NFC North: Chuck Darby
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
During our SportsNation chat Tuesday, I saw more questions about the possibility of Chicago acquiring Buffalo receiver Terrell Owens than any other. At the time, I replied that I would be stunned if the Bears traded for him. I still feel that way -- and not because the Bears couldn’t use more receiving help.
I agree with ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson. There’s nothing in the way general manager Jerry Angelo has built this team that suggests he would be interested. He has always maintained faith in his current group, and those players -- especially Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox -- have given him no reason to think otherwise.
Taking the risk of adding Owens is an emergency measure, and the Bears just aren’t at that level. Stranger things have happened, but there’s no reason to believe at this point that it’s a possibility.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bears rookie offensive lineman Lance Louis was charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from an altercation last November when he was at San Diego State. Here’s a full report from Brent Schrotenboer of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
- Detroit signed cornerback Demarcus Faggins and receiver John Standeford on Tuesday, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News. Defensive tackle Chuck Darby was waived, suggesting the Lions might get rookie Sammie Lee Hill (ankle) back in the lineup Sunday at Green Bay.
- Lions tailback Kevin Smith on the team’s running game: “The running game's obviously not doing well, and obviously it's me.” I think he’s being a bit harsh on himself, but that’s what he told Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- It’s not unusual for second-year quarterbacks to fall off in their performance, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The Packers want to recommit to throwing shorter passes that allow their receivers to make plays after the catch, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers cornerback Tramon Williams tells Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee what he’s reading and driving.
- Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press looks at the emergence of young Minnesota receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin.
- The Vikings aren’t concerned about the higher yardage total they’re giving up on defense, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
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Five nuggets of knowledge about this week’s games:
|Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI|
|Forget Brett Favre, the Packers should really be worried about Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.|
Looking for a technical matchup to track Monday night at the Metrodome? ESPN Stats & Information suggests you follow how well Green Bay’s defense stands up to Minnesota’s two-tight end formation. The Vikings have used the alignment (which includes two receivers and one running back) more than all but four NFL teams this season. It has led to an average of 6.4 yards per play, be it a run or pass. That’s the third-best mark in the NFL. The Packers, on the other hand, have held teams to 4.3 yards per play against two-tight end sets. As much as anything, that’s a tribute to the transition of outside linebacker Aaron Kampman, along with the play of Brady Poppinga and rookie Clay Matthews.
Monday night will be a referendum on the Packers’ decision to stick with left tackle Chad Clifton for one more season. Clifton had surgery on both knees and shoulders this offseason, raising the question of how much he has left at age 33. The Packers didn’t craft much of a contingency plan should Clifton break down, and he’s already missed one game because of an ankle injury. He’s likely to miss this matchup as well, which would again force the Packers to move left guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle -- putting him in a difficult matchup against Vikings pass rush rusher Jared Allen. Clifton has had some success against Allen in the past, but I don’t like his chances on an injured ankle. And I definitely don’t like the Colledge matchup if there isn’t a lot of help involved. Colledge looked serviceable last week against St. Louis but you have to consider the quality of opponent.
Chicago would be smart to use Sunday’s game against Detroit to get its running game in order. The Lions have improved significantly against the run, ranking No. 16 among NFL teams, but it’s likely they will be short-handed on the defensive line. Tackle Sammie Lee Hill (ankle) and end Dewayne White (hamstring) both missed practice this week, while end Cliff Avril (hamstring) isn’t a certainty after missing the past two games. As a result, the Lions signed free agent Chuck Darby for emergency depth this week. We’ve discussed it before: Good running games are about quantity as much as quality. The Bears rank in the bottom third of the league in rushing attempts (76) this season. They need to elevate that number Sunday against the Lions.
Detroit has led at halftime in each of its past two games, but ESPN Stats & Information suggests the Lions will have a tough time holding any lead they might get at Soldier Field. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler already has generated two fourth-quarter comebacks this season, compiling a combined 114.3 passer rating in that span. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks have torched the Lions defense in the final stanza this season. The Lions have given up 249 passing yards and three touchdowns during their trio of fourth quarters, good for a 126.6 passer rating. Look at the bright side, though. This analysis alone is a sign of progress for the Lions. By the end of last season, no one was breaking down their chances for holding a fourth-quarter lead.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Taking a look at significant injury situations as the NFC North practice week begins:
Chicago Bears: Linebacker Lance Briggs (foot) and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) sat out practice Wednesday. Briggs’ injury is not believed serious, but Hillenmeyer seems likely to be replaced by Nick Roach in the starting lineup. If that occurs, Jamar Williams would be the top candidate to start at strongside linebacker Sunday against Detroit. Opening-day starter Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) apparently needs at least another week.
Detroit Lions: Defensive end Cliff Avril (hamstring) and linebacker Ernie Sims (shoulder) returned to practice on a limited basis, and you can’t rule out either player yet from playing Sunday at Chicago. But defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (ankle), tailback Kevin Smith (shoulder) and defensive end Dewayne White (hamstring) all sat out Wednesday. The Lions’ decision to re-sign defensive tackle Chuck Darby indicates Hill’s injury could be lasting.
Neither Green Bay nor Minnesota held a full practice Wednesday.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Check here for a full list of Detroit’s roster moves.
Biggest surprise: The word around the NFL was that Shaun Smith was going to open the season as a starter at defensive tackle. Instead, he was released Saturday. Smith is a big-bodied space-filler who figured to help solidify the Lions pass rush, and now they seem pretty thin once again in the interior of their defensive line. Defensive tackle Chuck Darby was also released, so you wonder who will start opposite Grady Jackson. Rookie Sammie Hill? Ikaika Alama-Francis? Landon Cohen? That’s all the Lions have left, at least for now.
No-brainers: The release of placekicker Billy Cundiff means the Lions feel reasonably comfortable that Jason Hanson is ready to kick after undergoing knee surgery last month. The Lions could always re-sign Cundiff later this week if Hanson proves otherwise. Meanwhile, it was time to bid farewell to longtime Lions running back Aveion Cason. Rookie Aaron Brown showed enough speed and playmaking ability in the preseason to let Cason move on. Finally, the Lions had no choice but to keep Kevin O’Connell as the No. 4 quarterback while Drew Stanton recovers from knee surgery.
What’s next: You can expect the Lions to be active on the waiver wire as long as they sit atop the NFL’s claim priority list. The Lions could continue claiming players for several days until they get their 53-man roster settled for Week 1. The next step for the team will be naming a starting quarterback. Neither Daunte Culpepper nor Matthew Stafford outperformed each other during the preseason, but Culpepper was sidelined by a toe injury that required eight stitches. Coach Jim Schwartz hasn’t tipped his hand and has suggested he might not make an announcement until shortly before the Sept. 13 season opener at New Orleans.
Finding weak spots on a team that failed to win a game last year is not all that difficult. When a new set of decision-makers took on the monumental task of rebuilding this sad franchise, it had to be assumed that Rome would not be built in a day. The Lions' roster is noticeably improved, but because there were so many areas to address -- for the short and the long term -- Detroit was unable to truly upgrade both lines of scrimmage. That is going to be a problem.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|The Detroit Lions might be better served moving Jeff Backus from tackle to guard.|
On offense, the former regime used a first-round pick last year on Gosder Cherilus. While he is strictly a right tackle and that does present bust potential in itself, he remains a strong candidate to hold down that position for the long term. He started slowly last year, and steadily improved, but still has a long way to go.
Opposite Cherilus is 31-year-old Jeff Backus. While he is far from the ideal left tackle -- and potentially could be better off at guard because of his stature -- the Lions could live with both him and center Dominic Raiola if they were to come up with at least one stud at the guard position (and preferably two). However, finding a franchise left tackle would be the far better solution. Detroit did sign Daniel Loper from the Tennessee Titans. It is conceivable that he plays well enough in camp on the left side to move Backus to guard. There really isn't any way around it though; the Lions probably will need to find a pair of starting offensive linemen during next offseason.
On defense, Jim Schwartz wants big-bodied defensive tackles to dominate the interior and open up room for the linebackers to attack. The ends preferably are dangerous upfield pass-rushers. When he has an ideal front four in place -- as he did with the Titans -- Schwartz tends to drop seven into coverage with faith in his front four to get after the passer. That will be tough to pull off with his present crew.
At defensive tackle, the Lions may have gotten a short-term fix by signing Grady Jackson, but at 36 years old and with his immense size, counting on him for a ton of snaps each game cannot be recommended. However, Detroit does hope that he can bridge the gap to the incredibly raw Sammie Lee Hill, a massive interior player with good movement skills from tiny Stillman College. Hill is going to take time, though. Chuck Darby is also a short-term fix and in all reality, more of a rotational player than starting material. That is about all there is to speak of inside, and it wouldn't shock me if the Lions' first-round selection in the 2010 draft was a defensive tackle. Schwartz is going to miss his time with Albert Haynesworth in a big way.
There are some serviceable ends in this group and second-year player Cliff Avril does have upside as a situational pass-rusher, but overall this unit lacks that one every-down headliner who forces opponents to alter their pass-protection schemes to keep him in check. Dewayne White is solid, but not spectacular, in just about all areas and should be a fine second end if the Lions can eventually acquire a difference-maker.
That will have to be next year's project, along with acquiring plenty more able big bodies on both sides of the line. Winning in the NFL is nearly impossible with subpar line play. But it's going to take time to rebuild those lines.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
A tip of the hat to NFC West colleague Mike Sando, who flagged the latest offering from a fellow known as AdamJT13 -- a blogger who has gained some cyber-fame for his ability to predict the NFL's awarding of compensatory draft picks.
The league has never publicized the formula it uses for this program, which gives extra selections to teams that lost more talent than it gained in free agency the previous year. The picks can be as high as the third round and as low as the seventh. I won't overwhelm you with too many details, but in general AdamJT13 -- whose true identity is unknown -- believes it is primarily based on the average annual value of the contracts in question.
Here is AdamJT13's personal blog, which lays out his methods.
Now, for the moment you've been waiting for: AdamJT13 predicts two NFC North teams will net extra picks when the NFL announces the results later this month.
Chicago Bears (3)
- Players lost that impact formula: Bernard Berrian, John Gilmore, Brendon Ayanbadejo
- Players gained that impact formula: None
- Rounds: One in 4th (or possibly 3rd) and two 7ths
Detroit Lions (2)
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|In his first game with his new team, Minnesota's Jared Allen said Monday's game was "one of the least productive games of my life."|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
The ball sailed past Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian a few times. Once, it hit his feet. Another time, he couldn't adjust quickly enough as the ball was in the air.
On the other side of the ball, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen burst through the line a handful of times, tripped on a couple of plays and ultimately finished with what he called "one of the least productive games of my life."
In Atlanta, a defense stocked with newcomers was bumbling all over the field. The Detroit Lions gave up 21 points in the first quarter to the Falcons and never recovered.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears' veteran defense carried it to a surprising victory at Indianapolis. And the Green Bay Packers' homegrown roster proved to be the most decisive team on the field Monday night.
In retrospect, it shouldn't be a surprise that the NFC North teams who largely stood pat in the free-agent market were more prepared to play on the opening weekend of the season. High-profile acquisitions impress the media and whip up fan support, but it is a difficult task to bring a group of new veterans together in time to play your best football in September.
Perhaps that's why the Vikings were surprisingly calm and, in many cases, smiling after their 24-19 loss to the Packers on Monday night. Berrian entered the game with almost no game-speed work with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. They played one quarter of one preseason game together because of injuries. He ended up catching three of the seven passes Jackson threw his way.
Allen's unofficial stat line was filled with zeros, with the exception of one defensed pass. And yet when we ventured into the Vikings' locker room, you couldn't hear a bowling ball drop, let alone a pin. Players weren't exactly jubilant, but they seemed far from discouraged.
"We're going to be fine, man, really," nose tackle Pat Williams said. "We gave up a few big plays, and that's it. I'm not worried at all. If we can get a little more consistency and not give up big plays, we'll be alright. We've just got to work on a few small things."