Around the NFC North

The Bears are making quarterbacks look good this season, the Lions' Rod Marinelli doesn't want you feeling sorry for him, and the Packers are going backwards on offense too often. Get the storylines from the Vikings' rivals around the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS

How many quarterbacks have to light up the Bears defense like a Roman candle before someone realizes there is a problem?

During Monday's press conference, coach Lovie Smith said: "We tweak our defense each week, and it's not like we play the same call each play. We'll always tweak it."

Well, by all means, let the tweaking begin.

Sunday's passive performance allowed yet another quarterback to have a milestone performance against the Bears. Kerry Collins' passer rating of 108.7 was almost 36 points higher than his 72.9 rating for the season coming into the game. He was sacked just once while throwing 41 passes, 30 of which were completed. And the Titans came into that game ranked 29th in the NFL in passing yards, with no marquee pass catchers.

That was just the latest in what has already become a long line of productive outings for opposing quarterbacks, none of whom are likely to end up in the Hall of Fame.

The Lions' Dan Orlovsky threw for a career-best 292 yards while completing 28 of 47 passes. A week before that, the Vikings' Gus Frerotte racked up a season-best 298 passing yards, completed 25 of 40, including two TD tosses, although he was intercepted four times. A week earlier, Falcons rookie Matt Ryan had a career-best 301-yard passing day and completed 22 of 30 passes with one touchdown. He was neither sacked nor intercepted. And who can forget Week 3, when Brian Griese chucked it up 67 times, completing 38 for 407 yards and two touchdowns without being sacked.

Clearly there is a problem, and it doesn't figure to get any better Sunday in Green Bay against the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, whose passer rating of 93.3 is higher than any of the quarterbacks who have previously shredded the Bears. Rodgers' primary targets, wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, form the most talented tandem the Bears have faced this season.

The Bears' two most notable defensive deficiencies have been lack of pressure on the quarterback and soft coverage.

Through nine games, it's obvious there are no elite pass rushers on the Bears roster since no one has more than three sacks. A key to the Bears defense is getting pressure with just the front four, but that has yet to happen this season, and there's no reason to expect that it will. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich and Smith, who is heavily involved in the defense, have to provide pass-rush assistance to an overpaid and underachieving defensive line.

Blitzes by linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher aren't the answer. They have one-half of a sack between them and a combined one quarterback hurry. And there should be an Amber Alert out for backup defensive end Mark Anderson, who had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006 and five last season but none this year.

The Bears need to use cornerbacks and safeties in the pass rush. If nothing else, that might at least get a cornerback in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage, where one might maybe bump a receiver. An effective jam at the line has been known to disrupt those quick, short passes thrown after a three-step drop. And those short drops are the reason the Bears' linemen can't get to the quarterback.

If the Bears take away the short stuff and force longer passes or even disrupt the timing of the shorter ones, it might give the pass rush enough time to get to the quarterback.

NOTES

  • QB Kyle Orton (sprained ankle) hopes to be back for Sunday's game, but he is expected to be limited in practice this week.

  • QB Rex Grossman has a passer rating of 59.0 in 11/2 games, nearly 32 points lower than Kyle Orton's 90.8 mark and is averaging just 4.2 yards per attempt, compared to Orton's 7.3.

  • RB Matt Forte has accounted for more than 71 percent of the Bears' rushing yardage (713 of 995) and leads the team with 37 receptions, including seven last week, tying his career high.

  • TE Greg Olsen is second on the Bears with 29 receptions and 346 yards and has 13 catches in the past three games.

  • WR Rashied Davis had his least productive game of the season last week with one catch for 15 yards, but he still leads all Bears wideouts with 28 catches and 333 yards.

  • WR Devin Hester has 21 of his 26 catches in the last five games and 271 of his 311 receiving yards.

  • LB Lance Briggs had 13 tackles plus one tackle for loss last week, vaulting him into the team lead with 78 tackles. He has finished second on the team in tackles to Brian Urlacher in each of the past three seasons.

  • LB Brian Urlacher was credited with just four tackles in Week 9, but he also had two tackles for loss. He is third on the team with 64 tackles. In seven of his previous eight seasons, Urlacher led the Bears in tackles, failing to do so only in 2004, when he missed seven games with injuries.

  • DE Adewale Ogunleye had a sack last week, giving him just 21/2 for the season, although he is tied for first on the team with six tackles for loss and is second with six QB hurries.

  • WR Brandon Lloyd missed his fifth straight game with a sprained knee last Sunday, but this time it was a coaching decision that kept him on the sidelines.

  • WR Marty Booker did not have a reception for the second week in a row and has just 11 catches for the season.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Whatever you do, don't tell Rod Marinelli to hang in there.

    "It's a way of sympathy or feeling bad for you," Marinelli said. "You don't grow."

    The Lions are 0-9, the only winless team in the NFL. Marinelli is 10-31 since becoming the Lions' head coach in 2006. He would rather take heated criticism or pointed questions — and he has gotten plenty — than have people feel sorry for him.

    "I will embrace that, and I'll listen to everything you say," Marinelli said. "I have a chance to grow. But, ‘Hey, hang in there. Things will be better.' No. I don't grow. I stay the same."

    The Lions cannot stay the same. People are clamoring for change, because they want to change the fortunes of a franchise that has won one playoff game since 1957, has gone an NFL-worst 31-90 since 2001 and is starting to lose its loyal fans. Ford Field had sold out 50 straight games since its opening in 2002. Now it has failed to sell out back-to-back games.

    But Marinelli mainly sticks to his approach.

    "I think the one thing you always do when times are tough is, don't react to what other people want," Marinelli said. "I think it's really important. ... Somebody keeps influencing you. You listen, you listen, you listen, you take it in and now you apply."

    Marinelli used a metaphor he used in his first season, when the Lions went 3-13.

    "You're in this dark tunnel, and you've got no way out," Marinelli said. "You're waiting for light, and you see that light, what do you do? Yeah, you start digging and getting out. You're waiting for somebody to do something for you.

    "See, I've always believed you stay in the tunnel, and you keep digging when you expect no light. You have the same faith when you expect no light. You have the same belief in what you're doing when you expect no light. You believe in the people you're with when you expect no light.

    "I sum that up. It answers how I go through all this every day. It's dark, and I'm going to dig, though. My shovel is sharp, and my pick is sharp, and my will is outstanding."

    Doesn't Marinelli need a different shovel?

    "No," Marinelli said. "That's where I totally disagree with you, because that's soft. You're looking for dependence on somebody else. You can blame it on your shovel. You blame it on this? No. You just keep digging with belief and expectations. That's what I do."

    NOTES

  • QB Daunte Culpepper is expected to start Sunday at Carolina. He started Sunday against Jacksonville despite only three days of practice after coming out of retirement. He went 5-for-10 for 104 yards with an interception.

  • QB Drew Stanton looked good in his NFL debut Sunday. The Lions put in a goal-line package for him and he threw his first NFL pass for a 1-yard touchdown. Then he mopped up in the fourth quarter. He showed his inexperience by taking five sacks, but he finished 6-for-8 for 94 yards.

  • RB Kevin Smith had the best day of his career Sunday with 23 carries for 96 yards. The Lions wanted to see how he would handle a full complement of carries. Expect him to continue starting and carrying more of the load.

  • RB Rudi Johnson likely will get fewer carries as a result. He had only two carries for 4 yards against the Jaguars.

  • TE Michael Gaines rebounded from his disastrous fumble with 2:17 to go Nov. 2 at Chicago with a couple of catches for 18 yards. The Lions still don't have a real threat at tight end.

  • TE Casey Fitzsimmons missed his second straight game with a rib injury. He had bruised organs and separated cartilage. His status this week is uncertain.

  • WR Calvin Johnson continues to make big plays when he catches the ball. He caught only two passes against Jacksonville, but they totaled 92 yards.

  • WR Mike Furrey suffered a mild concussion. His status will be evaluated Wednesday.

  • DE Dewayne White suffered a calf strain. He was in a boot Monday and likely will miss at least Sunday's game at Carolina. Rookie Cliff Avril is expected to replace him as the starting right end.

  • DE Jared DeVries suffered a broken hand. He was to have surgery Tuesday, and though he said he had an outside chance of playing at Carolina, coach Rod Marinelli said he would be out a week. Second-year DE Ikaika Alama-Francis is expected to start at left end.

  • S Dwight Smith has missed two games with a mid-foot sprain and declined to comment about his status.

    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    As much as shoddy pass protection and persistent struggles in run defense were at the heart of the Packers' latest setback, their continued inability to play clean football again played a major role.

    Green Bay was penalized 10 times for 80 yards in a 28-27 loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

    "It's troubling. We've got to do a better job," said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, pointing the finger at his mostly culpable unit.

    Eight of the infractions were by the offense — ranging from an intentional grounding by quarterback Aaron Rodgers that resulted in the first of two safeties by the Vikings in the second quarter to several holding and procedural gaffes that nullified big plays and backed the Packers up into unfavorable down-and-distance situations.

    Consequently, Green Bay managed only one touchdown on offense and totaled but 184 yards, its second-lowest output of the season.

    Philbin said the rash of penalties exacerbated what already was poor execution by the offense, which had seven plays for negative yards from sacks (four) and runs.

    "That's 15 (minus) plays," Philbin said. "Wow, that's a lot; it's too many. It makes it too difficult to function."

    The Packers incurred 22 penalties for 198 yards in the two meetings with the Vikings this season. Green Bay hung on for a 24-19 win in the Sept. 8 season opener.

    Through nine games, Green Bay has been penalized 72 times, tied with Arizona for worst in the NFL, and leads the league with 655 penalty yards. The San Francisco 49ers are No. 2 on the latter list with 560 yards in walk-offs.

    Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was emphatic Monday in saying that the penalties don't stem from a lack of focus and discipline by his players.

    "Are they mental errors? Are they pre-snap penalties? Unacceptable," McCarthy said. "The way we train our players, the way we practice them, everybody knows that. Now, you have your combative penalties, whether it be holding or defensive holding, contact and things like that, there is judgment to that. Do I agree with every call that the referees make? No, but it's part of the game.

    "I can't control it, but we're always going to err on the side of being more aggressive, and the players know that."

    NOTES

  • MLB Nick Barnett faces surgery in the coming days after suffering a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee during the Packers' 28-27 loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Barnett had missed only two games in his first 5 1/2 years in the league — all as a starter. The recovery timetable for players undergoing ACL surgeries is six-to-nine months, so there's a chance Barnett won't be ready to return to the field until after training camp starts in late July next year.

  • LB Brandon Chillar is under consideration to move into a starting role with LB Nick Barnett out, possibly to take over at the weak-side spot if starter A.J. Hawk is moved into the middle. Chillar, though, is nursing an unspecified shoulder injury that flared up Saturday and kept him from playing Sunday.

  • CB Jarrett Bush is a longshot to play in Green Bay's next game, Sunday at home against the Chicago Bears. Bush suffered a sprained ankle while playing special teams in the last game.

  • FS Nick Collins is tied for the league lead with five interceptions, three of which he's returned for touchdowns. Collins, who suffered a sprained toe earlier in the game but came back in, scored on a 59-yard runback in the third quarter Sunday. Collins tied a single-season franchise record with the three defensive TDs — first done by Herb Adderley in 1965 and matched by Darren Sharper in both 1997 and 2004.

  • CB Charles Woodson kept pace with Nick Collins atop the league leaders for interceptions when he grabbed his fifth pick Sunday. Woodson, an 11th-year pro, is three interceptions short of his career high, which he attained in 2006, his first season with the Packers.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers, under duress most of the game, threw for a season-low 142 yards Sunday and didn't have a touchdown pass for only the second time this season. Rodgers was knocked down by a relentless Minnesota pass rush at least 12 times, including four sacks.

  • RB Ryan Grant had a respectable outing against the Vikings' vaunted run defense. Grant had just 16 carries, but he logged 75 yards for an average of 4.7 yards per carry. Three holding penalties wiped out an additional 25 yards in gains for Grant, who had a rushing touchdown for only the second time in 2008. Grant remains stuck on one 100-yard game this season.

  • WR Donald Driver set a team record Sunday by catching a pass for the 104th straight regular-season game, eclipsing the previous standard of 103 by Sterling Sharpe from 1988 to ‘94. Driver had a game-high five catches for 46 yards against the Vikings. Driver, though, has only three touchdown receptions and has had at least 75 receiving yards just twice this season.

  • WR Greg Jennings was held to three catches for the third straight game, a span in which he's accumulated all of 148 receiving yards and zero touchdowns. Jennings had at least four catches and 80 receiving yards in each of the previous six games with four TD receptions. He is tied with Atlanta's Roddy White for second in the league with 801 receiving yards, 99 behind leader Andre Johnson of Houston.

  • TE Donald Lee was again mostly invisible in the passing game Sunday. He had a 6-yard reception on the second play of the game and nothing after that. Lee has had three or fewer catches in all but two games this season, hasn't reached 50 receiving yards once and has only two touchdown grabs.


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