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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

By Kevin Seifert

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Mike Martz's assumed IQ: The Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator has been called a genius, but let's just say he didn't live up to that description this past Sunday at Soldier Field. Why he abandoned the running game so early against the Seattle Seahawks, calling four running plays after halftime, defies explanation. Quarterback Jay Cutler has appeared hesitant in the pocket, but Martz's refusal to adjust has led to Cutler taking 18 sacks over his past three starts. I realize the Bears have had personnel issues along the offensive line. But that's all the more reason to pull back and lower ambitions for the passing game until the line can get straightened out. Want more "huh?" Check out Brad Biggs' story in the Chicago Tribune on Martz using tight end Greg Olsen as a left tackle in an unbalanced line. Yikes.

2. Concentration in Detroit: Quoting coach Jim Schwartz here, the Detroit Lions have committed some "dumb, idiotic" penalties in recent weeks. Defensive end Cliff Avril's personal foul Sunday, allowing the New York Giants a new set of red zone downs, was the latest example. Meanwhile, the Lions continue to lead the NFL in dropped passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they have 19. The league average is 9.6.

 Mike McCarthy
Mike McCarthy's Packers have struggled to win close games.
3. Close games for the Green Bay Packers: In their past 12 games decided by four points or less, the Packers are 1-11. They already have a trio of three-point losses this season, including two in overtime. What's going on? Coach Mike McCarthy admitted this week that "it's become a situation." But he also added: "I don't think it's something that we're doing wrong. Frankly, it's a situation that's been evaluated, no different than third down and red zone and everything else has been evaluated on a weekly basis. We'll just continue to work at it, and we need to do a better job. There's no doubt about it."

RISING

1. Fortune in Minnesota: Yes, the Vikings improved to 2-3 after Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. But they caught a break with 2 minutes, 22 seconds remaining. The Cowboys were out of timeouts, and the Vikings were facing a third-and-6 situation from their 29-yard line. Running the ball would have taken the clock down to the two-minute warning, but the Vikings called a short pass to reserve receiver Greg Lewis. Quarterback Brett Favre's throw was high, and it appeared the Cowboys would get the ball back with 2:18 remaining and the two-minute warning still at their disposal. But a pass interference call on Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins gave the Vikings a first down, and ultimately the Cowboys didn't get the ball back until 13 seconds remained. Asked about the decision, coach Brad Childress said: "Could you run it? Yeah, we could have run it and taken it down to the two-minute warning without a doubt. We wanted to get a first down. We got a first down. It doesn't make any difference whether it was by penalty or by throwing it." Let's just say it was an unconventional path.

2. Player outrage: Players from around the division have already spoken out at the NFL's decision to re-emphasize its rules regarding helmet-to-helmet hits. Bears safety Chris Harris wondered if offensive players who initiate such hits would also be disciplined. Speaking to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher suggested the league change its name to the NFFL -- the National Flag Football League. The Vikings' Lewis suggested a hockey-like penalty box, rather than suspensions, for such hits. This game is violent and sometimes barbaric, and is marketed as such. More than anything, players are lashing out at the hypocrisy of selling the physical nature of the game but punishing players when that violence results in injuries.

3. Depth in Green Bay: We've spent so much time discussing the Packers' injury list this season that we should make special note of some looming reinforcements. The Packers are planning to get three players back on the practice field this week who could provide short- and long-term aid: cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby and running back James Starks. They'll be eligible to play as early as Sunday night's game against the Vikings. Linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) also seems poised to return after a one-game absence.