NFC North News
Date: Sep 14, 2005
The Bears are lamenting their lack of a running game, the Lions are pleasantly surprised by their defense, and the Packers are preparing for life after Javon Walker. Get news and notes from the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ divisional rivals.
The Redskins and Bears entered SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game in similar situations.
Both teams had strong defenses and young, inexperienced quarterbacks. Common sense should have dictated that the offensive game plan rely heavily on running the football to take pressure off the quarterback. But only the Redskins followed that plan. They ran 40 times for 164 yards. The Bears ran 18 times for 41 yards.
Bears offensive right tackle Fred Miller cited multiple reasons for the failure of the running game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Redskins were giving us some different looks where we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a guy blocked and sometimes the running backs have to make someone miss or find the right hole,Ã¢â‚¬? Miller said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Normally thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a couple holes that the running back can choose from, but when thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just one and he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hit it, then you have a bad play, and sometimes we just didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t block it up.Ã¢â‚¬?
The only surprise in the outcome was that the Redskins didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t win by a greater margin than 9-7.
The Bears have invested approximately $88 million in their offensive line in salary and bonuses, and coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Ron Turner have repeatedly stressed that they want to be known as a running football team. But the Bears called almost twice as many pass plays (31) as run plays.
Smith admitted they should have run the ball more.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There are a lot of things we probably should have done,Ã¢â‚¬? the BearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ coach said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When you lose, you look at a lot of things that you would like to have done differently. We would like to have run the ball better. (But) once you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get the running game going, you know you have to rely on the pass a little bit when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re behind. But weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve said all along that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to be a running football team so, yes, we probably should have run it more.Ã¢â‚¬?
Both defenses knew that they would be facing offenses that needed to establish a presence on the ground, and neither offense found much success in the first half. The BearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Thomas Jones rushed nine times for 22 yards, a 2.4-yard average. The RedskinsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Clinton Portis rushed 12 times for 35 yards, a 2.9-yard average. Neither team had a run of longer than 8 yards.
The difference was the Redskins stayed on the ground in the second half, when Portis broke a 41-yard run and had 86 of his 121 yards. Jones got just 6 more carries for 9 yards, and rookie Cedric Benson added 10 yards on 3 attempts.
BensonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s workload will increase Sunday against the Lions and, unlike in the opener, he will get in the game before the fourth quarter.
When Bears weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs clothes-lined Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey for a sack that separated him from the football early in the second quarter, it had all the signs of a game-changing play.
Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris recovered the ball at the BearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 19, ending a Redskins scoring threat, firing up the visitors and riling up the partisan crowd of 90,138. The hit also knocked Ramsey out of the game with a neck injury. But the BearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ offense went three-and-out, and because the hit was in the vicinity of RamseyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s head, Briggs could face a fine from the league, although he wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t flagged on the play.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“As far as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m concerned, I made a play,Ã¢â‚¬? Briggs said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Whatever they say is whatever they say. When I go in to make a tackle, especially in a critical moment like that, when theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going in to score and we have the opportunity to get off the field, you make that play. (Ramsey) tried to duck underneath, I brought my arm right up under his chest, and he fell back and the ball came loose. As far as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m concerned, it was a legal hit.Ã¢â‚¬?
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the way middle linebacker Brian Urlacher saw it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get fined,Ã¢â‚¬? said Urlacher, who also had a sack and tied with Mike Brown for the unofficial team lead with 9 tackles. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t throw the flag, how can they fine him? I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t understand the NFL. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s weird how they work sometimes. It was a good hit. The referees didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it was a penalty, so it must not have been a big deal. It was a great play if you ask me.Ã¢â‚¬?
Mark Brunell, who replaced Ramsey, didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think so.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In my opinion the hit was illegal,Ã¢â‚¬? Brunell said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a pretty shady blow to the head.Ã¢â‚¬?
The Bears were No. 25 last year in penalty-yard differential, and that negative theme recurred on Sunday, when they committed 8 penalties for 86 yards in losses, while the Redskins were flagged five times for just 45 yards.
At lower levels of football, coaches punish players prone to penalties by making them run stadium stairs, which Bears coach Lovie Smith said isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a bad idea.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I guess we could probably run stairs, too,Ã¢â‚¬? he joked. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you do it? I guess we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have any (stairs) out there.Ã¢â‚¬?
Smith is dead serious about reducing the number of infractions, though. Three consecutive false start penalties torpedoed a fourth-quarter opportunity.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They have to stop,Ã¢â‚¬? he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If a guy continues to do it, then you have to look elsewhere. I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be able to take care of that. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not going to blame the crowd or anything like that. We play in noisy stadiums always. We had problems with the penalties, but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think that will be a problem the rest of the way.Ã¢â‚¬?
FS Todd Johnson replaced Mike Green in the second quarter Sunday, although the Bears havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t decided whether or not to make the move permanent.
WR Bernard Berrian netted minus-3 yards on two punt returns and could be replaced this week.
CB Rashied Davis was the BearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ best punt returner in the preseason, and could get a shot at the job this week.
CB Jerry Azumah was limited to the nickel spot in the opener, but his workload could be increased this week. The Bears and Azumah also want him to resume his kickoff-return role, which earned him a Pro Bowl trip in 2003.
WR Justin Gage caught one pass for 10 yards in the opener and doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a firm hold on his starting job, although coaches like his size (6-4, 212).
All summer, the Lions have been looking for something substantial, something on which they could pin their hopes for a competitive season in the NFC North, and they might have found it in their season-opening 17-3 victory against Green Bay.
For months, the focus has been on the offense Ã¢â‚¬â€ quarterback Joey Harrington, budding star running back Kevin Jones, wide receivers Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams (all first-round draft picks), and veteran tight end Marcus Pollard.
Could they move the ball consistently? Could they be productive in the red zone? Would Harrington blossom in his fourth NFL season?
The prevailing sentiment was Ã¢â‚¬â€ and still is Ã¢â‚¬â€ that the Lions offense is still a work in progress with coach Steve Mariucci and first-year offensive coordinator Ted Tollner tinkering with personnel, play selection and adjustments in their West Coast offense.
The defense was the wild card, but Ã¢â‚¬â€ judging by the initial performance against longtime tormentor Brett Favre Ã¢â‚¬â€ it might be something the Lions can lean on while they continue to develop their offense.
The Lions defenders held the Packers to 46 net yards rushing, intercepted Favre twice, sacked him four times (three by defensive linemen) and held the Packers without a touchdown for the first time in 77 games. The three-point production was Green BayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lowest output since Favre took over as the starter in 1992.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They did a great job of giving us field position, getting us the ball, keeping Green Bay out of the end zone ... they kept us in the ball game,Ã¢â‚¬? Harrington said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I told every one of them that and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll tell them again: The defense kept us in the ball game.Ã¢â‚¬?
The result is that the Lions got an important win against a division opponent and got off to the kind of start they needed to eliminate at least some of the self-doubts that are part of their 16-48 record over the past four seasons.
They will go to Chicago with a 1-0 record Ã¢â‚¬â€ alone on top of the NFC North Ã¢â‚¬â€ with a chance to tack on another win against another team experiencing the struggles they have endured in recent seasons.
If the defense can continue to play at the level it established in the season opener, their chances seem to be improving.
Free safety Terrence Holt has a pretty good idea of what the LionsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ defense should be and he likes what he saw in the season opening 17-3 win against Green Bay.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That was a big statement,Ã¢â‚¬? said Holt. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what we try to do all the time. We just try to go out and play. Like I was telling some of the guys, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a blue collar city and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a blue collar defense.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We may give up a few yards here and there, but the most important thing is to keep them out of the end zone. We were able to do that today (against) a great offense that can beat you in so many ways. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re able to run the ball, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re able to pass the ball, they have a great quarterback, a Hall of Fame quarterback.Ã¢â‚¬?
Holt, who got some playing time late in his rookie year but has basically waited two seasons for a chance at a starting job, made the best of his first start as the No. 1 free safety.
Although he was not credited with any tackles, he was around the ball in coverage most of the game. He broke up a pass, intercepted PackersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ quarterback Brett Favre late in the game, and also recovered teammate Kenoy KennedyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fumble following an interception earlier in the game.
Nobody felt worse than tight end Marcus Pollard after having a touchdown pass from quarterback Joey Harrington knocked out of his grasp in the end zone in the first quarter but he knew heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d get another chance. And he did.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s throwing to me, I feel like I should catch it,Ã¢â‚¬? Pollard said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He told me, Ã¢â‚¬ËœIÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m coming to you, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m coming to you; get open.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ And it happened. He threw the ball and I caught it.Ã¢â‚¬?
Pollard was happy with the touchdown catch, but he was still displeased with himself for dropping the ball he had caught as he crossed the goal line two plays earlier. Strong safety Mark Roman arrived a split-second after the ball and knocked it loose.
Pollard had been open for several steps and it was suggested that perhaps it would have helped if Harrington had gotten the ball to him more quickly, but he rejected the notion.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He had to go through a play-fake, find the safeties and then find me,Ã¢â‚¬? Pollard said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The ball comes out, (but) I should have caught it. The guy made a great play knocking it loose from me, but I feel like I still should have caught it.Ã¢â‚¬?
Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron worked from the press box in the LionsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ season opener against Green Bay, but the Lions arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t saying if it was a permanent move.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“CanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tell you that,Ã¢â‚¬? coach Steve Mariucci said Monday.
It appears, however, that Jauron, the former Chicago head coach, will be upstairs for game 2 Sunday against the Bears at Soldier Field.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think he liked it,Ã¢â‚¬? Mariucci said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think it went smoothly enough; he may continue it.Ã¢â‚¬?
The Lions felt it was especially important for Jauron to have the press box vantage point for the game against the Packers.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He had been down last year and he had been down during the preseason,Ã¢â‚¬? Mariucci said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We put him upstairs so he could see personnel coming on and off the field. The Packers do a good job of changing their personnel groups, doing it late enough so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult to match, so he felt he would have a better vantage point being up, seeing all that, making the call and we signal it to the other coaches.Ã¢â‚¬?
PK Jason Hanson has a strained hamstring and the Lions probably wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know until at least Wednesday whether he has a chance of playing Sunday at Chicago. The team is expected to work out at least one or two veteran kickers to have a player ready to sign if Hanson canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play.
LB Teddy Lehman has missed two full weeks of practice, but is getting closer to a return to duty from a sprained knee. The Lions are expected to list him as questionable in the first injury report Wednesday.
CB Fernando Bryant will not have to have his injured jaw wired shut, but it remains uncertain whether he will be able to get into a helmet and practice this week. Bryant was injured on a play in which he tried to tackle Green Bay WR Javon Walker. He dove after for Walker and apparently slammed chin-first into the turf.
LB Alex Lewis will be listed on a day-to-day basis with a sprained ankle suffered on the Lions first kickoff against the Green Bay Packers. Lewis is one of the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fastest linebackers and best special teams coverage players.
KR/PR Eddie Drummond, who led the NFL in punt returns (13.2 yard average) and was second in kickoff returns (26.6), found virtually no running room against the Packers special teams. He had 12 yards on six punt returns and 29 yards on two kickoff returns.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Quarterback Brett Favre raised eyebrows and drew some criticism in NFL circles during the spring when he openly rebuked teammate Javon Walker for skipping the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s off-season workouts because of unhappiness with his contract.
Among FavreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s harsher sentiments about the Pro Bowl receiverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ploy was, Ã¢â‚¬Å“We can win without him.Ã¢â‚¬?
Four months after he made the utterance, Favre and the rest of the Packers will soon discover if they indeed can start winning without their top wide receiver.
Head coach Mike Sherman confirmed Monday afternoon that Walker will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Walker sustained the injury the midway through the third quarter of a 17-3, season-opening loss at Detroit.
Surgery has yet to be scheduled for Walker, who returned on the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chartered plane Sunday night in a wheelchair.
Life after Walker this season for the players and coaches began in earnest Monday.
As difficult as the loss of Walker was a horrendous showing by the offense, which had its league-best, five-year-old streak of scoring a touchdown in 77 straight games snapped. Despite recent events, Sherman said there wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be a pity party at team headquarters.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be desperation in the locker room,Ã¢â‚¬? Sherman said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disappointment for him personally and for our team, but you have to be able to move on.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Certainly, his impact as a football player and as a person in that locker room is huge. But I think our team will be fairly resilient in regard to that. People are going to have to step forward. When you have an injury like this, as difficult as it may be, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an opportunity for other people.Ã¢â‚¬?
General manager Ted Thompson and his staff were exploring Monday whether any help can be had at receiver on the waiver wire or through a trade.
For now, the Packers will prepare Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson to be their primary receivers against Cleveland on Sunday.
Ferguson, who was outspoken in the preseason about not being utilized enough and was the subject of trade rumors with Philadelphia, will get a golden opportunity to prove heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a top-flight playmaker. His highest output his first four years in the league was a mere 38 receptions for 520 yards and four touchdowns in 2003.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just like Javon at some point, the light clicked on,Ã¢â‚¬? said Sherman, referring to WalkerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s breakout season last year with 89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 TDs. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ã¢â‚¬ËœFergieÃ¢â‚¬â „¢ for us this year has to step up and be that big-play receiver. I talked to him about that after the game (Sunday) and how we have to be able to count on him.Ã¢â‚¬?
It remains to be seen, however, if Ferguson has completely moved past his season-ending head and neck injuries late last year. A vicious clothesline hit by Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius left Ferguson temporarily paralyzed.
In SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s opener, Ferguson appeared to hold back from going for a low throw from Favre over the middle, which allowed safety Kenoy Kennedy to make an interception in the fourth quarter.
Since Ferguson will assume a bigger role in the offense, Sherman must decide whether to risk keeping him involved as a kickoff returner and a valuable coverage guy on special teams.
In the wake of Javon WalkerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s season-ending knee injury, head coach Mike Sherman said Monday thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“a sense of urgencyÃ¢â‚¬? to get rookie receiver Terrence Murphy on the field for game action.
Murphy was deactivated for SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s opener at Detroit because heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not 100 percent recovered from a torn medial-collateral ligament in his right knee, an injury sustained Aug. 17. Murphy returned to practice last week. Sherman is hopeful another week of practice will have Murphy ready for the home opener against Cleveland this Sunday.
The second-round draft pick from Texas A&M would be the No. 4 receiver behind Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Antonio Chatman.
Sherman believes the speedy Murphy can be a threat running after the catch.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I like everything about him. He hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t done anything to make me nervous about him yet,Ã¢â‚¬? Sherman said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But he hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t played a whole lot (because of the injury). So, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see.Ã¢â‚¬?
Sherman said he had Ã¢â‚¬Å“a heart-to-heartÃ¢â‚¬? meeting with embattled cornerback Ahmad Carroll on Monday morning.
Carroll, whose penchant for excessively grabbing receivers tainted his rookie season last year, was penalized four times Sunday for either illegal hands to the face or holding. Three of the infractions were enforced.
After watching game tape, Sherman called two of the penalties against Carroll Ã¢â‚¬Å“ticky-tacky.Ã¢â‚¬? However, the coach acknowledged that CarrollÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s aggressive reputation is costing him in bump-and-run coverage.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to say theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re targeting him,Ã¢â‚¬? Sherman said of the officials. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But, obviously, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re aware of him, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure any head coach that we play makes the crew aware of him, as well.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“As I said to him, he has a history and that history lives with him. There is no excuse.Ã¢â‚¬?
Sherman wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say whether Carroll has lost his starting job for the next game, with Joey Thomas a candidate to slide in. A decision is expected to be rendered Wednesday.
Likewise, Sherman withheld an announcement for at least a couple days on whether Adrian Klemm and rookie Will Whitticker will remain the starters at left guard and right guard, respectively.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They certainly have to live up to expectation in order to maintain their positions,Ã¢â‚¬? Sherman said.
Klemm and Whitticker were part of an offensive line that struggled in pass protection and was hit with five penalties.
LB NaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢il Diggs was slated to do some work on the field Monday afternoon as he continues to recover from a torn MCL in his left knee, sustained Aug. 8. Diggs didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play in the opener but is aiming to be ready for SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game against the Browns.
S Mark Roman had his best performance in his second season as a Packer with a game-high 10 tackles Sunday, two short of his career high in 2003, when he was with Cincinnati.