How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

December, 1, 2010
12/01/10
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FALLING

1. Fillin Theblank, Detroit Lions quarterback: We kid, we kid. The Lions appear set for their fourth injury-related change at quarterback in 12 games this season. They opened the year with Matthew Stafford, who gave way to Shaun Hill midway through the first game because of a separated shoulder. Hill started the next five games before fracturing his left forearm. Stafford replaced him for two starts before separating his right shoulder again. Hill started three more games before reportedly fracturing his right index finger. It appears as though No. 3 quarterback Drew Stanton will start Sunday against the Chicago Bears, with recently acquired rookie Zac Robinson as his backup. Stafford, at best, is still a few weeks away from returning. The offseason can't arrive fast enough for the Lions.

2. Confidence in the Green Bay Packers' running game: Coach Mike McCarthy abandoned the running game for long stretches of his team's 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, instead employing a five-receiver package that produced decent success. The Falcons have a disciplined and stout run defense, but it will be interesting to see if McCarthy has more patience with the running game as we move into December football. You can't drop back on 71.1 percent (42 of 59) of your offensive plays, as the Packers did in Week 12, and then expect to line up in a power formation in short-yardage situations to run for a first down. That's the biggest problem the Packers face with their running game right now: They can't rely on it to get a yard or two on third-and-short.

3. Grains of salt in Minnesota: There are differing opinions on the Minnesota Vikings' 17-13 victory over the Washington Redskins, their first game under interim coach Leslie Frazier. The optimists suggest that the nature and means of any road victory, especially when it comes after nine consecutive defeats away from home, should not be measured. The pessimists note that the Redskins had a punt return for a touchdown called back by penalty and missed on any number of other opportunities to win this game. I'll give it all a pass for one week, at least, considering the tumult Frazier inherited and the effort it took just to get players focused on a game rather than the circus that had been surrounding them.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Dale Zanine/US PresswireAaron Rodgers threw for 344 yards in Sunday's loss to Atlanta.
RISING

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers quarterback: A brilliant performance in Sunday's loss to Atlanta brought one silver lining. Rodgers surpassed 1,500 career passing attempts, qualifying him for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's all-time rankings list. And as it turns out, Rodgers has the second-best passer rating of all time (97.28) among qualified passers. (At the top of the list is San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is just ahead at 97.34.) The passer rating metric isn't perfect, but to be sure, a quick glance through the top 10 doesn't reveal many slappies.

2. Tommie Harris, Chicago Bears defensive tackle: We haven't emphasized enough, at least on this blog, the game-changing play that occurred just after the two-minute warning of the first half Sunday at Soldier Field. The Philadelphia Eagles had a second-and-goal from the Bears' 4-yard line, hoping to take a lead at halftime. But Harris pushed through a double-team and tipped quarterback Michael Vick's pass, forcing a wobbler that safety Chris Harris easily intercepted and returned 37 yards. The Bears scored a touchdown of their own just before halftime, extending their advantage to 21-13, and never looked back. Harris has taken his share of criticism this year and has yet to regain his starting job after a Week 3 benching. But he deserves mention for making a big play Sunday.

3. Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle: Frazier had several one-on-one discussions with Williams last week, trying to revive his season after a stretch of invisible games. Williams responded by tipping three passes against the Redskins and playing a big role in shutting down the Redskins' running game. Frazier wants to re-emphasize the Vikings' once-dominant run defense, and that can't happen without Williams taking a lead role.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8