NFC North news, notes and quotes

Jay Cutler is taking a pounding in Chicago, the back seven in Detroit is getting a critical look, and fumbles are catching on over in Green Bay. After three weeks of preseason play, get the skinny on the other teams in the NFC North.


In just over five quarters of preseason action, Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 10 times.

He's also been picked off twice, both in Saturday night's third straight preseason loss, in which the first-team offense failed to score despite playing into the third quarter.

"We have a lot to improve on," center Olin Kreutz said. "We're nowhere near where we want to be."

The first-team offense played through the first possession of the second half, and the lack of production after halftime actually got worse. On the starters' last possession, Cutler was sacked for the fourth time. He avoided another potential sack when he scrambled for a 12-yard gain in the second quarter. In the Bears' previous game, while playing just the first half, Cutler was sacked five times.

On Saturday night, Cutler did not appear comfortable in the pocket, and he might be experiencing trust issues behind an offensive line that looks to be a long way from jelling.

"We had some protection issues last game," Cutler said. "There might have still been some little effects from that, just trusting the guys up there. We had a miscue on the first play, and from that point on it was just up and down."

After one second-half possession, the Bears made the wise decision to remove Cutler from the game rather than subject him to continued punishment and lack of success, along with the rest of the offensive starters.

"We're not playing good enough football, it's as simple as that," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We never got any consistency, and Jay was under too much pressure."

That's been the case the entire preseason, as a reworked offensive line struggles in protection. Cutler's night ended with a passer rating of 31.0 thanks to two interceptions. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 129 yards.

"That's not how we planned it," Smith said of the offensive ineptitude. "We had opportunities early on."

Cutler agreed that inconsistency plagued the offense, keeping them scoreless despite 166 yards of total offense in the first half.

"That's a great way to put it," he said. "It was just up and down, like a roller-coaster. We had some big plays, we had some good plays, and then we'd come back and miss something. We wanted to get rid of that coming into the third preseason game. Obviously we're still learning a little bit."

Right tackle Frank Omiyale, who was unimpressive at left guard last year, was called for two holding penalties Saturday night. Left tackle Chris Williams was responsible for three of the four sacks by Raiders defensive end Kamerion Wimbley in the second preseason game, and Saturday night he was beaten by Calais Campbell for another that led to a Cutler fumble, which the Bears recovered.

Cutler, who had a league-high 26 interceptions last year threw his first of the preseason when Rodgers-Cromartie stepped in front of Knox along the west sideline to thwart the Bears' game-opening drive.

"Offensively we talk about starting fast," Smith said. "But that first turnover really hurt us."

After three straight preseason losses, the Bears' offense has yet to get started at all.


  • LB Lance Briggs suffered an injury to his left ankle in the second quarter and did not return.

  • FB Will Ta'ufo'ou suffered a knee injury and did not return.

  • LB Brian Iwuh saw extensive playing time with the first team after Lance Briggs left with an ankle injury.

  • MLB Brian Urlacher sat out with a calf injury.

  • LB Pisa Tinoisamoa got all the first-team reps on the strong side because Nick Roach, who was battling him for the starting job sat out following minor arthroscopic knee surgery.

  • LB Nick Roach (arthroscopic knee surgery) hopes to be back by the start of the regular season but probably not soon enough to win the No. 1 job on the strong side, which he was competing for with Pisa Tinoisamoa.

  • CB D.J. Moore got all the first-team reps at nickel back Saturday night, playing ahead of Corey Graham.


    The offense appears more than ready to start the regular season; the defense - not so much.

    The Lions expended quite a bit of their resources in the offseason revamping the defensive line and with good results. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and defensive tackle Corey Williams were signed, Tackle Ndamukong Suh was taken with the second overall pick and they joined holdover end Cliff Avril to form a legitimate NFL-quality line.

    And it has been strong through three exhibition games - putting steady pressure on quarterbacks and plugging running lanes.

    But one unit doesn't a complete defense make. And the Lions' back seven remains as wobbly and vulnerable as ever. Teams are finding it very easy to neutralize the aggression of the front four with screen passes and short routes and pick apart the linebackers and defensive backs.

    Injuries aren't helping. Starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy, after missing most of training camp with a back injury, pulled a groin muscle on the first play of the third exhibition game Saturday against Cleveland.

    In the first exhibition game, backup middle linebacker Jordon Dizon was lost for the season with a knee injury.

    With the long-term status of Levy unknown at this point, the Lions are down to special teams ace Vinny Ciurciu as their starting middle linebacker, and another special teams player Isaiah Ekejiuba as his backup.

    The only known quantity at linebacker is aging weak-side ‘backer Julian Peterson (32). Zach Follett, who at this time last season was trying to fight his way off the practice squad, is a first-year starter on the strong side.

    The backups there are veterans Landon Johnson and Ashlee Palmer.

    In the secondary, the Lions are holding their breath that safety Louis Delmas' groin holds up. He injured it in June and played for the first time on Saturday. He was on the field for 21 plays and said he felt no ill-effects.

    The Lions would not be able to overcome losing Delmas for an extended length of time. The other starting safety, C.C. Brown, was out Saturday with a forearm injury. He is expected to be ready to start the regular season.

    But after those two, the Lions are using two rookies - undrafted Randy Phillips, who has been a pleasant surprise, and third-round pick Amari Spievey, who was converted from cornerback last week.

    The cornerback situation was expected to be better with the addition of Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade - and it would be if those guys could ever get on the field together. Wade has been out for two weeks with a broken finger.

    He will be ready to play in the opener.

    Still, the back seven is going to put a lot of pressure on the defensive linemen. For this defense to be even adequate, the front four has to great every game.


  • How good has QB Matthew Stafford been? He has completed 34 of 46 passes for 332 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He has led the offense to scores in 10 of his 14 drives. He has been sacked once.

  • RB Jahvid Best has all but wrapped up the starting spot. He's easily beaten out incumbent Kevin Smith, who is coming back from knee surgery. Best only played one series on Saturday because of tightness in his legs. His body of work - a 51-yard run and a 10-yard reception that set up the first touchdown.

  • K Jason Hanson (knee) went through his normal pre-game regimen on Saturday and looked strong. He had arthroscopic surgery on his plant leg on Aug. 3. He is expected to kick in the final preseason game Thursday.

  • The Lions continue to alternate Gosder Cherilus and Jon Jansen at right tackle. It appears, though, that Cherilus is getting closer to winning the job.

  • DE Willie Young continues to make his case for a roster spot. He sealed the win at Denver with a sack-fumble and he set up the Lions' winning score Saturday with another sack-fumble, this time crunching rookie Colt McCoy.

  • Tough Cut I: Best is the starter and by all accounts, Kevin Smith will be No. 2 at running back. Jerome Felton will be the fullback. That leaves veteran Maurice Morris, DeDe Dorsey and second-year speedster Aaron Brown fighting for two spots. Morris has been the third back most of camp and right now and Brown (50 yards total offense, two touchdowns Saturday) is ahead of Dorsey.

  • Tough Cut II: Veteran Dennis Northcutt may be the odd man out at wide receiver. Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson are the top three. Brian Clark, valuable on special teams, looks like the fourth. Northcutt, rookie Tim Toone, Derrick Williams, Eric Fowler and Mike Moore are all on the bubble should the Lions decide to keep five receivers.

  • The Lions waived S Dave Roach injured (calf) and signed S John Wendling.

  • The Lions also signed defensive tackle Jaron Baston, OT Tyler Polumbus (on waivers from Denver), OT Cliff Louis and OG Noah Franklin last week.


    While the Packers' passing game has been off-the-charts healthy this preseason, the offense has a major flaw to remedy before the start of the season.

    "The ball's been on the ground a little bit too much," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin lamented. "We haven't had a game yet where we haven't had a giveaway. That's a concern."

    Another lights-out performance by Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps in the Packers' 59-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 26 was blemished by fumbles from running backs Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.

    "I definitely think so," Rodgers responded, when asked afterward whether he has concerns about the ball-handling issues that have cropped up in the exhibition games. "Those guys got a tongue lashing at halftime. It's uncharacteristic for both of those guys."

    Thanks to Rodgers, the Packers overcame those ills to build a 28-17 halftime lead before their starters departed. Rodgers completed 21 of 29 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

    Through three games, Rodgers is 41-of-53 (77.4 percent) for 470 yards and league highs of six touchdowns and a 141.2 passer rating without an interception.

    "When we get into a rhythm like we have this preseason on offense, we're going to be tough to stop," Rodgers said. "It's fun."

    Conversely, Grant has two fumbles in three games, though his miscue against the Colts was recovered by center Scott Wells.

    Grant incidentally will enter the regular season with a career-high streak of 291 carries without a fumble — the longest active streak among NFL backs.

    His only fumble in 2009 came on a pass play in a Week 2 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Grant's last fumble by rush was Dec. 28, 2008, against the Detroit Lions.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy, who has little tolerance for fumbles, took Grant and Jackson out of the game after their first-half blunders last week. Jackson turned the ball over inside the Colts' 10-yard line.

    "We have to eliminate that from our play," McCarthy said. "It's kind of gone on a little too much. We've talked about it in practices and so far in the preseason. We train it every day, and we need to get rid of that."
    Jackson was beside himself for a while following his turnover. He didn't have a lost fumble his first three years in the league.

    "All I feel like is it's a steppingstone. It's just getting me better, hopefully," Jackson said. "You've got to learn through trial and error. But, after that, you'll probably never see that again."

    The Packers will need Grant and Jackson to be sure-handed with the football because they could be the only two halfbacks on the 53-man roster at the start of the season.

    Injuries have diminished the chances for others to make the team, particularly rookie James Starks.

    The sixth-round draft pick out of Buffalo has been out since the opening of training camp because of a pulled hamstring. Starks could wind up on injured reserve.

    Undrafted rookie Quinn Porter, an early standout in camp, suffered ankle and knee injuries the last two games, dimming his prospects for surviving the final roster cut.

    Fullback John Kuhn has the flexibility to play halfback, so the Packers can afford to stick with Grant and Jackson and free up a roster spot at another position.


  • OLB Clay Matthews returned to practice Sunday for the first time since he aggravated a left hamstring injury Aug. 7. Matthews, who will start on the left side, participated in just the opening jog-through portion. He could play for the first time in the preseason Thursday at the Kansas City Chiefs but, for sure, expects to be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener at the Philadelphia Eagles.

  • OLB Brad Jones, the projected starter opposite Matthews on the right side, also returned to practice Sunday after missing the last two games because of a shoulder injury he sustained Aug. 19. Jones went through the jog-through and then did individual work in pads away from the practice field. Jones has been fitted with a harness.

  • DE Cullen Jenkins was limited to the lengthy jog-through Sunday and didn't go through the rest of the workout in pads as he recovers from a calf strain that kept him out of Thursday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. Rookie Mike Neal started in Jenkins' place.

  • CB Al Harris has yet to be cleared for a return to the field after there was some speculation he would be in practice leading up to the game against the Colts. With only one week left in the preseason, the outlook isn't great that Harris will have enough time to get ready for the season opener, more than nine months after he underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee. Tramon Williams continues to hold down Harris' starting spot.

  • WR Greg Jennings returned to practice on a limited basis Sunday after missing Thursday's game for precautionary reasons. Jennings had been bothered by back spasms earlier in the week.

  • OL Bryan Bulaga also was strictly a jog-through participant Sunday as the rookie tries to overcome a hip flexor that flared up the previous week. The injury kept Bulaga, the team's first-round draft pick, from playing Thursday and ultimately derailed Bulaga's bid to unseat incumbent Daryn Colledge as the opening-day starter at left guard.

  • CB Brandon Underwood is out indefinitely after leaving Thursday's game with a shoulder injury. Underwood was the nickel back in the first three preseason games with Harris out. Behind Underwood on the depth chart are Pat Lee and undrafted rookie Sam Shields.

  • LB Desmond Bishop also didn't practice Sunday because of a hamstring injury he sustained Thursday. Bishop was used as a situational inside linebacker in the first half of the game.

  • RB Quinn Porter suffered a knee sprain in Thursday's game, five days after he exited the previous contest with an ankle sprain, and was out Sunday. The recent setbacks might cost Porter from making the team after the undrafted rookie had a promising start to training camp.

  • DE Jarius Wynn suffered a concussion Thursday and didn't practice Sunday. Wynn, a sixth-round draft pick in 2009, is on the roster bubble as he's no better than third on the depth chart at right end behind Jenkins and Neal.

  • WR Shawn Gore, an undrafted rookie, was released Saturday. That reduced the team's roster to 79 players ahead of the mandatory cut to 75 by Tuesday.

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