NFC North: Cedric Griffn

BBAO: Carimi to RT, Webb to LT

August, 2, 2011
8/02/11
9:20
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Chicago Bears flipped their offensive tackles during Monday night's training camp practice, putting J'Marcus Webb on the left side and rookie Gabe Carimi on the right. From the sounds of it, that's how they hope to enter the regular season.

Offensive line coach Mike Tice said he "doesn't want to play games" with the lineup, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Tice said Webb is better suited for the position athletically, and it's now clear the Bears won't be signing another veteran free agent to compete for a starting job.

I'm all for maintaining continuity along the offensive line to allow players to develop in their assigned roles, but let's just say there is some doubt around the NFL about whether Webb can play left tackle. In May, I suggested that Carimi might be the best short-term option on the left side because of his college experience, even if he projected long-term as a right tackle. In the end, the Bears are taking a leap of faith that Webb can develop at a more difficult position after having an up-and-down season on the right side last year.

True left tackles are a rare commodity. If you're choosing from two on the third day of training camp, maybe you have none.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Silver linings for Vikings in a loss

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
7:52
PM ET
AP Photo/Don Wright
Linebacker Keyaron Fox’s 82-yard interception return sealed the game for Pittsburgh.



Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

PITTSBURGH -- I’m just going to say it. I thought Minnesota played better in its 27-17 loss Sunday at Pittsburgh than it did last week in a victory over Baltimore.

Ooohhh. I feel so contrarian.
Week 7 Coverage
Walker: Bengals' Palmer is back
Jon Greenberg: Benson's career day
Williamson: Chargers bounce back
Graham: Time not on Fins' side
Wojciechowski: Saints should be 5-1
Seifert: Silver linings in Vikes' loss
Pasquarelli: Steelers' D takes charge
Yasinskas: What happened to Turner?
MacMahon: Romo-Austin in sync
Sando: Crabtree brightens 49ers day
Reiss: Pats bond in London
Chadiha: Giants have questions
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

Monday Night Football HQ
Mosley: Skins' issues run deep
Paolantonio: Vick MIA so far
Chadiha: Strange call from Skins

The difference in Sunday’s game was two turnovers the Steelers returned for touchdowns in a span of 5 minutes, 23 seconds of the fourth quarter. In both instances, the Vikings moved the ball deep inside Steelers territory and were threatening to take a late lead.

“Kind of fluke deals,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said of the two plays: LaMarr Woodley’s 77-yard fumble return and linebacker Keyaron Fox’s 82-yard interception return.

“What are you going to do?” said defensive end Jared Allen. “You win some and you lose some. Their defense outscored our defense at the end of the game. I don’t know what else to say. There’s really not a whole lot else. There’s not much else we can do. We held [their offense] to 13 points. That should be enough to win.”

That was as close as anyone came to pointing fingers in Minnesota’s postgame locker room, and most players and coaches repeated the same mantra.

“We’re disappointed,” Childress said, “but not discouraged.”

Really, it’s hard to do anything but whistle and tip your cap when two linebackers grab the ball and weave their way to the end zone, especially when you consider the superior individual efforts required on both plays. (See below.) The Vikings answered Woodley’s play with an 88-yard kickoff return from rookie Percy Harvin, but they ran out of time after Fox returned the Steelers’ lead to 10 points.

Sound familiar?

Last week, Minnesota jumped to a 14-0 first-quarter lead over Baltimore and was outplayed thereafter. Had it not been for the fourth-quarter heroics of quarterback Brett Favre, and a missed 44-yard-field goal on the game’s final play, the Vikings would have registered their first loss a week earlier.

I didn’t mind telling you that last week, and I don’t mind suggesting the Vikings put on a more impressive showing Sunday in staying with a Steelers team that seemed primed to blow them out of Heinz Field. With cornerback Antoine Winfield sidelined, it was fair to question how the Vikings might fare against a Steelers passing offense that entered the game ranked second in the NFL.

But other than some particularly atrocious tackling on Mike Wallace’s 40-yard touchdown, the Vikings' defense was surprisingly effective. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 175 yards, or about 120 yards less than his per-game average this season.

“I thought we played a great game,” cornerback Cedric Griffin said. “We let a few plays go, but at the same time, collectively we played a pretty good football game against a really good team.”

Favre and the offense did its part by maintaining possession for nearly 37 minutes despite a relatively quiet afternoon from tailback Adrian Peterson (18 carries, 69 yards).

If you want to quibble, you could argue the Vikings erred by not handing Peterson the ball four times on the goal line during a third-quarter possession. You know I never hesitate to question Childress’ decisions, but in this case I wasn’t offended. Even Peterson said: “Well, I did get two cracks at it.”

The Steelers have one of the NFL’s best run defenses and they weren’t giving up much Sunday. Peterson’s first two plunges into the line, one negated by penalty, netted nothing. Favre, meanwhile, entered the game as the NFL’s top red-zone passer.

The Vikings certainly didn’t draw up the third-down play to target backup tight end Jim Kleinsasser, but the Steelers covered up the rest of Favre’s options.

Overall, however, the Vikings offense rolled up 386 yards and converted 50 percent of its third-down attempts. Add those figures to Harvin’s special-teams touchdown, along with a defense that seemed to have the Steelers figured out, and you have the ingredients of a huge victory.

In essence, the game came down to two plays, turnovers with especially painful repercussions.

“To think coming into this game that … we were going to have two [turnovers] for touchdowns going their way?” Childress said. “Hats off to those guys. You never know which one of those 70 plays is going to end up being the play.”

Let’s take a closer look at each play:

Return No. 1
Left guard Steve Hutchinson was matched up on defensive tackle Brett Keisel. “I was just riding him around the pocket,” Hutchinson said. Favre said he was planning to throw a pass to receiver Sidney Rice: “I don’t know if we were going to have any success with the play. But I was going to give him a high throw in the back of the end zone.” The play might have taken too long, Favre said, and he might have held the ball too long.

Hutchinson said he didn’t know until later than Keisel had poked the ball out of Favre’s hands at about the 14-yard line. The ball bounced backward and Woodley scooped it up at the 23-yard line. Hutchinson tried unsuccessfully to grab Woodley’s feet at the 33-yard line, and Woodley stepped inside Favre at the 40 before breaking into the open field.

Return No. 2
On a second-down play at the Steelers’ 19-yard line, the Vikings called a screen pass to receiver Chester Taylor. “I think it was a good call,” Favre said. “We were moving the ball extremely well at that time, and things happen.”

Again, Keisel made the key play. He recognized the screen immediately, moved laterally down the line of scrimmage and drilled Taylor just as the ball arrived. Indeed, Taylor said, “I got hit in the process of catching the ball.” The ball slipped through his hands and into the Fox’s. Hutchinson missed Fox at the 24-yard line. “I guess I’m not a linebacker,” he said. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie lost his pursuit angle and Favre slid before he could attempt a tackle on the right sideline.

Those two plays ensured the Steelers’ victory, and let’s be clear: No one awards style points for victories. Every game is important, but if you choose to look at Minnesota’s season from the big picture -- and when they’re 6-1, I think that’s OK -- you saw more encouraging signs for its long-term future in Sunday’s loss than you did in a victory last week.

That’s probably why you didn’t see too many people bent out of shape after the game. If you’re going to lose -- and every team in the history of the NFL has except for one -- there’s no shame if it comes in a close game on the home field of the Super Bowl champions.

“Things like that happen,” Childress said. “I’m proud of the way guys competed. Don’t like the result. [But] it’s been a resilient group from the standpoint of coming back and wanting to improve.”

How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

October, 6, 2009
10/06/09
11:00
AM ET

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

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Rising

 Finley
1. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay tight end: Finley enjoyed a breakout game on a national stage Monday night, displaying the kind of downfield playmaking that had so many people excited this summer. He finished the evening with six catches for 128 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter and also a 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter. The touchdown play displayed all of his skills: He ran past Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield, juked safety Tyrell Johnson and dragged cornerback Cedric Griffin for the final 5 yards. This might have been the week where Finley passed veteran Donald Lee, who dropped a critical fourth-down pass in the end zone.

 Allen
2. Jared Allen, Minnesota defensive end: Brett Favre got all of the attention, but Allen might have been the best player on the field Monday night. His motor ran non-stop despite a sinus infection that had him speaking in a cracked voice after the game. His 4.5-sack night, which included a safety, brought his four-game sack total to six. It’s still not clear why the Packers thought they could check him with mostly single-blocking schemes. But if there was any doubt, Allen showed what he will do when opponents try to cheat on him. Consider this statistic when evaluating the Vikings’ decision to acquire him last season: He has 20.5 sacks over the first 20 regular-season games in Minnesota.

 Forte
3. Matt Forte, Chicago tailback: The Bears’ running game had been a point of concern for fans and media over the past few weeks -- right up until Forte dashed 61 yards on his first carry Sunday against Detroit. Later, Forte had a 37-yard touchdown run and finished with 121 yards on 12 carries. There remains room for improvement; he managed 23 yards on his other 10 carries. But the two long runs each led to touchdowns for the Bears, and that translates into a productive day for any running back.

Falling

 Capers
1. Dom Capers, Green Bay defensive coordinator: Capers got plenty of recognition when his defense shot out of the gates on opening weekend, intercepting Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler four times. His zone-blitzing scheme seemed the perfect tonic for the problems that plagued the Packers last season. But it was hard to explain why Capers called such a passive game Monday night. He seemed to ignore the blitzes in favor of a run-stopping package against tailback Adrian Peterson. That’s an understandable approach in theory, but in reality the Packers overcompensated. Peterson managed only 55 yards on 25 carries, but Favre was rarely hurried and hit only once. The result? Favre picked the Packers apart.

 Peterson
2. Adrian Peterson’s grip: There aren’t too many more ways to say this: Peterson has got to find a way to protect the ball better, whether he’s being gang-tackled by 10 players or tripped up by one. His strength admittedly worked against him Monday night, when the Packers’ inability to bring him down on a second-quarter run ultimately gave linebacker Clay Matthews time to rip the ball away and return it 42 yards for a touchdown. But the play gave Peterson 15 fumbles since the start of the 2007 season, the highest total for a running back over that span. Unfortunately for him, Peterson is doing nothing to discourage future opponents from ripping, grabbing and punching the ball more frequently.

3. Detroit’s special teams: The Lions gave up four returns of 24 or more yards, including a 102-yard kickoff return to the Bears’ Johnny Knox. Some of that can be credited to the typically superior Bears blocking schemes. But over the course of the game, the Bears’ average drive started at the Lions’ 46-yard line. That’s right: Six of their 13 possessions started on the Lions’ side of the 50-yard line. Detroit’s defense isn’t nearly good enough to handle that type of short field on a consistent basis. Things were just as bad in the flip scenario: The Lions’ average drive started at their own 18-yard line.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider