Around the NFC North

The Vikings don't play this weekend, but here are some of the top storylines for the rest of the NFC North teams. The Bears have suffered a lack of a sack attack lately, the Lions are looking to put some punch back in their lineup, and the Packers will likely be turning back the clock with their offensive line.


If the 4-3 Bears don't put more pressure on the Cardinals' Kurt Warner Sunday than they've put on opposing quarterbacks in their last three games, they'll be looking at a .500 record at the halfway point of the season.

Defensive left end Adewale Ogunleye, the team's leading sacker with 4.5, went so far as to say he doesn't think the Bears can win if they don't disrupt Warner.

"My mindset is, if we don't get to Kurt, pressure him (and) sack him, it's going to be a long day," Ogunleye said. "With that said, there's a lot of pressure on our backs, a lot of pressure on my back, to get to Kurt."

In their first four games this season, the Bears had 14 sacks. But, in the last three games, losses to the Falcons and Bengals and a victory over the Browns, the Bears had a grand total of one sack.

This week they know the best way to slow down one of the NFL's most explosive offenses is to do to Warner what the Panthers did last week, get after him. Warner was sacked twice and pressured into five interceptions and a fumble.

If Warner is allowed time to throw to his talented targets — wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston — the Bears won't be able to contain all of them.

Last season, en route to the Super Bowl, each of Warner's top three targets had over 1,000 receiving yards. Fitzgerald (47 catches, 509 yards, five touchdowns) is well on his way to duplicating that feat this year. But Boldin (35 catches, 404 yards, one touchdown) has been slowed by a sprained ankle, which kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday, although he has vowed to play Sunday. Breaston has picked up the slack with 30 catches, 400 yards and a team-best 13.3 yards per reception.

"They have probably the best receiver in the game," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said of Fitzgerald. "I love watching both of them play, Anquan and ‘Fitz,' and they have Steve Breaston, and they have good backs and they have Kurt Warner. They have the tools. As long as they can protect and get those balls out, those guys will make plays."

Yet the Cardinals have shown a tendency to give the ball away this season, committing 18 turnovers.

"You watch their tape this year, and the people who have had success vs. them have done a pretty good job of taking the ball away from them," middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "They're an offense that's going to make their plays. They've got too many great players out there. Our goal is to take the ball away, have big plays and try to contain their big ones."

Back in 2004, when Warner was playing for the Giants, he was sacked four times in one game by Alex Brown in a 28-21 Bears victory.

"We need the sacks," said Brown, who's second on the Bears with 3.5 sacks. "We need to force the turnovers, we need to get the ball, (get) tipped balls, make him throw the ball sooner than he wants to, stuff like that."

More than ever, this week, it's what's up front that counts for the Bears.

"We've got to create havoc in the passing game," Ogunleye said. "It starts with the defensive line because you can't expect our secondary to cover those guys for long. They're just too good."


  • WR Devin Hester missed a second straight day of practice with a mildly sprained ankle, but he is expected to play Sunday.

  • WR Johnny Knox would move into a starting role if Devin Hester (ankle) can't play Sunday. Knox, a fifth-round rookie from Abilene Christian is third on the team with 310 receiving yards on 24 catches.

  • DT Tommie Harris (knee) was a full participant at Thursday's practice after being limited on Wednesday.

  • CB Charles Tillman is likely to have primary responsibility for Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday. He leads the Bears with two interceptions, and is tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles.

  • WR Earl Bennett, who is second on the team with 25 catches and 334 receiving yards, would replace Devin Hester (ankle) as the No. 1 punt returner. Bennett has averaged 15.8 yards on four punt returns this season.


    The Lions need to get one offensive weapon back. They need to get another one in gear.

    Wide receiver Calvin Johnson has missed two games with a right knee injury. He was listed as limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and coach Jim Schwartz said he would be a game-time decision Sunday at Seattle.

    But Johnson continued to look good in the portion of practice open to reporters, and he sounded somewhat optimistic that he would be able to return against the Seahawks.

    "We're going to just be careful, do what I can do," Johnson said. "As long as I don't have any setbacks, I think it'll look brighter for Sunday."

    Johnson said he felt no pressure to return because of the Lions' struggles on offense without him. But the Lions need him back not only because of the plays he makes, but because of how he opens up the offense for others.

    "He's not just a guy that you can bump and run with because he's so big," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "You've got to put help over the top a lot of times, and teams don't like to single him up. It changes their philosophy."

    Running back Kevin Smith could use a safety out of the box. He is likely to play after leaving Sunday's game against St. Louis with a shoulder injury — the second such problem he has had this season — and knows he needs to produce better.

    Coach Jim Schwartz has talked about breaking big runs. Smith's longest is 20 yards. He averages 3.1 yards per carry.

    "We're all looking to kind of quiet the critics that Detroit doesn't have a running game," Smith said. "Because I get the ball first, I want to be that tempo-setter and that lead dog. I think enough's enough."

    The Lions are trying to give Maurice Morris and rookie Aaron Brown a few more carries, while keeping Smith as the No. 1 back.

    "We've got to, between the three of them, come up with a productive plan in the run game to win," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "We haven't gotten there yet."

    Smith bristled and declined to comment when asked if the coaches were increasing competition. But earlier he talked about feeling heat.

    "The coaches have expectations," Smith said. "Of course you want to prove to them that you can do your thing, but the most pressure is coming from myself, because I didn't come in this league to be a bottom-list rusher. ...

    "I've got to stick with it. If it's not going my way, there's two things you can do: You can give up, or you can get better. There's only one option for me."


  • RB Kevin Smith was listed as limited Thursday after sitting out Wednesday because of a shoulder injury. He likely will play Sunday at Seattle.

  • QB Matthew Stafford was listed as limited Wednesday and Thursday. He said he had more soreness than usual after returning from a right knee injury Sunday, but he said it was no big deal. He will play Sunday.

  • WR Calvin Johnson was listed as limited Wednesday and Thursday, and coach Jim Schwartz said he would be a game-time decision Sunday. But Johnson seemed somewhat optimistic that he would play.

  • DE Jason Hunter was listed as limited Wednesday and Thursday. He has missed two games with an ankle injury.

  • DE Dewayne White was listed as limited Wednesday and Thursday. He returned to the lineup Sunday from a hamstring injury.

  • FB Jerome Felton was listed as limited Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury. He did not play Sunday.

  • DT Grady Jackson was listed as limited Wednesday and did not practice Thursday. But that has been the routine for the 36-year-old who had knee surgery in the off-season.


    As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to don their throwback bright orange uniforms for the first time, the Packers also will be turning back the clock in the matchup Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

    The moves haven't officially been made, but all indications are Green Bay will have veteran bookend tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher on the field together for the first time in 11 months.

    Clifton and Tauscher received plenty of the reps at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, with the starting offense for the second straight day in practice Thursday.

    "(They) have put together two good practices," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're going to take the whole week's work (with them). But, we're definitely further ahead than the past two weeks, as far as their availability and the production."

    Clifton hasn't played in four of the last five games because of a recurring right ankle sprain. He would regain the starting spot that rookie T.J. Lang filled the past two weeks.

    Tauscher is considered game-ready for the first time since he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee Dec. 7 last season. Since re-signing with the Packers on Oct. 12, nine months after he underwent reconstructive surgery, Tauscher's workload in practice gradually increased, and he's expected to unseat first-year starter Allen Barbre at the spot Sunday.

    Clifton, 33, and Tauscher, 32, were mainstays in Green Bay's starting lineup since their rookie seasons in 2000.

    "It's comforting because those guys have been playing at a high level for a long time," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "It's nice seeing their faces in the huddle. ... It's good having those guys back. Those guys bring a lot of character to our team, and when they're healthy, they're very good players. They've shown that in the past."

    The Packers are hoping that this latest change on the line — it would be the fourth different starting quintet this season — can mollify what has been ailing them through seven games. Rodgers has been sacked a league-high 31 times.

    "It's a whole unit thing," Tauscher said. "Obviously, the pressure and the emphasis is on the offensive line because the number is so high. As a whole group, no doubt about it, we need to play better up front."


  • QB Aaron Rodgers, as expected, didn't practice for a second straight day. Rodgers is nursing a sprained toe and a sprain of the other foot. The plan is to have him practice in some capacity Friday. He should be OK to make the start Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

  • WR Donald Driver missed another day of practice. He is recuperating from a neck injury stemming from a stinger he sustained in the last game. The team is hopeful Driver can practice Friday. If he doesn't practice this week, head coach Mike McCarthy said Driver still could get the go-ahead to play Sunday.

  • CB Charles Woodson returned to practice on a full-time basis Thursday after being given a day off to rest a sore hip that he's had the past couple weeks. Woodson, who leads the team with four interceptions, will be fine to make the start Sunday.

  • TE Jermichael Finley has yet to get back on the field since suffering a knee sprain two games ago. It's looking more and more likely that Finley will miss another game.

  • WR Jordy Nelson isn't expected to play for the third straight game because of a knee sprain. Nelson is considered ahead of Finley in the recovery process.

  • C Jason Spitz continues to be bothered by recurring lower back spasms and hasn't returned to the field. He hasn't been able to contribute on the offensive line in the last three games. Scott Wells will remain the starter.

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