters come out so quickly. They don't get a real chance to get into rhythm, and they don't get a chance to wear down the defense.

"That's how the running game is," Kitna said. "A lot of times, it's two, it's three, it's negative-two, it's nothing, and then all of a sudden, that big one hits.

"The running game is like that boxing match where a guy keeps hitting somebody in the body. It doesn't really look like much early. But later on, they just get tired of getting hit in the body, and then they let their guard down."

That said, there is a sense of urgency.

"It's got to get better," coach Rod Marinelli said. "It's got to be more consistent. We had a couple that broke, which is good. But what I want is a punishment.

"I want to punish a defense. I want to take their legs out of them so they can't rush. That's what I'm trying to do. Will we run for 2,000 yards? I don't know. But I want to be physical."

"It's frustrating for us as much as anybody to not see it go quicker, to not see more big plays run off," center Dominic Raiola said. "I'm anxious for the regular season to start, and we'll see what happens."


GREEN BAY PACKERS

The Packers weren't at full strength on defense since training camp started, and the unsettling scenario could be true for the Sept. 8 season opener against Minnesota.

A chest injury to linebacker A.J. Hawk was a source of concern as the preseason concludes this week.

The team's medical staff gave Hawk a non-binding prognosis of week to week after he suffered what was termed a sprain while making a tackle of Cincinnati tight end Ben Utecht in Green Bay's first preseason game Aug. 11.

"They definitely won't predict the future for me," Hawk said. "I'm just doing what they let me and what I can to get back out there. They definitely want to err on the side of precaution. I respect ‘em, and I'm going to listen to ‘em."

The injury is an unusual setback for Hawk, the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2006. He hadn't missed any practice time or a game in four years at Ohio State and his first two years in the NFL before he was relegated to the sideline the last three weeks.

"It's a new challenge that I have to face," Hawk said. "I'll get through it, and I'll be all right after this."

Fortunately for the Packers, they're stocked with depth at linebacker to get by in the interim without Hawk. Brandon Chillar, the former St. Louis Ram whom Green Bay signed as a free agent in the offseason, has been filling in for Hawk on the weak side after initially battling Brady Poppinga for the starting job on the strong side.

Green Bay spent the bulk of the preseason short-handed on the defensive line.

Run-stuffing tackle Ryan Pickett wasn't available from the outset because of a hamstring injury, though he's expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Fellow tackle Justin Harrell is a candidate to go on the physically-unable-to-perform list after aggravating a back injury before camp opened. Medical issues have kept Harrell, the team's first-round draft choice in 2007, from being a reliable contributor his first two years in the league.
Pass-rushing specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has been unavailable most of the preseason because of soreness stemming from a surgically repaired knee in the spring.

The injury list for the defense grew some more in the Packers' 27-24 win at Denver on Friday night.

Starting safeties Atari Bigby (ankle) and Nick Collins (neck) were knocked out of the game in a span of three plays in the second quarter. The injuries weren't considered to be serious.

The rash of physical maladies for the unit this preseason isn't comforting with the start of the season around the bend.

The short-handed defense had a rough outing in the first half against Denver's starters. The Broncos scored on all three of their possessions, including two touchdowns. One of Denver's touchdown drives covered the maximum 99 yards.

The Broncos amassed 206 yards, including 91 on the ground, and converted four of six third downs in the opening two quarters.

"We weren't as sharp as we have been," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We need to tackle better. That's two weeks in a row that the run defense was not as productive as it has been. Getting off the field on third down, that's the strength of our defense. We're better than we showed."



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Coach Lovie Smith is not pleased with the Bears' defense, which is supposed to be the team's strong suit, especially after Thursday night's 37-30 preseason loss to the 49ers.

\"Defensively, after we looked at it in detail, we have a lot of improvement to make,\" Smith said. \"We're better than that. It's as simple as that. There's no need for panic or anything like that, but that's not acceptable, and we'll play better defense in the future.\"

One problem is that the Bears will have precious little game action to make the improvements since the starters will only make token appearances in the preseason finale Thursday in Cleveland.

\"It's what we can do in practice,\" Smith said. \"We haven't decided exactly how much we're going to play our guys in this (last) game. We're going to do whatever we need to do to get ready for the Colts, so that may be a little bit more (at practice) than what we normally do.\"

Having allowed 37 points and 425 total yards to a 49ers offense that was the NFL's worst last season, the Bears are rightfully concerned about what could happen in the regular-season opener against the Colts, who were No. 3 in scoring last season and No. 5 in total yards.

Smith said the coming practices would more closely resemble those from training camp, but even though missed tackles were a major problem vs. the 49ers, he said his team would not resort to live tackling in practice.

\"I don't think you need to,\" he said. \"We haven't ever (done that), and we don't plan on doing that right now. That's not the answer. We made some mistakes (Thursday) night. I wouldn't say that it was all tackling.\"

Well, what else was it? Fits within the scheme? Missed assignments?
\"All of the above really,\" Smith said. \"We had some missed tackles; we made mistakes. We didn't play as hard as we need to from time to time. We got in position to make some plays, and we didn't.\"

Some defensive players didn't seem overly concerned, pointing out that it's still the preseason.

\"A lot of us are trying to pace ourselves, and that's myself too,\" said 25-year-old defensive tackle Tommie Harris. \"It's difficult the older you get to go out in a game and know that none of this stuff matters. But you still have to play full speed; you still have to go hard. Now it's up to us. I think we need to turn up the pace a little more, change our attitude a little more. But I'm not going to panic. I think our guys are capable of doing a great job.\"

The Bears have already allowed 90 points while losing each of their first three preseason games, and veteran safety Mike Brown said the defense can't hide behind the excuse that the preseason doesn't count.

\"That's a horrible excuse,\" Brown said. \"There was a lot at stake out there (Thursday). We wanted to come out and show what type of defense we're going to be for the season. If we play like that, obviously we're going to be a pretty bad defense. It's going to be a replay of how we were last year — 28th, 29th, 30th in the league.\"

The Bears were actually 28th in total yards allowed last season and 16th in points allowed in a 7-9 season. In 2006, the Bears finished fifth in yards and third points allowed en route to Super Bowl XLI. Defensive players have talked frequently about duplicating their accomplishments from 2006, but so far, that's all it's been — talk.

\"We talk about it, but talking about it and doing it are two different things,\" Brown said. \"We wanted to come out and show the people that we can be a dominant defense. Everyone just has to look in the mirror, see what type of player they want to be, see what type of defense we want to be and go from there. Because if we play like we did (Thursday) night, we're not going to win many football games.\"




The biggest preseason issue for the Lions has been the running game. After firing pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the Lions committed to the run this season.

It is the heart of their team approach — from opening up the field for wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams, to keeping the pass rush away from quarterback Jon Kitna, to controlling the clock and keeping the defense off the field.

It has been a work in progress. The Lions have pounded the run in practice, but they struggled to run in their first three exhibitions.

When running back Kevin Smith finally broke free and ran for a 35-yard touchdown in the third exhibition game against Cleveland, the rookie celebrated his first NFL score by just sitting on his knees in the end zone.

In the game, Smith, the expected starter, had two carries for 45 yards and a touchdown, but also eight carries for zero yards.

\"It's a sigh of relief, especially with me, because I take pride in it,\" Smith said. \"So when I'm out there gaining zero yards or one yard, it doesn't matter whose fault it is, because it feels like my fault. It doesn't matter if seven guys were free to hit me. It still feels like there was something I could have done. It does feel good when you get in there.\"

Smith has 86 yards on 22 carries in the preseason. Veteran Tatum Bell has only 26 yards on 16 carries.

The Lions point out that they have installed a new zone-blocking scheme, a zone-blocking scheme requires chemistry, and chemistry requires rep after rep after rep.

Kitna, a 12-year veteran, said his experience has shown teams installing new running systems take off after their bye weeks. The Lions' bye week falls after their third game this year.

\"It's going to take some time,\" Kitna said. \"It will. You can't just change your whole philosophy on how you run it and expect it to just click overnight.\"

The Lions also caution that you can't get a read on the running game in the regular season because the starters come out so quickly. They don't get a real chance to get into rhythm, and they don't get a chance to wear down the defense.

\"That's how the running game is,\" Kitna said. \"A lot of times, it's two, it's three, it's negative-two, it's nothing, and then all of a sudden, that big one hits.

\"The running game is like that boxing match where a guy keeps hitting somebody in the body. It doesn't really look like much early. But later on, they just get tired of getting hit in the body, and then they let their guard down.\"

That said, there is a sense of urgency.

\"It's got to get better,\" coach Rod Marinelli said. \"It's got to be more consistent. We had a couple that broke, which is good. But what I want is a punishment.

\"I want to punish a defense. I want to take their legs out of them so they can't rush. That's what I'm trying to do. Will we run for 2,000 yards? I don't know. But I want to be physical.\"

\"It's frustrating for us as much as anybody to not see it go quicker, to not see more big plays run off,\" center Dominic Raiola said. \"I'm anxious for the regular season to start, and we'll see what happens.\"




The Packers weren't at full strength on defense since training camp started, and the unsettling scenario could be true for the Sept. 8 season opener against Minnesota.

A chest injury to linebacker A.J. Hawk was a source of concern as the preseason concludes this week.

The team's medical staff gave Hawk a non-binding prognosis of week to week after he suffered what was termed a sprain while making a tackle of Cincinnati tight end Ben Utecht in Green Bay's first preseason game Aug. 11.

\"They definitely won't predict the future for me,\" Hawk said. \"I'm just doing what they let me and what I can to get back out there. They definitely want to err on the side of precaution. I respect ‘em, and I'm going to listen to ‘em.\"

The injury is an unusual setback for Hawk, the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2006. He hadn't missed any practice time or a game in four years at Ohio State and his first two years in the NFL before he was relegated to the sideline the last three weeks.

\"It's a new challenge that I have to face,\" Hawk said. \"I'll get through it, and I'll be all right after this.\"

Fortunately for the Packers, they're stocked with depth at linebacker to get by in the interim without Hawk. Brandon Chillar, the former St. Louis Ram whom Green Bay signed as a free agent in the offseason, has been filling in for Hawk on the weak side after initially battling Brady Poppinga for the starting job on the strong side.

Green Bay spent the bulk of the preseason short-handed on the defensive line.

Run-stuffing tackle Ryan Pickett wasn't available from the outset because of a hamstring injury, though he's expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Fellow tackle Justin Harrell is a candidate to go on the physically-unable-to-perform list after aggravating a back injury before camp opened. Medical issues have kept Harrell, the team's first-round draft choice in 2007, from being a reliable contributor his first two years in the league.
Pass-rushing specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has been unavailable most of the preseason because of soreness stemming from a surgically repaired knee in the spring.

The injury list for the defense grew some more in the Packers' 27-24 win at Denver on Friday night.

Starting safeties Atari Bigby (ankle) and Nick Collins (neck) were knocked out of the game in a span of three plays in the second quarter. The injuries weren't considered to be serious.

The rash of physical maladies for the unit this preseason isn't comforting with the start of the season around the bend.

The short-handed defense had a rough outing in the first half against Denver's starters. The Broncos scored on all three of their possessions, including two touchdowns. One of Denver's touchdown drives covered the maximum 99 yards.

The Broncos amassed 206 yards, including 91 on the ground, and converted four of six third downs in the opening two quarters.

\"We weren't as sharp as we have been,\" head coach Mike McCarthy said. \"We need to tackle better. That's two weeks in a row that the run defense was not as productive as it has been. Getting off the field on third down, that's the strength of our defense. We're better than we showed.\"


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