NFC North: Carolina Panthers
The Vikings have yet to announce whether Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel will start, and it might not be long before Josh Freeman takes over the quarterback job. But while the quarterback position might be the most intriguing question facing the Vikings at the moment, it probably isn't the most pressing one. That would be in the secondary, where the Vikings are hoping Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford return from injuries to help a team that's given up an average of 326 passing yards a game and allowed decisive touchdowns on a pair of last-minute drives.
That could be good news for a Panthers team that's so far had more problems on offense than defense. Carolina has scored just 74 points, turning the ball over nine times and throwing for more than 220 yards just once this season. Third-year quarterback Cam Newton -- who came into the league with Ponder in 2011 -- has continued to struggle. Even though the Panthers have allowed the third-fewest points in the league, outscoring opponents through four games, they are trying to keep their season alive, just like the Vikings are.
ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Panthers reporter David Newton broke down this week's matchup:
Ben Goessling: David, I have a feeling the Panthers are as steamed about their record through four games as the Vikings are. Both of these teams lost in the waning seconds in Week 2, and neither has gotten good enough quarterback play to help their playoff aspirations after late-season surges in 2012. At first glance, though, this matchup would seem to favor the Panthers, who have done an excellent job of stopping the run and might force the Vikings to lean on their passing game more than they'd like to at home. How do you think this defense matches up against Adrian Peterson, and how much trouble can it give whomever starts for the Vikings at quarterback?
David Newton: This matchup definitely seems to favor the Carolina defense that has played well enough to win every game. Yeah, Arizona scored 22 points. But that's a bit misleading since two came on a safety late in the third quarter and the last came on a real short field with just over two minutes left after Cam Newton's fourth turnover. The Panthers actually improved from 10th to third in total defense, holding Arizona to 250 total yards. Stopping Adrian Peterson will be the challenge, but Carolina has done a good job all season of making opponents pass with a stout front seven that is allowing only 92.3 yards a game. The key in my opinion will be how much pressure the front four can put on whomever the Vikings play at quarterback. Arizona went with three-step drops and quick passes to somewhat negate that and frustrate pass-rushers Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. But what has made Carolina successful against the rush and the pass is that it has been able to stop both without using a lot of blitz packages that sometimes opens big holes for big-time backs like Peterson.
While we're on defense, the Vikings haven't really faced a quarterback that can run and throw like Newton this year, and they are ranked 30th on defense. How do you see that matchup?
Goessling: I don't particularly like it for the Vikings. They probably struggled the most in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, when they were facing a team with a dynamic passing game and a shifty running back (Reggie Bush) who did a lot of his damage thanks to missed tackles on the first and second levels of the Vikings' defense. The Vikings also haven't faced much of the read-option in the last two years, and when they did see it -- particularly against Robert Griffin III last year -- they struggled with it. I could see Cam Newton giving the Vikings problems with his feet, and Ben Roethlisberger also showed how you can burn the Vikings' young secondary by keeping plays alive. If Newton can avoid turnovers (and the Vikings have caused 12 of them this season), he could direct the Panthers' offense to a big day.
Here's the question the Vikings are probably asking themselves, though: How erratic will Newton be? He's part of that 2011 quarterback class (like Ponder) that has struggled quite a bit in the NFL, and as you mentioned, his turnovers cost the Panthers against Arizona. Will he be able to take advantage of the Vikings defense, or will they have their chances to create a few takeaways off of him?
Newton: Let me clarify first. Newton's turnovers in the fourth quarter did lead to the widening of the margin at Arizona, but he played well early and the Panthers would have been -- should have been -- up by two scores at halftime if Steve Smith hadn't dropped a 4-yard touchdown pass and Brandon LaFell a first-down pass at the Arizona 15. But Newton has been inconsistent with his throws, particularly if pressured. When given time like he had against the Giants he was able to pick apart the defense. Teams that have pressured Newton, particularly with five-man fronts, have forced him into mistakes. Looking at the numbers, it appears the Vikings haven't done a great job of pressuring quarterbacks. That to me is where this game will be won or lost for Minnesota.
While we're on quarterbacks, what's been wrong with Ponder this year? And if Josh Freeman is the answer, why not go ahead and give him a shot this week?
Goessling: Ponder's issues have been the same ones we've seen from him during his entire run in Minnesota. It just seems like he's apprehensive about pulling the trigger unless he's got a perfect throwing lane or a receiver who's a step clear of his defender. That throws off his timing, or he gives up and takes off, when a more confident quarterback might be able to hit a receiver for a 15-yard gain in tight coverage. Essentially, he's just not confident enough to make the tough throws, and his interceptions have come when he's flinched and either thrown a pass too early or failed to put enough on the ball. That might be why the Vikings seem ready to move on -- Ponder's issues are about more than his physical attributes, and that's a hard thing to fix.
As for Freeman, the Vikings want to give him time to learn the offense, and while I'm guessing we'll see him in a week or two, particularly if the Vikings lose, my hunch is Matt Cassel will get a chance to build on his Week 4 win this Sunday.
To wrap this up, what do you think is the biggest key to a Panthers victory?
Newton: I almost laugh when you say key to victory because this team simply doesn't know how to win -- at least on a consistent basis when it matters. This is the third straight 1-3 start and they haven't had a winning record since 2008. But as coach Ron Rivera keeps saying, they are close. But they were close last week and blew countless opportunities to take command in the first half and wound up looking dismal. It seems almost every week it's a breakdown in another area, or multiple areas. If I had to pick one key, though, it would be for the offensive line to give Newton protection. When he has time, the Panthers score points. If they score points, the defense will take care of itself.
How about for the Vikings?
Goessling: I agree that getting to Newton is a big part of the equation; they need to force him into turnovers and keep him from putting their defense on its heels. This is a team that plays its best when it gets an early lead, can run Adrian Peterson and turn its defensive line loose. If the Vikings do that, they might be able to cover up their issues in the secondary and sneak out with a victory.
"He was pretty close," Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "The kicker made a nice play and then also the safety from the back side. It was just good to get him some action, some real action. It was good to see those guys blocking the way they did, too, because there was definitely some holes out there, which was nice to see."
Hester also was credited with a 23-yard kickoff return in the Bears' preseason opener in Carolina when he decided to run the ball out after fielding it in the back of the end zone. The Bears have given Hester the green light on kickoff returns in both exhibition games. That aggressive style doesn't just help Hester, it allows the rest of the return team members to practice setting up their blocks.
"Even when Devin was having those big years, Devin had some big holes to go through," DeCamillis said. "We just got to do a better job of getting some holes for him at the start, and then, you know, he's gotta go and play better also. So it's a combination of all of those. I've got to help him schematically with what we're doing. Guys gotta block better, and he's gotta return better. That's what we've been working on all camp, and hopefully it starts to show up."
DeCamillis also has taken notice of undrafted rookie Michael Ford, who is fighting to earn a roster spot at running back. With Armando Allen sidelined last week due to a hamstring injury, Ford helped his cause with a 100-yard kickoff return against the Chargers. He finished the game with three returns for 160 yards.
"It would be tough not to like what you saw in a Michael Ford," DeCamillis said. "He did a great job. On his long one, that wasn't one of the better blocked returns that we had all night. He made a guy miss right in the hole. So that was a great run by him, and he did a better job on coverage, too. So he's making it tough. He's doing a good job of what we need to see from him, that's for sure."
"You always want to see points," Trestman said. "That would be No. 1. We want to score."
Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears' starting offense played just 10 snaps last week at Carolina, and although the unit failed to put the ball in the end zone, Cutler did finish 6-of-8 passing for 56 yards after tossing an interception on their first offensive snap of the game.
With the starter expected to be on the field for at least one quarter against the Chargers, Cutler is hopeful the Bears will be permitted to show a tad more on offense.
"I hope so," Cutler said. "We're going to get some game-planning this afternoon, but still it's the preseason and we're still figuring out exactly what plays we like and what we're good at so we're not going to be game-planning like your regular week. We'll do a little bit tonight, some tomorrow, then we'll strap it up and play and hopefully some of that stuff pairs up nicely for us. If not, then we'll just have to work around it and figure it out and watch it on tape."
“It’s a great opportunity, it’s humbling, having Roberto Garza, Webb, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, the whole offensive line helps me,” Mills said. “They’re in your ear every time I make mistakes I can go to the sideline expecting some criticism, constructive criticism -- what to do here, you need to step this way, be a little bit lower, so it’s been great working with them. In my eyes, these dudes are all Hall of Famers in my eyes, so just to be here is so humbling.”
Bears head coach Marc Trestman cautioned that nothing is set in stone on the right side, but said Mills and Long will continue to get the bulk of the practice reps in the next couple of days leading up to the second preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, where the duo is likely to open up the game as starters.
However, Trestman stopped short of saying the team was sending a message to Webb.
“I think we've been very clear with J'Marcus about what we're doing,” Trestman said. “I said it last week that there's been an up-and-down performance level by J'Marcus but we were still going to do this. We were still going to give work to the other guys and see what they could do as well. So we'll evaluate it. We're going to go through the week like this. We'll evaluate the game and move forward into Oakland."
1. OL blocking: It's likely the Bears go into this game with a starting five up front that you won't see once the club opens the regular season Sept. 8 against Cincinnati, mainly because of the calf strain suffered by starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who isn't expected to play. The plan is to play the starters just a few snaps. So in that limited amount of time it's important to see how well the group protects and opens the lanes in the ground game given all the changes made schematically. Count on a starting five of Roberto Garza, James Brown, Eben Britton, J'Marcus Webb and Matt Slauson. Rookie Kyle Long should see plenty of snaps, too, and is also a player to keep close tabs on. The only way skill-position players such as quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte excel is for the offensive line to sufficiently do its job. If in limited duty, the starting offensive line performs similarly to the way the group played in 2012, it will be clear the group still needs extensive work.
2. Cutler's command of the offense: Cutler is in the midst of learning his fourth offense in five seasons with the Bears, and it would be unrealistic to expect him to operate flawlessly against the Panthers. But he does need to show some degree of command of the new system. So far during training camp practices, for whatever reason, the timing between Cutler and the receiving corps appears to be off. Some of that is a function of Chicago's defensive line bearing down hard on Cutler every play during training camp, and tipping many of his passes at the line of scrimmage. But in this game, the offensive line will have every tactic at its disposal to combat Carolina's pass rush. That should open up some passing lanes for Cutler to be able to find some type of rhythm. It's also worth it to watch how quickly the Bears get in and out of the huddle. The club unnecessarily burned timeouts too often last season, and Marc Trestman's system contains much more verbiage than some of the schemes Cutler has operated in the past.
Bears coach Marc Trestman's plan is to pull all of his starters out of the game sometime in the first quarter and then get an extended look at reserve players and those fighting for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
"Jay will play, but he'll play very, very limited (snaps)," Trestman said. "How limited? I don't know. It could be three plays, it could be one play, it could be eight plays. We'll just see how the flow of the game goes. If we go three-and-out, we'll decide if he goes back in for another three. He may not.
"The starters, including Jay, if they’re going to play it will be minimally in this first game."
Wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) and linebacker D.J. Williams (calf) already have been ruled out for the Carolina game, while defensive end Julius Peppers (excused the last two days/hamstring) and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott also seem likely to miss the opening exhibition game.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton, safety Chris Conte and defensive end Corey Wootton all suffered minor injuries in practice on Wednesday and could be held out for precautionary reasons.
• Don't rule out the possibility of former Jacksonville Jaguars second-round draft choice Eben Britton eventually unseating J'Marcus Webb for the starting right tackle job. Britton, who started 30 games (23 at right tackle, seven at left guard) for the Jaguars from 2009-12, has come on strong after signing a one-year deal with the Bears on April 16.
While everything in the NFL is subject to change, Trestman said he envisions Britton as one of the active offensive linemen on game days in the regular season.
"I think Eben is in the mix of finding where our offensive line will be," Trestman said. "He's in the mix. He's had a very productive camp. He's versatile; he can play just about anywhere we put him, both on the left and right side. And at this point I can say he's definitely involved in being part of this roster -- on a week-to-week basis. The 46-(man active game day roster)."
• Less than 24 hours after Trestman and Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer told reporters that Bears' defensive linemen are told not to jump in the air and bat down balls thrown by Cutler, the quarterback opened the 11-on-11 portion of practice with, you guessed it, a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage that linebacker James Anderson intercepted.
• No. 2 quarterback Josh McCown continued to build on his strong camp when he zipped a ball in between two defenders in the end zone to tight end Fendi Onobun for a score.
• The next scheduled practice at Olivet Nazarene is Sunday at 3:15 p.m. The Bears' final summer workout on the ONU campus is Tuesday, Aug. 13. The remainder of training camp will then be held at the newly refurbished Halas Hall.
• Receiver Earl Bennett must now follow the NFL's concussion protocol to return to the field. There are four steps, including passing the concussion test, matching up with his baseline test, going through physical activities without symptoms, meeting with the doctors and being cleared by an independent neurologist. He was present on the practice field on Wednesday.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears' defense bailed out Jay Cutler and the offense, who had a horrid showing Sunday. Tim Jennings' 25-yard interception return touchdown with 6:44 left and Robbie Gould's 41-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Bears to a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Gould atoned for missing a 33-yard field goal with 12:14 remaining.
Let’s look closer:
What it means: Not much in terms of the NFC North standings. The Bears extended their lead in the division, which is a positive moving forward because the Bears face stiff competition in the coming weeks, facing Houston at home on Nov. 11 before traveling to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Nov. 19.
The second-place Minnesota Vikings helped the Bears by losing Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Green Bay Packers moved into a tie for second in the division Sunday by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Record-breaking performance: Jennings’ return TD gave Chicago its sixth interception return TD of the season, which breaks the franchise record of five set in 2004. Since 2004, the Bears have now scored 24 touchdowns on INT returns, which is good for third in the NFL over the past eight years.
The Bears are now 19-5 over the past seven years when they score a touchdown on defense. Since 2004, the Bears have scored 31 defensive touchdowns (24 INT returns, and seven fumble return TDs).
Third-down inefficiency: The Bears failed to convert a third down in five tries through the first three quarters, while their opponents converted 53 percent, which allowed the Panthers to mount several long drives.
What’s worse is the Bears didn’t convert their first third down until there was 9:27 left to play. By then the club had converted 1-of-7.
O-line issues again: Having given up six sacks on Sunday, Chicago’s offensive line has now allowed Cutler to suffer 11 sacks over the past two weeks after limiting opponents to just 12 sacks over the previous four games. It would difficult to pin all of the sacks on the offensive line, because Cutler seemed to be responsible for at least two of them.
But the fact the quarterback has absorbed so many sacks over the past two weeks is alarming and definitely an issue the Bears will have to re-address in their preparation for next week’s game at Tennessee.
In addition to the sacks, the pressure the offensive line allowed resulted in two Cutler fumbles.
Bennett missing: With rookie Alshon Jeffery missing his second consecutive game because of a fracture in his hand, the Bears expected Devin Hester or Earl Bennett to step up and fill the void. So far, neither has picked up the slack but Bennett simply hasn’t been used.
Cutler didn’t throw the ball in Bennett’s direction until the last two plays of the third quarter, and the receiver hauled in both passes for 35 yards.
What’s next: The Bears travel to Tennessee next week to take on their third AFC South opponent of the season. Interestingly, Chicago scored 41 points in winning each of its first two meetings against AFC South foes this season, so maybe the club can duplicate that scoring production against the Titans.
CHICAGO -- Running back Matt Forte ran for a career-high 205 yards and a touchdown, proving he can carry the often-ignored rushing attack, while electric return man Devin Hester proved why the Chicago Bears’ special teams units rank among the league’s most dynamic Sunday in the team’s 34-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Here are a few quick-hitting thoughts from the game.
What it means: For a team that breaks the year up into quarters, it was important for the Bears to break a two-game skid to finish the first quarter of the season with a 2-2 record. In defeating the Panthers, the club proved it could improve upon several highly scrutinized areas, such as the ground game, pass protection and receiver play on offense.
Defensively, the Bears know they need to shore up a few areas. The secondary has been seemingly decimated by the loss of safety Chris Harris, and the front four hasn’t generated sufficient pass rush to take pressure off the back end. The team is also allowing unacceptable numbers against the run, which is something the Bears hope to correct with extra prep time for next week’s game.
Moore scores: Third-year nickel corner D.J. Moore definitely shows no problem morphing into offensive playmaker mode when he intercepts passes.
Moore returned his second career interception for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Panthers. With the Panthers backed up at their own 9, Cam Newton misfired on a pass that ricocheted off the mitts of linebacker Lance Briggs and into the hands of Moore, who raced 20 yards for the TD.
Moore now has five career INTs, with two returned for TDs.
Ratio rectified: Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz took criticism over the past two weeks for a wildly lopsided pass-run ratio. Coming into Sunday’s game, the team had run the ball 24 times in losses to the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers while throwing 82 passes.
Martz made amends for the play-calling mishaps against the Panthers, and the Bears benefited. Chicago ran the ball 12 times in the first half while passing on just four plays. Led by Matt Forte, the team averaged 9 yards per carry in the first half in rushing for 108 yards.
More importantly, the constant run threat kept Carolina's defense off balance. Perhaps that’s allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to complete three of the four passes he attempted in the first half.
For the game, the Bears ran the ball 31 times, netting TDs on the ground from Forte and backup Marion Barber.
Secondary struggles: Despite increased focus on stopping Panthers receiver Steve Smith, the veteran still managed to haul in six catches in the first half alone for 132 yards. His 53-yard reception to start the second quarter set up a Newton 1-yard run which tied the score at 10-all.
The Bears did a better job on Smith in the second half by holding him to only one catch.
Run D lackluster, too: Chicago entered Sunday’s contest with No. 18 rush defense, and it’s quite apparent the club’s ranking will drop further after a dismal performance against the Panthers.
Opponents averaged 109.3 rushing against the Bears over the first three games. By the end of the first half Sunday, the Bears had given up 100 yards to the Panthers, which were averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Given Smith’s preference to snuff out the run above all else, look for this team to spend extra time working to correct run fits in the week of practice leading up to Monday night’s showdown with the Detroit Lions. The Bears have been gashed two weeks in a row now (the Packers rushed for 100 yards on the club last week), and it appears teams are using wider splits along the offensive line to exploit the run defense.
What’s next: The Bears face the Detroit Lions on the road on Monday night in a crucial NFC North clash. Chicago trails both the Lions and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North standings. So the Bears can’t afford to fall further back if they want to remain in contention for the divisional crown.
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|As Brett Favre contemplates returning for another season, he may want to factor in how he has appeared to wear down toward the end of the past several years.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Those hoping to wrap up (Brett) Favre Watch '09 didn't get much help Monday from Minnesota president Mark Wilf, who acknowledged the Vikings' interest and refused to rule out the possibility of signing Favre sometime this summer.
The Vikings' intentions seem clear. Favre, on the other hand, is weighing options for his partially torn right biceps. He has no doubt considered the implications of playing for a chief rival of his former team. And as Favre approaches his 40th birthday, I wonder if he might also be pondering the way he has run out of gas in each of the past four seasons.
There has been significant discussion surrounding the impact of Favre's partially torn biceps tendon on his performance last season, a point Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson made last week in analyzing Favre's potential comeback. In the same post, reader Robbiemustgo32 produced a startling statistical compilation that reveals a dramatic end-season drop-off dating back to 2005.
The chart below illustrates Favre's performance before and after the 12th game of the past four seasons. Just for the fun of it, I verified Robbiemustgo32's figures, even though I'm far more likely to botch a chart than most readers. Everything added up.
Robbiemustgo32's work illuminates a trend that began long before the biceps injury surfaced. You'll note Favre's completion percentage dropped nearly nine points on average after Game 11, and he threw nearly three times as many interceptions (34) as touchdowns (13) over the combined final stretches of those seasons.
In truth, some of the NFL's best quarterbacks fall off to a degree at the end of the season. The reasons make sense. Weather conditions worsen. Injuries occur, hampering the passer and/or limiting his weapons. Defenses make adjustments. Playcallers grow more conservative.
So to be fair, I worked up the same analysis for the six quarterbacks originally named to the 2008 Pro Bowl. (Favre was one of them.) Take a look:
Only one of the six, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, improved in every category over the final five games of last season. Everyone else leveled off in at least some categories, but none dropped as precipitously or as across-the-board as Favre has since 2005.
Arizona's Kurt Warner, for instance, kept his comp
letion percentage at 60 percent and maintained a positive touchdown-interception ratio. Meanwhile, New Orleans' Drew Brees still threw twice as many touchdowns as he did interceptions.
|Dr. Daniel Kharrazi breaks down some health problems that might stand in Brett Favre's way.|
So what do these numbers tell us about Favre? From the outside, at least, they reveal a simple but valuable fact: He hasn't had the stamina to maintain acceptable production over a 16-game season for some time. Favre will turn 40 on Oct. 10, and while he has considerably outplayed younger quarterbacks in recent years, his bionic arm and body have revealed their limitations.
More than anything, those issues can be traced to cold weather -- a key factor that both Favre and the Vikings must consider. Although Minnesota could play as many as 11 games indoors this season (depending on retractable roof decisions), it has two outdoor games in December that figure to have significant impact on the playoff race:
- Dec. 20 at Carolina with an 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff
- Dec. 28 at Chicago with an 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff
According to STATS Inc., Favre has played 14 games in weather under 40 degrees during the 2005-08 span we've been analyzing. In those games, he's thrown nine touchdown passes and 25 interceptions while compiling a 60.3 passer rating.
In eight indoor games during times when the outdoor temperature was less than 40 degrees, Favre threw 15 touchdown passes and five interceptions while compiling a 99.9 passer rating. (Also based on STATS research.)
There are many reasons why Favre has waffled on whether to retire or continue playing in recent years. Without a doubt, one factor must be the way he has finished those seasons from an individual standpoint. His end-game performance, coupled with the potential for cold-weather games on the Vikings' schedule, adds another layer to a discussion that -- as Williamson originally pointed out -- has no slam-dunk resolution.
Some quick hitters on a Wednesday evening:
Detroit is considering every avenue to improve its receiving corps. The Lions signed Bryant Johnson early in free agency and on Monday claimed Will Franklin off waivers from Kansas City. Wednesday, according to Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com, the Lions hosted free agent Ronald Curry on a visit. No indication as of yet if the Lions plan to sign him, but we're getting close to that point where teams and players start holding off decisions until after the draft. Earlier this week, the Lions hosted free agent fullback Terrelle Smith, who spent the previous nine seasons with Arizona, Cleveland and New Orleans.
When news surfaced about Duke basketball player Greg Paulus working out for Green Bay last week, it wasn't immediately clear what position the Packers were evaluating him at. Paulus was a high school quarterback in Syracuse, N.Y., but it seemed unlikely that anyone would consider him a candidate to jump into the NFL at that position. Well, the football coach at Duke agrees. David Cutcliffe said Wednesday he had offered Paulus a chance to try out as a slot receiver but there was "no way" he could handle the transition to quarterback at a Division I level.
Detroit's Jim Schwartz is a rookie head coach, but he's a veteran at spewing total mumbo jumbo about the draft. Speaking to Detroit reporters Wednesday, Schwartz claimed the Lions haven't finished stacking their board and said: "You don't start at the top, you go by positions usually. Generally what you do is you start by positions. You'll go through there and then once all the positions are done, then you'll start going line by line. You guys ever hear the horizontal and vertical nature? Right now, we're still vertical. We haven't started going horizontal across positions yet." Whatever. (Seriously, I think the "horizontal" reference refers to teams ranking players who receive the same or very similar grades.)
Closing the book on the blockbuster trade that sent Green Bay long snapper J.J. Jansen to Carolina, ESPN's John Clayton reports the Packers will receive a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft. And before you ask, I have no idea whom the Packers might be targeting with that pick.
It doesn't get much bigger than this: On Monday, Green Bay traded the guy who almost was its long snapper in 2008.
J.J. Jansen, who spent the season on injured reserve after suffering a late-summer knee injury, was shipped to Carolina for a conditional draft pick. The pick almost certainly won't arrive in time for the 2009 draft, considering nothing "conditional" can happen between now and then. In all likelihood, the Packers will get a seventh-round pick in 2010 if Jansen makes the Panthers' 2009 roster. (Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette speculates similarly.)
Put it this way: Anything more than a seventh-round pick would be a steal. Long-snappers are important, but traditionally you shouldn't have to invest much in the way of draft picks to find one.
At this point, the Packers figure to stay with the long-snapper they signed to replace Jansen last summer, Brett Goode.
How would Chicago's season have turned out in 2008 had it not lost fourth-quarter leads at Carolina and against Tampa Bay during successive September weekends? If the rest of the season played out with no changes, the Bears would have won the NFC North with an 11-5 record.
ESPN Stats & Information offers a statistical comparison that could assuage that concern. Newly-acquired quarterback Jay Cutler had a 94.2 passer rating in the fourth quarter last season, more than 30 points higher than the Bears' combination of Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. Here are the figures, courtesy Allison Wachs:
It's turned out to be a busy day at Chicago's Halas Hall practice facility. Not only has free agent offensive lineman Orlando Pace visited, but the Bears are also hosting free agent cornerback Ken Lucas. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the story.
Carolina released Lucas this winter for salary-cap reasons. He's been a solid cover man throughout his career with the Panthers and in Seattle, and you would think he'd be the top candidate to start opposite Charles Tillman if he is signed. Currently, that position is manned by Corey Graham and Nate Vasher.
The clock is ticking on both Lucas and Pace. Typically, NFL teams suspend their free agent evaluations at some point as the draft approaches. Then they resume negotiations after determining their remaining needs after the draft.
The Bears have been pretty quiet thus far in the free agent market, but it's starting to be bargain time. Plugging two holes, at least in the short-term, would help them focus their draft strategy considerably.