video
After Thursday, the Green Bay Packers will have played half their NFC North schedule, while the Minnesota Vikings have yet to play a divisional opponent.

Yet each team enters the Thursday night game with a 2-2 record and trails the division-leading Detroit Lions (3-1).

ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down the matchup:

Demovsky: Ben, Packers LBs Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers couldn't even name the Vikings' running backs, but they knew the damage those running backs did last week against the Falcons. What makes Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata so effective?

Goessling: Well, that's still a bit of an open-ended question. They haven't been good other than last week, when they were outstanding. But I think a lot of it is the changes the Vikings made to their running game. They were running quite a bit more out of a shotgun set, with three receivers on the field to spread the Falcons' defense out. The Vikings are also starting to mix in some read-option stuff, and while that didn't result in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater keeping the ball too much on option plays, it gave defensive ends something else to think about before pursuing the running back. McKinnon is still finding his way, in terms of learning how to read a defensive front and find his holes, but when he gets fully developed, I think he'll be a dynamic running back. He is an athletic freak and has dangerous speed in the open field. Asiata is more of the workhorse, but he's also effective as a receiving threat. It's a nice tandem for now, and they have helped the Vikings weather the absence of Adrian Peterson.

Speaking of running games, it seems that the Packers are still trying to get theirs to the point where it was at last year. Will we see more of James Starks this week, and how do you think that will help Eddie Lacy?

Demovsky: Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy tried to force-feed Lacy last week against the Bears, and it didn't help him get into a groove. In the process, McCarthy ignored Starks, who played only one snap and didn't get a single carry, which was an odd strategy since Starks has actually been productive (5.0 yards per carry) in limited reps this season. It appears McCarthy has seen the error of his ways because he vowed this week that will not happen again and said Starks should touch the ball every game. For that matter, so should DuJuan Harris, who gives the Packers a change-of-pace type of back.

It's always interesting when new coaches come into the division. When the Packers lost at Cincinnati last year, they got a taste of what a Mike Zimmer defense can do (Zimmer was the Bengals' defensive coordinator). In Zimmer's first season as Minnesota's head coach, how far away is the Vikings' defense from where he would like it to be?

Goessling: It still has a ways to go. Zimmer was talking on Tuesday about the defensive line, which has typically had the freedom to chase the quarterback, no matter the cost. Well, Zimmer wants his defensive linemen to rush as a team, not overpursuing for individual sacks while opening up a lane for the quarterback to escape, and he saw too much of that Sunday. The Vikings also need to get better depth in their secondary, and I still think they will wind up looking for a more effective counterpart for safety Harrison Smith then they have on the roster. The linebackers have some promise, especially with what Anthony Barr can do, but the Vikings have still been too easy to target in pass coverage. I think it's probably going to take another draft, and another year of Zimmer working with players on his system, but the D is definitely headed in the right direction. You already see flashes of how the Vikings could have a really good defense in the future, and Barr and Smith could be stars.

It seems the Packers, on the other hand, haven't seen the desired results from their defensive changes. What has been the problem there, and do you think they will be as vulnerable to Bridgewater on Thursday (assuming he plays) as they've been to mobile quarterbacks in the past?

Demovsky: The Packers spent all offseason talking about and working on their defensive changes. The mantra was "less scheme, more personnel," meaning they wanted to simplify the number of defensive calls they had, yet at the same time utilize their personnel better. So far, the results have been about the same, although at least the secondary looks a little better with the addition of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He has played more and more each week and perhaps played his best game Sunday against the Bears. But when the Packers decided to get smaller and more athletic up front on the defensive line, it rendered them ineffective against the run so far. The issue hasn't been the mobile quarterbacks but rather just about any running back they have faced.

We didn't get to see Bears defensive end (and longtime Vikings DE) Jared Allen last week in Chicago because he was inactive, but do the Vikings miss him at all? And speaking of defensive players, what impact has the rookie Barr made so far?

Goessling: When Allen became a free agent after last season, I didn't get the sense the Vikings were terribly interested in bringing him back, largely because he wouldn't have fit in Zimmer's scheme for some of the reasons we were discussing before. Zimmer wants his defensive ends to play the run first on the way to the quarterback, and I don't think that would have fit Allen at this point in his career. Barr has been really impressive, though he still has some holes in his game, as many rookies do. Watch his sack of Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter last week; he was in man coverage on a Falcons running back, and when he saw the back was staying in to double-team Everson Griffen, Barr surged through the middle of the line and showed some elite closing speed. He's been far too vulnerable to crossing routes from tight ends and running backs, but he's also been a force against the run. The next step is for him to use his speed and size to be an asset in pass coverage, too.

It's hard to believe we've gotten this far without talking much about QB Aaron Rodgers. What's your assessment of where he's at in Year 7 as a starter, and how he feels about the Packers' direction? And, more to the point for this week's game, why has he had so much trouble with Zimmer's defenses in the past?

Demovsky: Rodgers knows this offense so well that he could call the plays himself. In fact, you wonder why McCarthy hasn't turned that over to Rodgers, especially in the no-huddle offense. The coach went into this season wanting to play fast, and one way to increase the tempo would have been to let Rodgers call the game as Peyton Manning often does. But that hasn't happened. Rodgers was so good in the preseason this year (I know, preseason is meaningless) that it has been a mild surprise that he hasn't been his usual dominant self, but he clearly hasn't found playmakers not named Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb. In fact, Rodgers barely has gotten his other receivers, Jarrett Boykin and Davante Adams, involved at all. The same goes for the tight ends. As for matching up with Zimmer's defenses, in that game last year in Cincinnati, the Bengals were able to pressure Rodgers (sacking him four times) and forced him into two interceptions (something Rodgers almost never does).

Let's wrap things up with another quarterback question. We've heard all week that Bridgewater is likely to play, but what are the chances the Vikings are just duping everyone as they did before that playoff game at Lambeau Field two years ago?

Goessling: That's a very good question, and that playoff game has been on my mind all week, too. I still would bet on Bridgewater playing; he said he's feeling much better, and he talked this week about how he played through a sprained right ankle and a broken left wrist on a short week in college. He's a tough kid, and I think he's going to play if it's at all possible. But the Vikings haven't exactly been forthright with information on Bridgewater this week, and it's not usually Zimmer's style to withhold injury updates. I highly doubt a switch to Christian Ponder would throw the Packers off, so it's possible the Vikings really are hedging their bets, rather than trying to be tricky. As I said, though, if I had to make a prediction, I'd guess Bridgewater plays.

video
video
The Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears are both 2-2 as they head into Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Bank of America Stadium.

With seven of 16 NFC teams sitting at 2-2, this could be one of those games that propels the winner in the right direction to the playoffs.

The Panthers were 1-3 heading into Week 5 a year ago and rolled off eight straight wins and 11 of 12 to win the NFC South. The Bears were 3-1 a year ago, and then finished 5-7 to miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

What's in store on Sunday? ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton and ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright are here to break it down.

Newton: Michael, why have the Bears seemingly played so much better on the road (2-0) than at home?

Wright: I don't think the sample size is large enough to definitively say whether Chicago is playing better on the road than at home, and I think you also have to take into account the talent of the opponents. The Bears opened at home against Buffalo and its bruising ground attack, then on Sunday faced Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense. In both losses, the Bears made easily correctable mistakes. In the opener, the Bears got out of their gaps too much against the run. Against the Packers, the Bears opted to play vanilla football on defense -- pressure only with the front four, with seven in coverage on the back end -- and Rodgers took advantage of the lack of pressure and coverage busts.

David, DeAngelo Williams was the latest running back to go down with an injury, and it appears the Panthers have just two running backs available to face the Bears. What will Carolina do at the position this week, and how much does the situation change the way the Panthers will try to attack Chicago?

Newton: Starting running back Darrin Reaves was signed off the practice squad two Saturdays ago as insurance. The backup would be Chris Ogbonnaya, who was signed off the street on Monday. Ogbonnaya has the most experience after rushing 49 times for 240 yards last season at Cleveland. But there’s a reason he was available, and it's probably not good.

The good news for Carolina is Fozzy Whittaker, who led the team in rushing during the preseason, is set to return after missing the past two games with a quad injury. But the issue isn't running back as much as it is the offensive line, which has been dreadful in run blocking as well as pass protection. I'm not sure Emmitt Smith could have been effective behind this group. That quarterback Cam Newton has contributed only one percent to the run game after accounting for 31.3 percent the past three seasons is an issue, as well. This could be the week he's turned loose after undergoing offseason ankle surgery and fracturing his ribs in August. Then again, it might not be.

I see the Bears rushed for 235 yards on 41 attempts in their loss to Green Bay this past week. Is this an area they can exploit against a Carolina team that has allowed just under 400 yards rushing over the past two weeks against Pittsburgh and Baltimore?

Wright: I think that's exactly what the Bears will try to do, which is interesting because this matchup reminds me a little of the last time these teams played at Carolina back in 2010. In that game, Matt Forte -- after rushing for a combined 81 yards in the previous three outings -- broke out with a season-high 166 yards on 22 attempts for two touchdowns. Getting Forte going also takes pressure off receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who have both been hobbled in recent weeks with nagging injuries.

The Bears rolled up 496 yards on offense against the Packers and came out of that game confident about what the group can do, provided it eliminates the turnovers. Seeing Carolina’s struggles the past two weeks, the Bears will definitely try to establish Forte and the rushing attack so Jay Cutler can operate effectively off play-action.

Newton seems to be getting healthier, to the point where Ron Rivera said the team can "start to expand" the offense. What exactly does that mean, especially given the situation in the backfield?

Newton: It means offensive coordinator Mike Shula could call some plays for Newton to run out of the read-option. Newton hasn't hinted at being a threat in the read-option the past three weeks. It has allowed teams to gang up on the backs, another reason the run game hasn't been effective. Newton has rushed only eight times for 33 yards. This from a quarterback who averaged 7.5 carries and 42.3 yards a game in his first three seasons. Because the staff is being cautious as Newton continues to recover from injuries -- the ankle is less of a worry -- they've taken away one of his greatest assets. I understand being cautious, but if they're going to make him a dropback passer they might as well go with Derek Anderson, who is more accurate.

While we're on the quarterback, how has Cutler performed thus far?

Wright: It has definitely been a mixed bag for Cutler, which for the Chicago fan base is unacceptable, given the seven-year commitment and big bucks invested by the franchise. After throwing two picks that led to points in the opener, Cutler performed well in the next two games (passer ratings of 119.2 and 94.7 to go with six touchdowns and no interceptions) before tossing another two interceptions Sunday in the loss to Green Bay.

What I've noticed lately is Cutler is taking more accountability for the role he played in the two losses, and seems to be working harder than before to make the corrections. Cutler seems to care more deeply about his position as leader of the offense than in years past. That has manifested itself into more consistency, despite his maddening penchant to make one or two bad decisions in a game that can result in turnovers. Working under Marc Trestman, Cutler hasn't produced back-to-back stinkers, and I don't anticipate that happening Sunday at Carolina.

Coming into the season, I expected Carolina's defense to be one of the best in the league, but the group has struggled recently against both the run and the pass. What problems have this defense experienced over the past two games, and what chances do you give the Panthers of finally rebounding this game on that side of the ball?

Newton: The staff will tell you it's a lack of discipline, that players are trying too much and losing gap control. What they won't admit is they miss defensive end Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved. Hardy could do it all. He led the team in sacks last season with 15. He was big in stopping the run. He could play end and tackle. He could drop back into coverage. He drew double-teams that made it easier for right end Charles Johnson, who is sackless through four games.

Carolina has tried to replace Hardy with three players, none of whom is as good at Hardy at any of his specialties. That's why players are trying to do too much, because they feel they have to in order to replace Hardy. The return of Frank Alexander from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy could have helped, but he was suspended Wednesday for 10 more games for a second violation.

Do I think the Panthers can turn this around? Yes. They played well without Hardy in the second game against Detroit. They overcame undisciplined play after four games last season to win eight straight. But they had Hardy. Stay tuned.

video
video
This is the Jim Schwartz Reunion Show.

For the Detroit Lions head coach turned Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, seeing Detroit at 3-1 and playing well heading into October must bring back some memories.

While it’s unknown exactly how Lions fans will treat Schwartz when he enters Ford Field on Sunday for a game for the first time since cursing at some fans in last season’s home finale, former players will almost definitely be cordial to him.

ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Bills reporter Mike Rodak break down this week’s game.

Rothstein: So this is the Jim Schwartz homecoming game. How much similarity is there in what Schwartz is running now and what he ran the past couple of years in Detroit?

Rodak: It’s almost uncanny how similar the blitz numbers are between Schwartz’s defense so far this season and his defense in five seasons with the Lions. From 2009-2013, the Lions blitzed on 23 percent of plays. Through four games with Schwartz as defensive coordinator this season, the Bills have blitzed 22.7 percent of the time. Over that time, the Lions had an identical QB pressure rate of 23 percent, while the Bills have a 24.4 percent pressure rate this season. Schwartz’s defensive line is again the strength of his team, and he’s able to use Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes in some of those wider alignments that were part of his scheme in Detroit. Schwartz has also been known for his defense’s ability to stop the run. That hasn’t changed, either; the Bills rank second in the NFL behind the Seattle Seahawks, allowing just 2.89 yards per carry.

On the flip side, how much has changed for the Lions since Schwartz left? This always seemed like a talented team that underachieved during Schwartz’s tenure. The Lions are now 3-1, so what has been different?

Rothstein: A lot has changed. Schematically, the Lions are using two tight ends a lot more than they did under Schwartz and Scott Linehan. Defensively, Detroit is blitzing a lot more than it did last season, when the Lions blitzed less than any team in the NFL. More important, though, there's more accountability this season than there was in 2013 under Schwartz. Schwartz never belittled his star players -- particularly Matthew Stafford -- publicly, but multiple players have pointed out this season that it feels like every player is treated the same under this coaching staff.

Also, Jim Caldwell is not a yeller. Not even close. He has a very calm demeanor, and with this team right now, it appears to be working. Detroit's players are buying into that and it's a big reason the Lions are 3-1. It also helps that Stafford is playing extremely well right now and the defensive front is making it hard for teams to run on the Lions. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has also been a big factor. His ability to scheme despite losing starting linebacker Stephen Tulloch and a multitude of defensive backs over the first four weeks of the season has been impressive.

Since we're talking about switching personnel, what does Buffalo get with Kyle Orton that it didn't have with EJ Manuel?

Rodak: I wouldn’t go as far as to say Orton can take over and win games where Manuel was unable, but it gives the Bills a better shot. The Bills felt as though they surrounded Manuel with plenty of weapons for him to succeed -- a strong running game with two showcase backs, a top-flight talent in Sammy Watkins, and two other capable receivers in Robert Woods and Mike Williams. It just never came together for Manuel and a shake-up was inevitable. The Bills’ hope is that Orton can take advantage of those weapons. He’s not going to be Aaron Rodgers, but if he’s better than Manuel, then the move was worth it. The Bills’ passing “attack” was the main contributor to their last two losses. It may not be the main reason why they win -- if they do with Orton -- but it takes some pressure off the defense to do all the work.

The Lions’ offense gains 76 percent of its total yards through the air, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. Even with Calvin Johnson hobbled lately by an ankle injury, how have Stafford and others been able to get it done?

Rothstein: A lot of underneath routes and Golden Tate. The Lions signing Tate gave them a legitimate No. 2 receiver and a player who could pick up the targets effectively for this particular scenario. Detroit also added Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft, and while he hasn't done much so far, his role appears to be expanding by the week. But a lot of it has to do with Stafford. He's making smarter decisions, finding the open player and showing more patience than last season, even as his line is not protecting him nearly as well as a year ago.

We talked about the defense at the top of this, so let's come back to that for this final question. The Bills are second in the league in run defense, allowing 2.89 yards a carry. Is this a defense better at stopping between-the-tackles runners or can they handle an edge guy like Reggie Bush as well?

Rodak: It starts up front with a defensive line that is unmatched. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, both Pro Bowlers last season, clog up the middle better than anyone, while Mario Williams and Hughes have buttoned up the outside. The problem, however, is a knee injury to Kyle Williams in last Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans that could threaten his availability in Detroit. If the Bills need to turn to backups Stefan Charles or Corbin Bryant, they’ll be more prone to runs up the middle. On the second level, they added Brandon Spikes this offseason, and while he has been limited in his playing time, he has brought some physicality that has added another dimension to the run defense. The Bills don’t have the fastest group of linebackers, so if the Lions want to find a way to exploit that, they should give the ball to Bush in space and see if he can make some plays.

One of the Lions’ strengths is their defensive line, and we know the impact Ndamukong Suh can have on a game. Yet the Lions' defense as a whole has allowed only 15 points per game, fourth fewest in the NFL, so surely there’s more to the defense than the front four. Where else have they excelled?

Rothstein: Teryl Austin has done a great job masking any issues the Lions may have because of injury (linebacker, slot corner) and has come up with different ways to pressure opposing offenses. It has probably helped some that there hasn’t been a ton of film on Austin’s tendencies yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if this keeps up. But four weeks in, it has been tough to face the Detroit defense. DeAndre Levy is a major reason for the success, too. He’s still pretty underrated nationally, but is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league and is always around the ball. Having a guy like that in the middle third of your defense can hide any problems.

video
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jared Allen's streak of 113 consecutive starts ended Sunday when he missed Chicago’s loss to the Green Bay Packers because of pneumonia. But the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end returned to the practice field Wednesday, saying, “Hopefully, I’ll be back up by this weekend” as the Bears prepare to face the Carolina Panthers.

Allen said he felt sick during Chicago’s win over the New York Jets on Sept. 22, but wasn’t diagnosed until two days later with pneumonia. Because of the illness, Allen lost 15 pounds, from 254 down to 239.

The Chicago Bears list Allen at 270 pounds.

Allen
“Just due to being sick, not really eating for a few days, sweating, fever; all that good stuff,” Allen said. “I feel good now, just trying to get back. I’ve been having good workouts the last couple of days; just progressing, steadily going up. I went out and did individual [drills] today, then did a nice sprint workout on the treadmill [and it] felt good. I’m more concerned about recovery time. Everything feels good right now. I think it’s just eating, rehydrating and getting all that weight back on.”

Allen stepped onto the scale before eating Wednesday and weighed in at 241 pounds. Allen expects the weight to “come back in the next day or so,” saying “it’ll get back and I’ll be ready to go.” Allen spent a couple of days taking medications before the fever from pneumonia broke, he said.

Before the Bears' game Sunday, Allen traveled to Soldier Field to meet with team doctors and was ultimately instructed to go home. Without Allen, Chicago lost 38-17 to the Packers as Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdown passes and finished with a passer rating of 151.2 against a virtually nonexistent Bears rush.

“It was brutal. It was miserable, especially [with it being] the Packers,” Allen said. “I’ve played through a lot of things, and there are just certain things that you can’t do. Trust me, it was a long-fought battle whether I was going to be able to give it a go or not. It’s one of those things that you don’t want it to come back and then end up in the hospital. So after talking to doctors, my wife and everybody, we felt that was the best plan of attack. And it was. I wouldn’t have been worth anything out there.”

Allen’s illness serves as just the latest in what has been what the defensive end calls an “interesting” turn of events through the first four games of the season. Allen missed time in the preseason to attend the birth of his daughter, in addition to being held out of the team’s third preseason game with a bruised shoulder.

Asked if he’s back to normal, Allen said, “I’m trying to. Not right now, obviously. I’m still a little light. I haven’t gotten in that rhythm or that groove of what I’m used to playing in. But you know, it’s not anybody’s fault. Preseason is preseason. I didn’t do much in preseason in Minnesota, either. I was sad I missed this game because coming out of the San Fran[cisco] game and then the New York game, I felt like I was really starting to get in the rhythm of this defense and where we were at. Even though I didn’t get [Jets quarterback] Geno [Smith] on the ground, I had some really good rushes in the fourth quarter. I really felt my game was where it needed to be going into that week. I still feel that.”

Right now though, Allen said the main goals are to regain weight and strength while building up stamina for his expected return Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Through the first quarter of the season, Allen has contributed 11 tackles with no sacks.

“I’m looking forward to this next 12 weeks,” Allen said. “I’m like, ‘What else can happen, right?’ I’ve got the injuries out of the way, got the sickness out of the way. Let’s go have fun.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears received encouraging news on the health front Wednesday with the return of five previously injured/ill starters to the practice field in advance of Sunday's road game in Carolina.

Headlining the group is wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle), who's been battling a sore ankle since Week 1 that's limited his production the two weeks to three combined catches versus the Jets and Packers.

Marshall
Marshall practiced without restrictions on Wednesday for the first time in recent memory.

"It was good to get him [Marshall] back out there at full speed," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said.

Meantime, defensive end Jared Allen (pneumonia), defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion), center Roberto Garza (ankle) and left guard Matt Slauson (ankle) were limited on Wednesday, a positive development since all four players were inactive in Week 4.

Allen said he is confident about his chances of suiting up this weekend against the Panthers. However, the defensive end did acknowledge he lost about 15 pounds during his illness, and checked-in on Wednesday morning at 241 pounds, approximately 13 pounds below his normal playing weight of 254.

The statuses of Garza, Slauson and Ratliff remain unknown for Week 5, but Trestman confirmed that Garza and Slauson will return to the starting lineup whenever they are medically cleared.

"That's the way we are going," Trestman said.

Left tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (quadriceps) were also listed as having limited participation.

Safety Chris Conte (shoulder) had full participation.

Four players sat out Wednesday: linebackers Lance Briggs (knee), Shea McClellin (hand) and D.J. Williams (neck), and safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring).
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers won't have receiver Jarrett Boykin for Thursday's game against the Minnesota Vikings and might not have him beyond then, either.

The groin injury Boykin sustained in practice last week turned out to be more severe than originally thought. Boykin also missed last Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

"I don't know if he's going to be ready for Miami," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, referring to the Oct. 12 game against the Dolphins.

Boykin began the season as the No. 3 receiver, which is essentially a starting spot considering how much the Packers use three wideouts. However, he has only two catches for 17 yards in three games.

In Boykin's absence against the Bears, rookie Davante Adams played 37 of 52 snaps and caught two passes for 18 yards. In his last three games, Adams has nine catches for 79 yards. Fellow rookie Jeff Janis also made his debut against the Bears, but played only one snap and was not targeted.

"Davante has been doing a good job," McCarthy said. "He's taking advantage of his opportunities. I would think they would tilt the coverage to Jordy [Nelson] more this week than we've seen. With that, Davante will probably have more opportunities. Jeff is ready to play. He's doing all the little things. We'll see if he gets some time tomorrow night."

For information on the Vikings' injury situation, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, check out Vikings reporter Ben Goessling's latest report.

Here's the Packers' full injury report:

Out
WR Jarrett Boykin (groin)

Doubtful
LB Sam Barrington (hamstring)
DT Josh Boyd (knee)

Probable
LB Brad Jones (quadriceps)
G T.J. Lang (not injury related)
OLB Clay Matthews (groin)
OLB Mike Neal (hip)
MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Vikings still haven't decided whether quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play on Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, they've made plans to be without linebacker Chad Greenway for a second straight game.

Greenway
Greenway, who is dealing with a broken rib and broken hand, was ruled out for Thursday's game, after he saw his 90-game starting streak come to an end on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Greenway's absence means Gerald Hodges will again start at weak-side linebacker against the Packers.

Greenway and tight end Kyle Rudolph -- who is expected to miss a total of six weeks after sports hernia surgery last week -- are the only Vikings players who will definitely miss the game. Bridgewater was listed as questionable with a sprained left ankle.

The seven other players on the Vikings' injury report -- Captain Munnerlyn, Jerick McKinnon, Josh Robinson, Michael Mauti, Brandon Watts, Rodney Smith and Jerome Felton -- were full participants in Wednesday's practice and are probable for Thursday's game.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Before getting into thick of the Chicago Bears' next matchup at the Carolina Panthers, let's first take a look at the team's first-quarter report card after a 2-2 start:

Quarterback

Jay Cutler has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's shown more discipline and better command of the offense, but costly turnovers have been an issue. If Cutler maintains his current level of efficiency, he'll set a career high in passer rating for the second consecutive season. Cutler currently ranks third in completions (102), ninth in yards (1,006) and is tied for second in touchdowns, and his passer rating is currently 94.7. Grade: B

Running back

Matt Forte finally broke through for his first 100-yard rushing performance against the Green Bay Packers and is currently tied for eighth in rushing yards (258), first in receptions at his position (24) and third in yards from scrimmage (452). Rookie Ka'Deem Carey is becoming more of a factor in the offense as well, and the Bears have employed formations that feature both backs in the game at the same time. Both backs average at least 4 yards per attempt. Grade: B+

Offensive line

Injuries in the season opener to center Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson gave cause for concern, but their replacements Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola have performed well. The group has given up eight sacks through the first four games. According to Pro Football Focus, every offensive lineman graded positively in run blocking against the Packers. Grade: B-

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
David Banks/Getty ImagesThe offseason work tight end Martellus Bennett put in is paying off for the Bears.
Tight end

Martellus Bennett ranks second in catches (29th) among tight ends, fourth in yards (295) and is tied for second in touchdown receptions (four). Bennett put in the work during the offseason to prepare for a more significant role, and he appears to have developed a strong rapport with Cutler. Bennett has scored a touchdown in all but one game, while averaging 7.25 receptions. Grade: A

Receiver

Injuries have led to slow starts for Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, who have combined for 36 receptions and six touchdowns through four games. But the duo is gradually getting back to full speed. The club's complementary targets such as Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan haven't received many opportunities to showcase their talent, but they're plenty capable. Grade: B-

Defensive line

The Bears revamped the defensive line in the offseason with the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young in addition to drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. But the group certainly hasn't met expectations as the Bears rank 20th against the run while contributing just eight sacks (linebacker Shea McClellin is responsible for a sack as well). For the Bears to gain any level of consistency on defense with the style they play, the defensive line needs to step up its game, shut down the run and pressure the quarterback. Grade: D

Cornerback

The Bears are tied for fourth in the league in takeaways (eight), and rookie Kyle Fuller deserves credit for his team-high- three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Fuller became the only NFL player in the past 20 years with three interceptions and two forced fumbles in the first three games of the season. Obviously, Charles Tillman's season-ending triceps injury hurts the position. But the Bears are in decent shape with Fuller and Tim Jennings. The Bears need better play from the nickel corner spot. Grade: B-

Safety

Chris Conte gave up 46 yards on two catches and a touchdown against the Packers and missed a couple of tackles but for the most part has performed well (two interceptions). Ryan Mundy has been a solid run defender, and provided one of the team's takeaways with his pick-six Sept. 22 against the New York Jets. Overall, the safeties still need to play a little better. But they've been much more consistent than they were in 2013. Grade: C+

Linebacker

Shea McClellin entered the season as the starter on the strong side but has been on the shelf recently with a broken hand. Perhaps that's somewhat of a blessing in disguise as it has enabled the Bears to upgrade the overall athleticism of the starting lineup by replacing McClellin with Jonathan Bostic. The group lacks consistency in terms of gap integrity and pass coverage but is tracking positively. Grade: C-

Coaching

Coach Marc Trestman caught heat for the club's clock management in the second quarter to Green Bay, and you have to admit the Bears committed a few unnecessary penalties in the defeat, not to mention the thrown challenge flag that resulted in a lost timeout. Trestman deserves credit for suspending Bennett during training camp, because the move resulted in a positive change for the tight end. And you can't deny this Bears team did manage to pull together back-to-back road wins against strong opponents. Grade: C+

Overall

The consecutive road wins at San Francisco and New York followed by the stinker at home against Green Bay point to a lack of consistency in every facet of the game, and while injuries at key positions have been an issue, Chicago's situation plays out every week all over the league. So there are no excuses here. Ultimately, the Bears will be in decent shape in the second half of the season if they can finish the second quarter headed into the bye with a record of .500 or better.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears signed cornerback Teddy Williams to the active roster off the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad on Wednesday and waived linebacker Terrell Manning.

Williams
Williams (6-foot-1, 207 pounds) played in 10 games over two seasons with Indianapolis (2012) and Arizona (2013), contributing on offense at receiver, on defense at cornerback and on special teams.

Williams came into the league with the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 and spent the majority of that season and 2011 on the team’s practice squad.

Williams broke his ankle as a senior at Tyler (Texas) John Tyler High School and decided to pursue track at the University of Texas-San Antonio, finishing his career as the school’s only four-time all-America selection.

Williams won nine conference titles (five indoor championships and four outdoors) and was named the Southland Conference’s Indoor Athlete of the Year (2009-10) and Outdoor Outstanding Track Performer (2008-10). He set school records in the 55-meter dash, 60-meter dash, 100 (9.90 seconds), 200 (20.60) and 400-meter relay.

Manning played in two games for the Bears, primarily on special teams.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers is usually at his media best when he's asked to explain his jocular lines or unusual gestures, which was the case when he discussed the pre-snap smoking motion he occasionally uses in games.

Rodgers
Rodgers
TV cameras caught him doing it again in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears, and a couple of listeners to his ESPN Milwaukee radio show asked host Jason Wilde to ask Rodgers about it.

"That was just a tribute to Jay Cutler, because there's that 'Smoking Jay' website," Rodgers said on Tuesday's show. "So I was just doing a tribute to Jay there."

Rodgers said it in a way that made it completely unclear whether he was joking or not.

"That's what it was," Rodgers insisted before backing down. "I don't know. I don't remember."

Then Rodgers said it's a dummy signal used in the no-huddle offense.

"You know, like, smoking dope; you're a dummy if you smoke dope," Rodgers said.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Linebacker Stephen Tulloch missed the first game of his career on Sunday when the Detroit Lions beat the New York Jets.

Now, he's done with surgery on his torn left ACL as well.

The linebacker, who was injured celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers against Green Bay last month, sent an Instagram message on Wednesday morning that he had surgery on the knee and deemed it successful. The injury garnered enough attention for its somewhat bizarre nature that it ended up as part of last week's Saturday Night Live Weekend Update sketch.

Tulloch had been the player manning the middle of the Detroit defense the past four seasons, where he had more than 100 tackles in each of his first three years.
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

In the Minnesota Vikings' calculations about whether Teddy Bridgewater will play on a sprained left ankle Thursday night in Green Bay, there's this to consider: The game-time forecast calls for temperatures in the low 60s, with an 80 percent chance of rain. That means if the Vikings are going to play Bridgewater, they'll have to be reasonably confident he can play on a wet surface at Lambeau Field.

Bridgewater
The Vikings could get a chance to test that out during a light practice Wednesday, when it's supposed to be raining in the Twin Cities. Bridgewater was scheduled to do some running and flexibility exercises for his ankle Tuesday. Wednesday would be his chance to do some throwing and see if he's able to plant on his left foot when he delivers. He'd also get another chance to work in wet weather; Bridgewater played without his gloves during the Vikings' final preseason game on a rainy night in Nashville.

Talking about the game on Wednesday, Bridgewater certainly sounded like a man who planned on playing Thursday night. "It’ll be very exciting to be out there on Thursday," Bridgewater said. "You talk about Lambeau Field, the history and the tradition behind that stadium. It’s going to be a great feeling just being able to play in that facility with all of the history that’s behind it."

Then again, the last time the Vikings were preparing to play a night game in Green Bay, they led everybody to believe Christian Ponder was ready to start their 2013 NFL wild card game, only to start Joe Webb. It's worth keeping that in mind, too.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
Best of the rest:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Coach Mike McCarthy tried and tried to get the Green Bay Packers running game going with Eddie Lacy last Sunday at Soldier Field, neglecting James Starks in the process.

It was the second time in four games this season that Starks failed to carry the ball.

Starks
"James Starks should touch the football every single game," McCarthy said Tuesday. "That will not happen again."

So expect Starks to have some kind of role in Thursday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Considering he has averaged 5.0 yards per carry on his limited (15) attempts this season, perhaps that could jump-start a running game that has sputtered through the first four games.

The Packers stuck with Lacy exclusively against the Bears. He carried a season-high 17 times but managed just 48 yards despite scoring his first touchdown of the season. For the season, he has averaged just 3.0 yards per carry on 53 attempts. With 161 yards at the quarter pole, he is on pace for just 644 yards -- or a little more than half of what he gained last season when he was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.

The result is this: The Packers have the 28th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL so far. If you think yards per carry is a better measure because the Packers have run only an average of 55.75 plays per game, well, the Packers aren't much better in that area, either. They rank 26th at 3.5 yards per rush.

And, according to running backs coach Sam Gash, his backs have gotten just about all they can.

"Right now, we're getting what's there," Gash said. "There are times where sometimes the runner might be a little quick getting a feel for certain plays and stuff. But right now, you don't see the production and stuff that's there, but we're trying to be as effective as we can."

One play from Sunday's game demonstrated the Packers' struggles in the run game. On second-and-7 from his own 45-yard line in the second quarter, Lacy took a handoff and angled off left tackle, at which point he ran into the back of tight end Andrew Quarless, who was blocking linebacker Jonathan Bostic and was stopped for just a 2-yard gain.

"Anticipating," Gash said of what went wrong on that play. "That's getting a feel for things and guys hitting and holding their ground and different things like that. It's just the runner for getting a feel for how things are. Once we get everybody on the same page, I think it's going to be very nice to see."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Count Josh Sitton among those not enamored with the NFL's Thursday night package.

Sitton
Two days before his Green Bay Packers play the rival Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, the veteran guard didn't hold back when asked about the quick turnaround after the Packers' 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

"It sucks, man," Sitton said Tuesday. "I hate it. Felt like crap today. Probably feel like crap on Thursday. I think it's stupid."

Sitton called the Thursday package, which airs on CBS and NFL Network, a money grab by the league.

"That's what this league is about, is about making money, which is fine," Sitton said. "I like to make money as well. But, yeah, it's tough on your body, tough on your head."

Every NFL team is playing at least one Thursday game this season. The Packers played two because they opened in the NFL's annual kickoff game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. But unlike this week, the Packers had a full week to prepare following their preseason finale the previous Thursday.

The Packers held a 90-minute practice on Tuesday, which is normally the player's day off.

"Tuesdays is typically the day that your body feels the worst," Sitton said. "I know for us in the offensive line room, that's what we always talk about. The second day, you always feel like crap. It's tough getting out there on the practice field today. But, like you said, everybody's got to do it. I’m glad we got it in Week 5 instead of Week 11 or 12 or whatever."

Coach Mike McCarthy said the players will take part in another practice on Wednesday. When asked whether it was going to be a half-speed, walk-through practice, Sitton said: "It better be."

Although Sitton may have been one of the few players to verbalize it, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show late Tuesday afternoon that he thinks other share Sitton's viewpoint.

"I think that's usually the consensus," Rodgers said on the show. "I barely got touched last week, so I don't really have any complaints, but the guys who have contact every, single play, it's tough on their bodies. I think it's even tougher playing on Thanksgiving because then you're 10, 11 weeks into it and then you have to play a short week. This maybe a little bit easier since we're only four weeks in but every week you get into this thing you're banged up.

"Like we always say, it’s a 100-percent injury rate in this league. Everybody has injuries they deal with. It's just the severity and ability to play through them if that's possible. It's tough on the bodies, but we have a nice little break after this. Hopefully we can take care of business, get to 3-2 and have a nice relaxing weekend."

Thursday's game closes out a stretch of three straight NFC North games that began on Sept. 21 at the Detroit Lions.

"It’s been really tough," Packers veteran linebacker Julius Peppers said. "I don't know who came up with the schedule like this to put these games in a 10-day span like this, but we're getting through it."

It's actually three games in 12 days. It probably only feels like three in 10 days.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While Teddy Bridgewater and Chad Greenway again did not participate in the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Tuesday, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned from a suspected case of food poisoning.

Munnerlyn
Munnerlyn practiced in a limited capacity for the Vikings, who are preparing to play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday night, and it appears the cornerback will be ready for the game after sitting out on Monday.

Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) and running back Jerick McKinnon (ankle) were again limited, and linebacker Michael Mauti (foot), wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring), linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) and fullback Jerome Felton (knee) were full participants.

If Bridgewater does any throwing in practice, it would likely happen tomorrow, but the Vikings could easily list him as questionable on their final injury report and give themselves until Thursday night to let Bridgewater's ankle heal. They've been giving first-team snaps to Christian Ponder all week, and if they're confident in Bridgewater's ability to handle the game plan for Thursday -- which Mike Zimmer indicated he was -- they could buy him more time to recover.

The Vikings will also have to determine whether Greenway has recovered enough from a broken hand -- and more importantly, a broken rib -- to play Thursday night. Zimmer said the team would get a better sense of Greenway's status on Wednesday; if he can't go, Gerald Hodges would likely start again at weak-side linebacker.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/2
Sunday, 10/5