NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears defense is showing signs of life, which could make them more dangerous. The Lions are using a quarterback injury to their advantage in trying to confuse Pittsburgh. And the Packers' defensive scheme against the Vikings is being called into question.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears' defense will spend a good portion of its bye week resting, but not resting on its laurels.

While the group has played fairly well so far — tied for 11th in points allowed, 14th in yards allowed and fifth in sacks — no one is satisfied.

"It's still early," said defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who is second in the NFC with 4.5 sacks. "We've got a lot to improve on. We can't get too excited about the way we've played because we've still got 12 games to go. 3-1 doesn't do anything for you."

The 3-1 Bears trail the first-place, 4-0 Vikings by a game in the NFC North. Asked for his early evaluation, coach Lovie Smith said he has been pleased with some aspects of the defense's play, but disappointed in other areas.

"I think we've played at a 3-1 pace," Smith said. "I'm not trying to run around the question, but that's saying that we're not where we need to be, especially with takeaways. I'm disappointed with the takeaways but pleased at how hard they've played, how they've finished games. We're going to be a good football team, (and) we're a good defense, but we can take another step, and that's what we'll do this second quarter (of the season)."

Smith has stressed the importance of defensive takeaways since he came to Chicago, but the Bears have just six so far, which is tied for 14th in the NFL and leaves them dead even in the turnover-takeaway department. Even in last season's non-playoff campaign, the Bears were plus-5.

Still, there are some bright spots.

"A lot of young guys have come in like (linebackers) Nick Roach and Jamar Williams," Ogunleye said. "And you're seeing (defensive end) Mark Anderson playing (much) better. "These young guys are coming in and doing a really good job."

The Bears have had their share of injuries, but they haven't been hurt that badly by the losses.

"A lot of things didn't happen the way we wanted them to happen with all the injuries," defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. "(The bye) is perfect for us right now to get everybody back. The games have been ugly. We're winning ugly, but it's a win. When you look at a ‘W,' you don't see next to it, ‘Well, these guys had 300 yards in the first half.' It's a ‘W,' or it's an ‘L.' We have three ‘W's' right now, and we plan on building on that and constantly helping this organization get better and get to the Super Bowl."

BY THE NUMBERS: 31.3 — Bears kickoff-return average, the best in the NFL. Five different players have returned kicks, led by Johnny Knox with nine for 322 yards and an NFL-best 35.8-yard average.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm getting tired of getting hit first and then reacting. It's good we're finishing strong, but against a really, really good team, it might be hard. A team might have a really good defense and make our offense struggle a little bit, and it might be hard for us. You have to get going, we have to jump on teams faster." — Bears DE Adewale Ogunleye on how the Bears have trailed in all four of their games, three of which they've won.

NOTES

  • Although there remains some debate as to whether Johnny Knox dropped the football just before or just after crossing the goal line on his 102-yard kickoff-return TD Sunday, he was nevertheless named the NFC special teams player of the week.

    "I looked at it, and it was kind of close," Knox said. "I'll try to learn from it. Next time if I get the opportunity to score, I'll just try to hold on to it a little bit longer."

    Knox's big return was the second longest in team history, behind only a 103-yarder by Hall of Famer Gale Sayers on Sept. 17, 1967. His three kickoff returns totaled 147 yards, and he leads the NFL with a 35.8-yard average.

    Knox said he's seen replays of his return ESPN, which spot shadowed ball boy Darryl Magee running nearly stride for stride with him along the sideline in order to retrieve the ball after the play.

    "I talked to him about it," Knox said of the University of Illinois student from north suburban Waukegan. "We got a laugh out of it. He's pretty fast."

  • WR/RS Devin Hester is seventh in the NFL with a 10.3-yard punt-return average, a major improvement from last year's 6.2-yard aberration.

  • P Brad Maynard has dropped nine of his 18 punts inside the 20 and is ninth in the NFL with a net average of 40.9 yards.

  • QB Jay Cutler is No. 6 in the NFL in fourth-quarter passer rating at 111.5.

  • RB Adrian Peterson did not practice Wednesday and may not be available for the Bears' next game, Oct. 18 against the Falcons, meaning the Bears would probably have to sign another running back to help Garrett Wolfe with the backup duties.

  • RB Garrett Wolfe, the only healthy backup to Matt Forte, has 45 yards on 11 carries and two catches for 12 yards.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Once again with the Lions, the question is at quarterback. But it isn't a controversy entering Sunday's game against the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. It's a cat-and-mouse game regarding the health of rookie Matthew Stafford.

    Will Stafford start against the Steelers? Or will veteran Daunte Culpepper get the playing time he so desperately craves to prove he can still play at a high level in the NFL?

    Stafford suffered a right knee injury in Sunday's 48-24 loss at Chicago. He reportedly suffered a dislocated - or partially dislocated - kneecap. But the Lions will not confirm that.

    The Lions aren't saying much of anything, other than that Stafford is day to day and it is possible he will play against Pittsburgh. But it was how they said virtually nothing that raised eyebrows Wednesday.

    Coach Jim Schwartz generally does not discuss injuries during the season for competitive reasons. He refers reporters to the injury report the NFL requires teams to file by 4 p.m. listing player's practice participation.

    But this time, Schwartz announced Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (thigh) did not practice, while not discussing any details or any other players. He said he was just doing reporters a favor.

    "It's a little different than other positions," Schwartz said. "I normally won't do that. But this day was a special day. It was a different set of circumstances and things like that. Out of respect to you guys, I didn't want you guys to have to wait till 4 to be able to report it."

    Did Schwartz want the Steelers to know Stafford didn't practice?

    "I don't particularly need to have that word out," Schwartz said. "He didn't practice today. They're going to find out. It's not going to affect their practice today because they've already practiced today and they'll find out now rather than at 4 o'clock. That's not going to change what they did today. They would have found out eventually, but I'm not asking you guys to put it out.

    "You guys have a job to do. But there's no ulterior motive. There's no ulterior motive from a competitive standpoint. We're not playing possum. We're not doing one of those things."

    Less than an hour earlier, though, the Steelers seemed to be focusing on Stafford in conference calls with Detroit reporters. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley said he was studying Stafford, not veteran Daunte Culpepper.

    "Mainly I've been watching film on Stafford more right now, because I feel like he's going to play," said Woodley, who played at Saginaw High and Michigan. "I'll check out the other quarterback after practice today."

    Why does Woodley think Stafford will play?

    "I just believe he is," Woodley said.

    Woodley said the Steelers believed that as a team. And asked if he expected to see Stafford, coach Mike Tomlin said: "Based on what Jim's saying at this point, I am, yes."

    Schwartz sort of laughed when that was relayed to him. All he has been saying is that Stafford is day to day and it is possible he could play Sunday.

    "I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," Schwartz said. "I don't know what's going to happen on Friday, what's going to happen on Sunday. I know that he wasn't able to practice today, and if he was, he would've, and he wasn't."

    Stafford wasn't available for comment, either. Culpepper declined to talk.

    SERIES HISTORY: 30th meeting. Series tied, 14-14-1. Lions are 2-9 vs. Steelers since 1966. Last meeting was Jan. 1, 2006, when Steelers won season finale at Pittsburgh, 35-21. Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL at Ford Field, their last appearance in Detroit.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 132 — Consecutive games Jeff Backus has started at left tackle for the Lions - every single one since they drafted him in the first round in 2001 - the longest streak among all active NFL offensive linemen. Backus has been selected as the Lions' 2009 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. The East Side Athletic Club of Baltimore presents the award each year to a member of each of the NFL's 32 teams. "Jeff takes great pride in being a true professional, who comes to work each day, practices and plays hard, and plays through injuries," Lions coordinator of athletic medicine Dean Kleinschmidt said in a news release. "Despite all of the significant injuries that he has had over the years, it is almost impossible to talk Jeff into missing even a practice, let alone a game."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Let's win. Let's starting winning. We're playing some tough teams to do it against, but you've got to win or I know where it goes." - K Jason Hanson, in his 18th season in Detroit, on the 1-3 Lions facing Pittsburgh at home and Green Bay on the road in their next two games.

    NOTES

  • RT Gosder Cherilus did not practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury. His status is uncertain.

  • DT Sammie Hill did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury. He missed Sunday's game.

  • DE Dewayne White did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. He missed Sunday's game.

  • S Kalvin Pearson did not practice Wednesday because of a quad injury. He missed Sunday's game.

  • S Ko Simpson did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. His status is uncertain.

  • LB Ernie Sims was limited Wednesday because of a shoulder injury. He left Sunday's game and didn't pay the previous week, but is expected to play this week.

  • DT Grady Jackson was limited Wednesday, but that has been the routine for the 36-year-old vet who had off-season knee surgery.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Charles Woodson wasn't the only player who had some choice words about the game plan for the Packers' defense that unfolded in Green Bay's 30-23 loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.

    Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre, a former teammate of Woodson and several other players on Green Bay's defensive side, didn't hold back after his heavily watched first game against the Packers to stick it to them with a scathing critique.

    Favre had just diced and sliced defensive coordinator Dom Capers' new 3-4 scheme for 271 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-31 throwing.

    "I think their scheme, more than anything, enabled us to hit some of those big plays," Favre said. "I think, if anything, we were able to take advantage of their scheme."

    Favre was especially critical of how Woodson and fellow veteran cornerback Al Harris are being used in the defense, which was overhauled from the 4-3 scheme Favre went against in practice for 16 years until the Packers traded him to the New York Jets after he un-retired in August 2008.

    "Al and Charles have always played bump and run, in your face, and to take them off of that and to play them back (in zone coverage) has got to be a difficult transition for them," Favre said.

    Woodson's postgame gripes Monday had nothing to do with his positioning on the field and everything to do with how others were aligned. He indirectly pointed the finger at Capers, head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson for personnel decisions made and repercussions that ensued in the first four weeks of the season.

    The 2-2 Packers are in their bye week and won't play again until Oct. 18, when they will host the Detroit Lions.

    Woodson's frustration with how the defense performed against Favre - he faced next to no pressure in a scheme designed to be aggressive and heavy on blitzing, wasn't sacked and didn't throw an interception - compelled him to bring up the name of Anthony Smith.

    The Packers cut Smith, a safety they signed in the offseason as a restricted free agent who was a product of the 3-4 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the end of the preseason. The move caught many by surprise because Smith displayed playmaking skills in practice and the exhibition games and seemingly was pushing incumbent Atari Bigby for the starting job at strong safety.

    With his job secure following the release of Smith, Bigby promptly suffered a serious knee sprain in the Sept. 13 season-opener and remains out indefinitely.
    The Packers haven't been able to find a suitable replacement.

    Aaron Rouse didn't cut it as Bigby's fill-in in Week 2 and was subsequently released.

    Derrick Martin, acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens before the season started, took over the last two games. Martin, though, was guilty of being out of position to provide over-the-top help on a few of Favre's big throws Monday. Martin was replaced in-game by Jarrett Bush.

    "My mind keeps going back to Anthony Smith," Woodson said. "I don't know if we win this game if we have Anthony still on the team. But, the decision to get rid of a guy that knows this defense in and out and made plays for us in the preseason, not being able to have a guy like that who can come in when Atari goes down, that's a big dent in this defense.

    "If the outcome would've been different, who knows, but I think we would've played some of those things a lot better," Woodson added.

    McCarthy downplayed Woodson's comments the next day.

    "I don't think I have a problem (with him) at all," McCarthy said. "I have talked to Charles about Anthony Smith, and I'll say this about Charles Woodson, he's as competitive a player that we have not only on our football team but probably in the National Football League.

    "I'm sure that a lot of that was emotional, emotionally driven. These are things that are talked about. I don't ever shy away from an opinion that does not agree with mine. Every decision we do make here is obviously with a lot of thought. I don't think we have an issue."

    McCarthy acknowledged, however, that getting Bigby back on the field, possibly for the next game, would be of help for a secondary that is out of sorts in the early going this season.

    "Having Atari back would definitely give us the experience there in the communication aspect of it," McCarthy said. "The ability to have (free safety) Nick Collins playing more in the back end is definitely a strength of our safety play. ... That's something that we need to clean up. It's definitely factored in our first four games."

    NOTES

  • CB Will Blackmon is headed to injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee on a kickoff return in the second quarter of the loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. Blackmon handled all of the returns and will be replaced in the interim by receiver Jordy Nelson.

  • LT Chad Clifton is expected to be back on the field next week after the Packers have their bye. Clifton didn't play in the last two games because of a severe ankle sprain. If he can make it through the week of practice, he should be back in the starting lineup for the Oct. 18 game against the Detroit Lions.

  • LG Daryn Colledge, who replaced Chad Clifton at tackle the last two games, dropped out of Monday's contest early in the fourth quarter with a sprained right knee. The injury isn't considered serious, and Colledge is optimistic he'll be ready to play against the Lions.

  • SS Atari Bigby also has a chance to resume practicing next week and possibly will be ready for the next game. The starter has been sidelined since suffering a knee sprain in the Sept. 13 season opener.

  • S Derrick Martin, who filled Atari Bigby's spot the last two games, suffered a bruised throat in the game Monday and had to stay overnight in a Minneapolis hospital for observation. Martin returned to Green Bay on Tuesday and should be OK for next week.

  • RB Brandon Jackson has been given a shot to get back on the field next week. He has yet to play in a game because of a lingering high ankle sprain he sustained late in the preseason.

  • LB Jeremy Thompson wasn't available the last two games because of knee inflammation but should be OK to return to the field next week.

  • LB Desmond Bishop suffered a bruised rib in Monday's game. The injury isn't considered serious, so Bishop should be back on the field after the bye.

  • RB DeShawn Wynn sustained a wrist sprain Monday. He is expected to be fine coming out of the bye.


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