Around the NFC North

Kyle Orton still has much to prove in Chicago, specifically longevity. Calvin Johnson should be seeing the ball more often in Detroit, although that hasn't happen yet. And Ryan Grant's production, or lack of it, will be scrutinized during the bye. Get those stories and many more notes from the Vikings' divisional rivals.

Before a bronze bust of Kyle Orton is commissioned for delivery to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, consider this:

Rex Grossman had eerily similar numbers after seven games in 2006.

Orton's passer rating is 91.4; Grossman's was 89.6.

Orton has thrown for 1,669 yards; Grossman had thrown for 1,639.

Orton has connected on 143 of 230 passes, a 62.2 completion percentage. Grossman had completed 130 of 216 passes for 60.2 percent.

As we have seen in the past, a half-season does not an NFL career make.

The Orton bandwagon is becoming more crowded with each week, and fans and media continue to suffer more hamstring pulls each week attempting to hop a ride as the impressive performances continue from the 25-year-old Purdue product, who, by the way, is less than three months younger than Grossman was during his spectacular 2006 season.

But it may be time to chill for a while and lessen the expectations on Orton. After the upcoming off week, two of the Bears' next three games are against the Titans at home and the Packers in Green Bay. Both of those defenses rank in the league's top 10 in passing yards allowed and in the top five in interceptions.

This isn't a prediction of impending doom for Orton — not by a long shot. He has a legitimate chance to be the long-term answer that the Bears have sought at quarterback for years. He has accomplished what Grossman did with a weaker supporting cast.

Orton is operating behind an offensive line that is not as talented or experienced as the one that protected Grossman and allowed him to be sacked just 21 times the entire season. The following year, that offensive line aged faster than dog years, but in 2006 it was still a quality, cohesive and experienced group. Orton has already been dropped 14 times this season, even though he has shown better mobility and escape ability in the pocket than his critics had given him credit for.

The running game was probably a bit better in 2006, considering Thomas Jones picked up 1,210 yards and it was the golden age of Cedric Benson, which unfortunately for the Bears lasted just half a season. Rookie Matt Forte may be a more talented all-around running back than either of them, but he's cooled off after a hot start, and again, he does not have the benefit of running behind a quality offensive line.

The Bears are better at tight end now than they were in 2006 because of Greg Olsen, who continues to look more and more like a difference-maker in the passing game. But the current wide receivers are not as accomplished as the 2006 group, which included emerging big-play deep threat Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, who was still a legitimate go-to target when he wasn't tossing teammates under the bus.

That's another thing Orton and Grossman have in common — tread marks courtesy of Muhammad.

Orton overcame that, and two years in exile while Grossman got his chance, but he has emerged stronger, both mentally and physically, and has exhibited all the qualities of an NFL quarterback.

But it's still too soon for enshrinement.

NOTES

  • QB Kyle Orton has thrown 116 consecutive passes without being intercepted, dating back to the fourth quarter of Week 4.

  • RB Matt Forte managed just 56 yards on 20 carries vs. the stingy Vikings run defense, and he has not had a run of longer than 20 yards since the season opener.

  • TE Greg Olsen caught a personal season-best six passes for 74 yards and has 16 catches in the past four games for 237 yards.

  • WR Rashied Davis had just three catches for 24 yards, but his 22 receptions and 254 yards are tops among the Bears' wideouts.

  • WR Devin Hester caught two passes for 22 yards before suffering a bruised quad, but he should be fine by the next game on Nov. 2.

  • CB Corey Graham, starting his fourth game in place of injured Nate Vasher (hand), had 11 tackles and is sixth on the team with 37. He also had his first interception.

  • SS Kevin Payne had a game-high 15 tackles, his team-best third interception and his first sack of the season.

  • DT Tommie Harris had four tackles, one more than his total in the first six games, and he also had his first sack of the season.

  • WR Marty Booker had his biggest day of the season with three catches for a team-high 79 yards, including a 51-yard TD.

  • P Brad Maynard averaged a whopping 47.5 net yards on four punts, including two inside the 20. He leads the NFL with 18 punts inside the 20.


    DETROIT LIONS


    When the Lions traded Roy Williams to the Cowboys last week, part of the thinking was, "Hey, they've still got Calvin Johnson!"

    But in their first game without Williams, the Lions still had trouble getting the ball to Johnson — who is now their undisputed top playmaker, if he hadn't been already.

    Johnson finished Sunday's 28-21 loss at Houston with a career-high 154 receiving yards, but that's deceiving. He caught only two passes — a 58-yard Hail Mary on the last play of the first half, which amounted to nothing, and a 96-yard touchdown in the third quarter. (He also caught a pass for a two-point conversion.)

    The Lions threw to Johnson only two other times. One pass, he dropped. The other was broken up.

    "There are no stars on an 0-6 team," running back Kevin Smith said. "But I do agree he is a beast and we want to get him the ball. We can't throw him the ball on every play. Now that Roy is gone, it is kind of like he is going to attract more people now."

    Detroit coach Rod Marinelli said coverage was an issue. Sometimes the Lions called a play for Johnson, but the coverage dictated the ball went somewhere else.

    Protection was an issue at times, too. The Lions would call a play for Johnson, and quarterback Dan Orlovsky wouldn't have a chance to get the ball to him.

    But this has been going on for a while. Johnson has caught four passes or fewer in each of the last four games.

    And other teams have those same issues and still find ways to get the ball to their top receivers.

    The Texans run the same type of offense the Lions do, with a zone running scheme setting up a passing attack led by a highly drafted receiver named Johnson. They got the ball to Andre Johnson, the third overall pick in 2003, 11 times for 141 yards.

    "It started with the run game," Marinelli said. "They did a great job early, and a lot of his passes that he caught were in zone coverage where you're moving up to stop the run. They did a nice job.

    "We started off early obviously slow, couldn't stop the run very well, and now you're committing more people to the run game, which opens that up. If you can run the ball and keep the dogs off you, it opens up opportunities for your receivers."

    So what can the Lions do for their Johnson?

    "We've got to get it to him more," Marinelli said. "No question."

    How do they do that?

    "Throw it to him," Marinelli said.

    "Throw it to him," Orlovsky said.

    That would be a start.

    NOTES

  • QB Dan Orlovsky posted a career-high 99.6 passer rating Sunday at Houston, but that is deceiving. He threw for 265 yards and a touchdown, but 154 yards of that and the TD were on two plays to Calvin Johnson. A 58-yard Hail Mary on the last play of the first half amounted to nothing. Orlovsky is expected to get 80 percent of the snaps again this week and another start, however.

  • RB Kevin Smith ran for 21 yards and a 26-yard touchdown on back-to-back plays Sunday. But otherwise, he had only 14 yards on eight carries. He has not started the past two games.

  • RB Rudi Johnson has started the past two games — and replaced injured quarterback Jon Kitna as an offensive captain — but he hasn't fared much better. He had only 8 yards on six carries Sunday.

  • TE Michael Gaines came into the season wanting to prove he could be a complete tight end, not just a blocker. But even though Dan Campbell went on injured reserve, Gaines has not established himself as a receiver. He had only two catches for 11 yards Sunday.

  • WR Calvin Johnson has caught four passes or fewer in each of Detroit's last four games, after catching at least six passes in both of the Lions' first two games. The Lions say they have to get the ball to their top playmaker more often.

  • WR Mike Furrey benefited most from the trade of Roy Williams, catching six passes for 89 yards Sunday. He had only eight catches for 52 yards entering the game.

  • WR Shaun McDonald was supposed to be more involved in the offense. But he was mauled on a deep pass — no call — and finished with an odd stat line: no catches for minus-7 yards. On the last play of the game, he caught a lateral and then sent a lateral out of bounds.

  • S Dwight Smith has a foot injury that the Lions fear could keep him out awhile. He went for a CT scan Monday, but the Lions did not release the results.

  • CB Travis Fisher hasn't played the past two games because of a knee injury. He dressed but didn't play Oct. 12 at Minnesota. He warmed up but was inactive Sunday at Houston. He said he felt he was moving well Sunday but the coaches decided not to use him. He said he hoped it was only for health reasons.

  • DT Chuck Darby warmed up and was close to playing Sunday, but the Lions kept him out because of a calf strain.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The Packers coaches were going to use the first half of this bye week to get a head start on game-planning for the team's next game, Nov. 2 at the Tennessee Titans, and do some self-scouting of the first seven contests.

    One player whose performances would be thoroughly assessed is featured back Ryan Grant.

    Although fully recovered from a preseason hamstring injury that forced head coach Mike McCarthy to limit his carries to no more than 15 in the first four games, Grant hasn't returned to the form of when he was the best back in the league the final three months of last season.

    He finally had his first 100-yard game of 2008 in the Packers' 34-14 rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Grant, though, needed 31 carries to get to 105 yards. The lackluster per-attempt average of 3.4 yards came a week after Grant averaged all of 2.7 yards on a career-high 33 carries in Green Bay's win at Seattle.

    "I think everybody knows — me and the coaches were talking (after Sunday's game) — there were definitely yards left out there on the field," Grant said.

    For the season, Grant is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and has only one touchdown, which also came Sunday on an 11-yard run.

    What's more, Grant has drawn the ire of McCarthy and running backs coach Edgar Bennett by putting the ball on the ground three times in the last five games. Two of the fumbles went for turnovers.

    "I know Edgar Bennett is frustrated by it," McCarthy said. "We need to do a better job there. All of our guys that carry the football need to be conscious of protecting. We practice it every day."

    Grant, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the regular season last year, acknowledged before the game Sunday that flaws in his running style so far this season are the primary culprit in his having few explosive gains.

    "Knee drive, I have to keep my knees up a little more when I'm running," Grant said. "I felt like I could've seen a little faster, reacted a little faster (to holes created by his blockers), too. Just across the board, little fundamentals."

    Perhaps a silver lining for the Packers in Grant's murky start this season is that his first 100-yard rushing game of 2007 came in Green Bay's seventh game (like this year), when he replaced an injured DeShawn Wynn.

    NOTES

  • CB Al Harris is expected to be eased into practice when the team reconvenes Oct. 27 following its bye week. Harris has been sidelined since suffering a lacerated spleen in the Sept. 21 game against Dallas. He was on the field last week for the first time since suffering the injury, doing an assortment of conditioning drills. If Harris can make it through a full week of practice next week, he could be cleared to play in the Nov. 2 contest at Tennessee.

  • SS Atari Bigby hasn't played since Week 2 because of a hamstring injury, but the two-week lull until the Packers' next game should improve his chances of getting back in the lineup.

  • DT Justin Harrell, on the physically-unable-to-perform list, won't be rushed back to the active roster. Harrell, the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2007, practiced last week for the first time since the end of last season after he underwent two surgeries to repair a herniated disk in his back. He needs more time to show the coaches he's ready for game action, and the club has two more weeks to evaluate Harrell before having to make a decision on his status.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers has played incredibly well the last three weeks with a painful sprained throwing shoulder. Rodgers' passer rating in all three games has been more than 100. In that stretch, he has completed 67 of 95 passes (70.5 percent) for 707 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception. Rodgers has a season passer rating of 98.8, tied with Buffalo's Trent Edwards for fourth in the league.

  • RB Ryan Grant had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season (with 105 yards in 31 carries) and also scored his first touchdown (on an 11-yard run) in the Packers' 34-14 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Grant, though, is averaging a meager 3.4 yards per carry this season.

  • WR Donald Driver moved past former teammate Antonio Freeman for the all-time lead in receiving yards at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Driver, in his 10th NFL season (all with the Packers), has 3,494 yards. Freeman had 3,477. Driver jumped ahead of Hall of Famer James Lofton into second place in franchise history for career receptions with 532, two more than Lofton. Sterling Sharpe holds the club record with 595.

  • WR Greg Jennings had season lows of three catches and 32 receiving yards Sunday. Jennings, however, continues to lead the league in receiving yards with 685, 56 more than Houston's Andre Johnson in second place. Jennings is averaging 18.5 yards per reception.

  • TE Donald Lee had a game-winning, 12-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter Sunday, putting the Packers ahead to stay 10-7. It was only the second scoring reception this season for Lee. His season numbers (19 catches for 141 yards) are significantly down from last season, when Lee had a career-best year with 48 receptions for 575 yards and six TDs.

  • FS Nick Collins, who didn't have an interception last season, is tied for the league lead with three other players, including Packers CB Charles Woodson, with four interceptions. Collins helped the Packers pull away from the Colts in the second half Sunday, intercepting a deflected pass and running 62 yards for a touchdown. Collins has scored twice on interception returns this season.

  • SS Aaron Rouse, who has been filling in for the injured Atari Bigby, capped the Packers' scoring Sunday with a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The second-year player's first scoring play as a pro tied the franchise record for longest interception return, attained by Tim Lewis against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 18, 1984.

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