NFC North: Jason Campbell

Campbell high on McCown, Trestman

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
3:10
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell still keeps in touch with Bears backup Josh McCown via text messages, and respects the job he’s done filling in for Jay Cutler while also understanding the challenges such a dynamic presents.

Campbell said he’s “been very impressed with what [McCown] has been doing,” in relief of Cutler, and acknowledged that Chicago coach Marc Trestman deserves the credit for the way the team’s quarterbacks have performed this season. During his time as a quarterback consultant, Trestman worked with Campbell prior to the 2005 NFL draft, and the quarterback was taken 25th overall by the Washington Redskins.

Campbell
McCown
“A lot of it has to do with Coach Trestman. The type of offense that he brings in there, it gives your quarterback an opportunity to be successful, gives a chance to give him an opportunity to make plays,” Campbell said. “You look at Josh and you look at Jay; two very smart guys. Then you add Coach Trestman as an offensive coordinator, and it helps so much. I can just tell from last year to this year, from an offense point of view, they’re making big strides. You look at Brandon [Marshall], and you look at Alshon [Jeffery] and getting Martellus [Bennett] in there, those guys are on the right track, especially with [Matt] Forte and [Michael] Bush back there, as well. So they present a lot of problems to a lot of defenses. You look at them, and it’s kind of like looking at a big basketball team. They’re doing good things.”

Campbell spent 2012 with the Chicago Bears as the primary backup to Cutler after signing that offseason to a one-year deal that included a $2 million signing bonus and a base salary of $1.4 million. Heading into the 2013 offseason, Campbell was simply too expensive for the Bears to bring back.

Campbell signed a two-year deal in March with Cleveland and has started five games this season after taking over for Brandon Weeden.

After spending last season with the Bears, Campbell isn’t surprised by the success McCown has experienced. McCown was named NFC offensive player of the week on Wednesday after throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys.

“Just being around Josh all of last season, he’s kind of like a coach on the field,” Campbell said. “Just watching him Monday night, he’s playing in a way where he just knows exactly where to go with the ball. He knows exactly what the coaches are doing on the board, where they’re trying to attack and the things they’re trying to do. And he’s just doing his part because that’s pretty much what he is. He’s like having an extra coach on the field.”

That’s not an easy feat for a backup, Campbell explained, which makes McCown’s accomplishments even more impressive.

“The thing is, when you’re a backup, it’s harder because you don’t get a lot of reps,” Campbell said. “When you’re a starter, you get a chance to practice a lot. You get a chance to get a lot of reps, and you get a chance to get into a rhythm and a groove.”

That’s what Campbell seems to have done in Cleveland, and Trestman believes the quarterback might have finally found a place where he can stick. As a first-round pick of the Redskins, Campbell played for multiple offensive coordinators. More instability followed during a two-year stint in Oakland in 2010 and 2011 that eventually led to Campbell signing with Chicago.

In Campbell’s lone start last season for Chicago under former offensive coordinator Mike Tice, the quarterback suffered six sacks during a 32-7 slaughter at San Francisco. But that’s not the quarterback Trestman sees.

“I know Jason pretty well. I know he’s a very smart guy. I think he’s a very good passer. He’s got mobility. You’ve seen him here play. He’s a quiet leader. He’s not an outwardly emotional guy,” Trestman said. “I’ve gotten to know him personally. He’s a very passionate, very smart player and right now he’s got good coaching around him. He’s got an environment that certainly on his journey this might be the place for him. Being with [Browns offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] and being with [Browns coach Rob] Chud[zinski] and those guys who really know how to work with a big, strong quarterback like Jason. So that calmness, that veteran experience, it gives them a chance each and every week. I’m sure they feel that way.”

Packers prepare for another backup QB

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
2:35
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For the third straight week, the Green Bay Packers are preparing for a quarterback they probably did not expect to face.

Is that a disadvantage for the Packers?

It hasn’t been so far. They beat both the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings -- two teams that were forced to change quarterbacks because of injuries.

They face the same task Monday night at Lambeau Field against the Chicago Bears.

However, the Bears, coming off their bye week, have had plenty of time to prepare veteran backup Josh McCown for Monday night. McCown, who finished the Oct. 20 loss to Washington after Jay Cutler sustained a torn groin muscle, will make his first start since the 2011 regular-season finale.

Here’s a look at how the opposing quarterback dynamics have changed over the past three weeks:

McCown
Cutler
Chicago Bears

Who the Packers thought they’d face: Cutler, under new coach Marc Trestman, was off to a solid start. With a passer rating of 91.7, he was on pace for the best mark of his career. Trestman was hired in large part because of his work with quarterbacks, and he made an immediate impact on Cutler, who had only one game with more than two interceptions this season. Other than his three-interception game in a 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 4, Cutler had largely avoided those disastrous stretches that have plagued him during his tenure as the Bears’ starter. The Packers will likely still see Cutler this season. They don’t play the Bears again until the regular-season finale on Dec. 29, and Cutler is expected to return well before that game.

Who they will face: The 34-year-old McCown, a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2002, is not a complete stranger to the Packers. He started for the Bears at Lambeau Field on Christmas night 2011, only a month after he was signed following a thumb injury to Cutler. In a 35-21 Packers victory, McCown threw one touchdown and two interceptions. He has played in only two regular-season games since then, including 2 quarters this season against the Redskins after Cutler’s injury. In relief, McCown completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for passer rating of 119.6 -- his highest mark in a game since Dec. 2, 2007.

Freeman
Ponder
Ponder
Minnesota Vikings

Who the Packers thought they’d face: The Monday night before the Packers’ Oct. 27 game at Minnesota, the Vikings turned over the offense to Josh Freeman, who had been signed two weeks earlier. Though Freeman was horrific in his debut, completing just 20 of 53 passes in a 23-7 loss to the New York Giants, he was expected to start against the Packers until it was discovered after the fact that he sustained a concussion in the loss to the Giants.

Who they faced: The Vikings decided to go back to opening day starter Christian Ponder rather than veteran Matt Cassel, who led them to their only win this season. The Packers had plenty of film on Ponder, who took over as the Vikings’ starter on Oct. 23, 2011, against Green Bay and held the job through the first four games of this season. In perhaps his last shot to regain the starting job, Ponder was ineffective against the Packers on Sunday, throwing for just 145 yards on 14-of-21 without a touchdown or an interception in the Packers’ 44-31 victory.

Hoyer
Weeden
Cleveland Browns

Who the Packers thought they’d face: The Browns had seemingly resurrected their season when they benched starter Brandon Weeden in favor of journeyman Brian Hoyer. After an 0-2 start with Weeden, the Browns went to Hoyer. He won his first two starts but then sustained a torn ACL in his third start, an Oct. 3 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Who they faced: Weeden came on in relief and led the Browns to a win over the Bills and then was named the starter against the Lions on Oct. 13, the week before the Browns came to Green Bay. Weeden lost to the Lions and then was so bad against the Packers, throwing two interceptions while completing just 17 of 42 passes, that the Browns benched him in favor of Jason Campbell the following week.

Reviewing Thursday's events at FirstEnergy Stadium:

Cleveland Browns 24, Detroit Lions 6

Preseason record: 1-1

Of interest: The game started with a drop by tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued on in sloppy and uninspiring fashion for the Lions. ... There were a few highlights, most notably from defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and because this is August, we'll start with them. Suh collapsed the Browns' pocket several times and quite amazingly ran down Browns tailback Trent Richardson on the far sideline, while Fairley blew past All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on an outside rush and also stopped Richardson on a screen play. But Suh committed a silly personal foul, one of three for the Lions in the first half and four overall, and the Lions couldn't get out of their own way for most of the game. … The first-team offense was largely punchless without receiver Calvin Johnson (minor knee bruise), punting four times and scoring only on a 48-yard field goal by David Akers on its fifth and final possession. ... In all, the starting offense managed 73 yards and four first downs in the first half. ... The team's only other score came on a 33-yard field goal by Havard Rugland in the third quarter. ... Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 11 of 16 passes but only for 74 yards, and while we got a few glimpses of Reggie Bush's potential as a flat receiver (five receptions, 44 yards), he managed only 15 yards on eight carries. … Meanwhile, the second-level tackling from the Lions defense was brutal -- the most glaring was Ashlee Palmer's failure to tackle Josh Gordon on a short pass -- and the Browns' presumably weak passing game lit them up all evening. Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell combined to complete 20 of 26 passes for 223 yards and three scores. Weeden caught the Lions in a botched man coverage on one touchdown and split safeties Don Carey and Glover Quin for the other. ... The best news: The Lions reported no significant injuries.

Local coverage: Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions got a glimpse of life without Calvin Johnson on Thursday, and it wasn't pretty." Coach Jim Schwartz said "it was very disappointing to see the way we played without Calvin because I thought there was opportunities for guys to make plays." … Drew Sharp of the Free Press: "[I]f Jim Schwartz’s overriding objective coming into the Cleveland game Thursday night was lulling the rest of the NFL into believing the Lions hadn’t changed their bumbling ways, he succeeded." … Stafford, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "Obviously Calvin was out tonight, but that's no excuse. We can't use it as an excuse. We can't use it as a crutch. We have to have other guys step up and make plays." … Rogers also reviewed the Lions' 60 yards in personal foul penalties. … One bit of humor on the night: Lions running back Joique Bell knocked down a streaker who made it onto the field. Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News has the gory details.

Up next: Thursday against the New England Patriots at Ford Field.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC North needed to make but didn't.

Chicago Bears: General manager Phil Emery approached the draft with hopes of selecting a quarterback, and there were reports of the Bears privately working out North Carolina State's Mike Glennon. The plan made sense for a number of reasons. First, the team was bidding farewell to 2012 backup Jason Campbell. Second, new coach Marc Trestman is known as a quarterback guru and the Bears could benefit from having him develop a rookie. Third, starter Jay Cutler is entering the final year of his contract. Ultimately, however, the Bears couldn't justify using any of their six selections on a quarterback. For now, 2012 third-stringer Josh McCown is penciled in as Cutler's backup.

Detroit Lions: It sounded greedy, but a need at wide receiver existed all offseason. After releasing Titus Young and shepherding Ryan Broyles through his second ACL rehabilitation in as many years, the Lions don't have many sure things behind receiver Calvin Johnson. Veteran Nate Burleson participated in offseason practice but suffered a major leg injury last season. Mike Thomas remains on the roster after being acquired last year from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and several players have talked up the potential of first-year player Pat Edwards. The Lions tried to supplement via free agency, pursuing Darrius Heyward-Bey, among others, but in the end, they added no one of experience and drafted no one with major potential.

Green Bay Packers: Did the Packers do enough from a personnel standpoint to improve their defense against the type of run-heavy offenses that gave them trouble last season? We all know they worked hard on developing a better approach and scheme, even sending their defensive coaching staff to a college coaching clinic at Texas A&M. But they added only one notable player, first-round draft pick Datone Jones, to their front seven. They also hope that 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry can establish himself as an outside linebacker. The Packers are hoping to play a different way with largely the same players.

Minnesota Vikings: It's true that the Vikings chose a cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, with one of their three first-round draft choices, but it's still fair to question whether the team did enough to make up for the departure of slot cornerback Antoine Winfield in the offseason. Winfield had an excellent season in 2012 and was one of the underdiscussed reasons why the Vikings finished 10-6. The Vikings have what appears on paper to be a promising young core of cornerbacks, with Rhodes, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson. But none of them has played the nickel role that Winfield excelled at last season, and Cook has never been able to stay on the field.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We have more overnight news in the NFC North's free agency frenzy. Former Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Roach agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders, leaving the Bears without a versatile player who has been a starter -- at two different positions -- for most of the past five years.

Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com has the details. Bears general manager Phil Emery said this week that the Bears were up against the salary cap, and the Bears were either unable to match the Raiders' offer to Roach or unwilling to make the necessary adjustments. That means the Bears will have at least one significant change among their starting linebackers in 2013, and it could be two if veteran Brian Urlacher does not return.

There are no obvious replacements on the roster at strongside linebacker, Roach's primary position. The Bears will need to find a cheap starter in free agency or else look to the draft. Although he typically came off the field on third downs, Roach still played 66 percent of the Bears' snaps last season, because he also filled in for an injured Urlacher in the middle.

Continuing around the NFC North:
On the occasion of Matt Cassel's release by the Kansas City Chiefs, we should review the NFC North's pair of backup quarterback openings. Cassel figures in at least one, if not both, of those situations.

First off, the Detroit Lions (Shaun Hill) and Green Bay Packers (Graham Harrell) wouldn't seem like candidates to be in on the free-agent market at this position. But the Minnesota Vikings have acknowledged they plan to bring in a veteran to compete with Joe Webb to back up Christian Ponder, and the Chicago Bears don't have their 2012 backup (Jason Campbell) under contract either.

Cassel, Campbell and Ryan Fitzpatrick are the top three free agents available. The Arizona Cardinals' Kevin Kolb could soon join them, and as we've discussed, the Vikings and general manager Rick Spielman have a long history with Tyler Thigpen -- dating back to the 2007 draft.

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings make a quick move toward Cassel, who has been a backup for four years and a starter for five in his career. Thigpen could be their backup (backup) plan. If the market continues to dwindle, the Bears might consider Cassel or, more likely, be able to bring Campbell back at a lower price than he might have been seeking.

Now that the first wave of free agency is largely over, these are the kinds of stories we'll be following.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: How each NFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Chicago Bears: First, the new coach Marc Trestman must decide whether he thinks Jay Cutler is the team's long-term starter. Cutler's contract expires after the 2013 season, giving the Bears a chance to move on if Trestman is disappointed. Assuming he is not, the Bears must get Cutler signed to an extension over the next 12 months or be forced to use their 2014 franchise tag on him.

Of more immediate concern is Cutler's backup. Jason Campbell is a pending free agent, but the Bears might not want to devote the $3-$4 million in cap space it would require to re-sign him. Josh McCown, the 2012 third-stringer, could be an option.

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford's $20.8 million cap figure needs to be lowered, and talks are underway on a contract extension. Regardless, he is the Lions' long-term starter. Backup Shaun Hill, 33, is signed through the 2013 season. He is a favorite of the coaching staff and is unlikely to be replaced by Kellen Moore, the 2012 third-stringer.

Green Bay Packers: Starter Aaron Rodgers' 2013 compensation of $9.75 million is well below market value and will lead to contract talks, but there is every expectation that he will play his entire career in Green Bay. Backup Graham Harrell played sparingly last season and could conceivably be challenged by 2012 draft choice B.J. Coleman.

Minnesota Vikings: Team officials have committed to Christian Ponder as their unquestioned starter, buoyed by his strong performance at the end of last season. Ponder will need a more consistent season in 2013 to generate "franchise" status, but the Vikings will give him every opportunity.

Backup Joe Webb will be forced to win his job back, probably in a training camp competition against a veteran to be acquired. Webb was thrown into an admittedly tough position as a surprise playoff starter, but his performance still cast doubt on whether he should be entrusted with the role moving forward.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
3:10
PM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, here are three issues that merit further examination:
  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Quarterback Jay Cutler said during his ESPN 1000 radio show that his stiff neck shouldn't keep him out of next Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. Cutler allowed the Vikings to set the tone with a pass rush that prevented him from finding a rhythm. He completed only one of eight passes against the Vikings' blitz for eight yards, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. And Sunday might have been one of the few occasions when Cutler has forced the ball too often to receiver Brandon Marshall. Cutler (14) and backup Jason Campbell (one) threw 15 passes to Marshall that traveled at least 10 yards in the air. That was the highest total in one game for a wide receiver in at least the past five years. Cutler completed only two of seven such throws in the second half, one of which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Vikings safety Harrison Smith, and the Bears couldn't close the gap created by an early deficit.
  2. Running back Michael Bush only got two snaps because of a recurring rib injury that had left him questionable for the game. That is one of an inordinate amount of injuries the Bears are dealing with for their key people. Cutler might miss some practice time this week. Bush obviously had a setback. Receiver Earl Bennett is trying to come back from a concussion. Linebacker Brian Urlacher has a hamstring injury that could keep him off the field for the rest of the regular season. The same goes for cornerback Tim Jennings' shoulder injury. Place-kicker Robbie Gould's calf strain might necessitate reinforcements. Rookie defensive end Shea McClellin suffered a knee injury Sunday that prevented his return. Two of the Bears' best special teams players, Craig Steltz and Sherrick McManis, left Sunday's game because of chest and knee injuries, respectively. That's a long list of ailments for a team that needs to win at least two of its last three games, and perhaps all of them, to make the playoffs.
  3. The Bears rotated Edwin Williams and James Brown at left guard, with Brown actually getting more snaps (42) than Williams (36). Offensive coordinator Mike Tice has spoken highly of Brown since training camp, and you wonder if he is considering using Brown as a starter as Chris Spencer deals with a knee injury. Brown is an undrafted rookie and the Bears have already used five different starting guards this season, but his sudden entrance into the game Sunday was worth noting.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Earlier this season, we noted the Bears hadn't established an offensive identity. Other than Cutler's connection to Marshall, it wasn't easy to come up with a long list of things the Bears do well offensively. After Week 14, that's still the case. They rank No. 18 in the NFL in yards per carry (4.2), No. 27 in passing yards per game and No. 28 in scoring. At the end of this season, whenever that comes, we'll have to ask whether the Bears' preseason plan to mesh their former scheme, Tice's philosophies and the ideas of quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates all into one offense was too complicated a task.

Final Word: NFC North

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

November woes: The Green Bay Packers have won four consecutive road games against the New York Giants, their opponent in Sunday's prime-time game. And are the Packers getting the Giants at a good time? Recent history is inexplicable but clear. The Giants are a bad November team, and this year quarterback Eli Manning has slumped badly as well. Under coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants are 13-21 in November and 67-37 in all other months. The Giants have lost their past five games in November, including two this season. Manning, meanwhile, hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since the fourth quarter of Week 7, a span of 99 passes. Since Week 8, Manning has completed only 54.5 percent of his total throws and has a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 27.1, ranking him No. 29 of 33 qualifiers during that span.

Run opportunities: The Packers achieved rare equality in their run-pass ratio last week against the Detroit Lions, running on 28 plays and passing on 31. Coach Mike McCarthy lamented a relative lack of production from starter James Starks, who rushed for 74 yards on 25 carries, and it appears Starks and Alex Green will rotate more frequently Sunday night. The Packers should have some opportunities against a Giants defense that has allowed at least 150 rushing yards in consecutive home games for the first time since 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers rushed for 158 yards against them two weeks ago, and 99 of those yards came after contact, an indication of the state of the Giants' tackling.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bears will be counting on QB Jay Cutler to make an impact in their upcoming games against Minnesota.
Big meeting: Few thought when the season began that the Week 12 meeting between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings would be so crucial to the NFC North race. Only one game separates the Bears (7-3) and Vikings (6-4), and they're set to play twice in the next three weeks. The Vikings have lost 10 of their past 11 games in Chicago, and the only game they've won in that span required a 224-yard effort from tailback Adrian Peterson and a 54-yard game-winning field goal from Ryan Longwell. The Bears are coming off a short week after an embarrassing road loss, but they appear likely to get back the services of quarterback Jay Cutler, who has won 12 of his past 13 games that he has finished. Of ESPN's 14 NFL experts, all but one picked the Bears to win this game.

Tracking Allen: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had at least one sack in six consecutive games but has now gone two games without one. But the last time Allen saw the Bears, he lit up left tackle J'Marcus Webb for 3.5 sacks in the 2011 season finale. Webb is one of three offensive linemen who kept his job after backup quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked six times by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night, but offensive coordinator Mike Tice has pledged constant chip help for Webb this weekend. The Bears will try to contain the rest of the Vikings' defense with a new right tackle (Jonathan Scott) and left guard (Chris Spencer).

Peterson power: The Bears' defense has proved vulnerable recently to what has been the decided strength of Peterson all season. Specifically, they have given up at least 80 yards on runs between the tackles in each of their past five games. Peterson, of course, has been gashing teams almost exclusively between the tackles since returning from knee surgery. This season, 174 of his carries, 922 of his yards, six of his touchdowns and 11 of his 20-plus yard runs have come on runs that began between the tackles. There is every reason to believe the Vikings will attack that area early and often, and then probably follow up with a heavy dose of their play-action game.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
11:30
AM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
  1. The Bears' intent on offense was pretty clear. They opened the game with an extra tackle, Jonathan Scott, and rookie Evan Rodriguez lined up at fullback, and desperately wanted to establish the run with quarterback Jay Cutler sidelined. I get that. But that approach provided no alternative when the 49ers took the early lead, and I remain stunned at how poorly the Bears adjusted. Forced into passing situations, they put tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi in matchups they had already proved they couldn't win. It was absolutely criminal to stand by and let 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith beat them for 5.5 sacks. There is no doubt Smith is an elite pass-rusher, but the Bears needed to suck it up at some point and double-team him. Each sack came when the 49ers sent four or fewer rushers, meaning there was always someone available to help out if assigned. Instead, the Bears let Smith have a better game against them than any opponent in their history. In fact, Smith's sack total has been bested in a single game only four times in NFL history. Reggie White never had 5.5 sacks in a game. Neither did Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, nor Mark Gastineau. Why? Because even on their best days, they faced more opposition than Smith did Monday night. I'm not sure any adjustment on Smith would have changed the outcome of the game, given how well the 49ers' offense played, but yikes. That was an eye-opening red flag from offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who was promoted in part because his background as an offensive line coach figured to minimize such jailbreaks. The Bears' scheme was as much, or more, to blame for Smith's night as was the poor play of Webb and Carimi.
  2. Jason Campbell's performance gets something of a curve given the pressure he faced. All told, he was sacked six times and hit on five other occasions. But in the bigger picture, I wouldn't say the Bears got their $3.5 million out of him Monday night. The point of making such a commitment on a backup quarterback was to give themselves a chance to win a tough game under adverse circumstances when the starter isn't available. Based on their initial game plan, the Bears didn't appear interested in putting the game in Campbell's hands. And when they had no choice, Campbell fell far short. He threw two interceptions, fumbled twice, and per his career history, rarely pushed the ball upfield. Of his 22 attempts, only six traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. He completed two of them for a total of 24 yards. Again, Campbell was in a tough spot Monday night. But the bottom line is the Bears are now 1-7 in the past eight games that starter Cutler has either missed or has left early. It appears Cutler is on track to return for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. He is scheduled to host his radio show on ESPN 1000 at 1 p.m. ET.
  3. Cutler has alluded on several occasions to his role in keeping receiver Brandon Marshall mentally engaged and emotionally in check, and it was instructive to see how quickly Marshall got chippy and eventually combative without Cutler on the sideline with him. Television cameras caught center Roberto Garza putting him in a bear hug to settle down an altercation with an unnamed Bears player late in the game. "I have to a do a better job when I am frustrated of not letting it show," Marshall said. In the end, Marshall only saw four passes thrown his way. He caught two of them, including a 13-yard touchdown. Six of Marshall's eight touchdowns this season have come when the score differential was at least 17 points.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
What happened to the Bears' defense? Part of me wants to tip my cap to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It was fair to expect a conservative game plan and a few mistakes when facing a quarterback making his first start. We all thought Kaepernick would give the Bears a chance to add to their long list of takeaways this season. But Kaepernick was poised and stunningly accurate downfield against a Bears team that only blitzed on nine of his 23 attempts. Kaepernick gashed the Bears' standard pressure by completing 10 of 14 passes against it, including two that gained at least 30 yards. The 49ers also burned the Bears' defense by rushing for 94 yards between the tackles. Time will tell, but the Bears' defense -- like most -- was not nearly as good when it couldn't cause turnovers.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Well then. Here's the divisional upshot of Monday night's debacle at Candlestick Park: The Chicago Bears have relinquished sole possession of first place in the NFC North after 10 weeks of at least sharing the lead.

The Bears and Green Bay Packers both have 7-3 records after the Bears' 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. But if the NFL needed to break the tie, the Packers would get the virtual nod because of their Week 2 victory over the Bears. The Minnesota Vikings are just one game behind at 6-4, and in reality all three teams have a clear path to the division title by winning their remaining six games.

Hang on, folks. We're in for a wild ride.

I'll have an updated look at the NFC playoff standings a bit later, along with our usual Tuesday trappings. For the moment, let's take our morning tour around the division:
  • Monday night, the Bears "trotted out a game plan that looked straight out of 'Friday Night Lights,' writes Michael Wilbon of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears receiver Brandon Marshall admitted he had a sideline altercation with a teammate late in the game, but his explanation didn't make complete sense, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "That big, bad Bears defense, the one known for a ferocious pass rush and an addiction to forcing turnovers, got positively shredded by a guy who walked onto the field with 31 passes in a nine-game NFL 'career.'"
  • Backup quarterback Jason Campbell didn't give the Bears much of a spark, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Bears can't be considered among the NFL's elite teams after that performance, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com: "[Detroit] Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has been ridiculed for acquiring more receivers than an senior citizen accumulating blue topaz jewelry on the Home Shopping Network. It now appears Mayhew's infatuation with that position could come in handy."
  • It appears the end of left tackle Jeff Backus' consecutive games-played streak is near, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley played the best game of his career Sunday against the Packers, notes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Packers will be able to test their defensive improvement Sunday night against the New York Giants, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • The Packers thought tailback James Starks missed some opportunities for longer runs Sunday, and it appears he will rotate with Alex Green against the Giants, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby met with special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum on Monday to map out a plan for improvement, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Vikings defensive end Jared Allen on the team's upcoming trip to Soldier Field, via Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "We are in position to control our own destiny, and that's all you can ask for, is to have the ability to win football games and get where we need to. Right now, we're 2-0 in our division, which is phenomenal, and we have three straight division games. That could easily determine where we're sitting."
  • Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune on the Vikings' recent woes in Chicago: "In the Vikings' past four visits to the Windy City, the Bears have scored 28 times -- 17 touchdowns, 10 field goals and a safety. In that span, the Vikings defense has allowed nine scoring drives that began on their half of the field. Chicago also has a kickoff return score, a blocked punt touchdown and two fumble recovery TDs."
  • The Vikings know they will have to protect the ball against the Bears' defense, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 32, Bears 7

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
11:47
PM ET


SAN FRANCISCO -- The Chicago Bears extended their run of futility at Candlestick Park, losing their eighth straight at the venue on Monday night in embarrassing fashion, 32-7.

With quarterback Jay Cutler missing the trip as he recovers from a concussion, backup Jason Campbell filled in ineffectively, and suffered five sacks behind poor protection in addition to throwing two interceptions to finish with a passer rating of 52.7.

The defense couldn't bail out the offense, either.

Although the defense had saved the offense seemingly countless times already this season, the turnover finally dried up for Chicago's takeaway-happy unit. The loss marked the first time all season the Bears defense failed to force a turnover.

What it means: The team's 7-1 start certainly brought optimism about its prospects for the season, but the Bears gave up their NFC North lead with Monday's loss and now sit behind the Green Bay Packers with upcoming matchups against Minnesota and Seattle, both 6-4. Having lost now to all three opponents they've faced with winning records (Packers, Texans and 49ers), Monday night's slaughter might have provided somewhat of a reality check for the Bears.

It's apparent they're probably not be the contender they thought they were just weeks ago. But at the same time, the Bears can certainly develop into that. The fact is that the teams that advance deep into the playoffs typically start peaking near the end of November and into December.

So the harsh dose of reality force fed to the Bears by the 49ers on Monday can either derail the club's season or serve as the catalyst it needs moving into crunch time. Only the Bears can determine how they'll respond from this.

OL woes: Perhaps Campbell should have pulled a Cutler and barked at the offensive line, bumped some of them or something to motivate the unit, considering the way it performed in giving up five sacks against the 49ers. As usual, offensive tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi served as the most egregious offenders up front. The former seemed confused by San Francisco's twists and the latter once fell flat on his behind when Aldon Smith bull rushed right through him on the way to a sack.

The loss to the Texans last week marked the first time the offensive line finished a game without giving up a sack. The unit has now given up 33 sacks with six games remaining, after allowing 49 in 2011.

Timely signing: It certainly appeared to be the case when Campbell took a hard shot from Ahmad Brooks that left him on the turf momentarily writhing in pain. Largely because of shoddy protection along the offensive line, Campbell suffered four sacks and appeared to be on track to be replaced in the lineup by veteran Josh McCown, who was just signed on Tuesday.

Because there was a penalty on the play, Campbell was able to recover on the sideline and re-enter the game. But the Bears came extremely close to needing to play McCown.

Marshall smothered: Prior to the matchup with the 49ers, none of Chicago's opponents fully committed to shutting down receiver Brandon Marshall. The 49ers did, however, and the tactic worked so well it eliminated a huge chunk of the Bears' passing game by taking out Marshall. Defended by double teams and coverage rolled to him most of the night, Marshall didn't make his first catch until the 10:47 mark of the third quarter.

Marshall hauled in a 13-yard touchdown for his second reception of the night, which also gave Chicago its first points of the night with 3:43 remaining in the third quarter. But by then, San Francisco had already jumped out to a 27-0 lead.

Marshall came into the game averaging 7.4 receptions and 100.4 yards, and left having caught two passes for 21 yards and a TD.

Shoddy safety play: Inconsistency at the safety position seemed to be a hallmark of Chicago defense in recent years, before the team appeared to correct the problem with solid play through the first nine games from Chris Conte and Major Wright. That didn't last, however, as San Francisco exploited Wright and Conte on Monday night by threatening them for most of the night with tight end Vernon Davis, who caught six passes for 83 yards and a TD.

On several occasions, Davis broke free in Chicago's secondary, running wide open with either Conte or Wright chasing only to be overthrown or missed by Kaepernick.

Dating back to last season Conte and Wright had started 15 games together coming into Monday night, holding opposing quarterback's to a passer rating of 63.7 with the duo combining for eight interceptions over that span.

Kaepernick finished with 243 yards through the air and a passer rating of 133.1 and tossed a pair of TDs.

What's next: The Bears take Tuesday off, before returning to practice on Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's game at Soldier Field against the Minnesota Vikings. Focus is key coming off a loss like this with a short week to prepare.

BBAO: Down the stretch they come ...

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
8:15
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

DETROIT -- Well, lookie what we have here.

The Green Bay Packers' winning streak, extended to five games by Sunday's 24-20 victory over the Detroit Lions, has pulled them within a half-game of the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears. And as we've been discussing for several days, the Packers would technically finish Week 11 atop the division if the Bears lose Monday night at the San Francisco 49ers.

Both teams would be 7-3 at that point, but the Packers would get the tiebreaker (if it were necessary) because of their Week 2 victory over the Bears.

In the big picture, of course, we are headed toward an awesome and unprecedented finish to the NFC North season. There are scenarios in which the Bears, Packers and Minnesota Vikings could all win the division, most simply by winning out. The Bears and Packers will meet Dec. 16 at Soldier Field, and don't forget the Vikings have two games apiece remaining against the Bears and Packers.

I'm making my way back to NFC North blog headquarters. While we can grab a breath, let's take a tour around Monday morning coverage:
  • Here is some high praise of Packers coach Mike McCarthy from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "McCarthy's cutting-edge offense takes advantage of all the rules changes and the strength of his personnel. His demanding, creative coaching has gotten the best from Aaron Rodgers. In moments like these, one should pause to remember just how well-coached the Packers are."
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com compares the Packers' recent performances to the look of those who are participating in Movember: "Their team's victories might not be particularly stylish -- the latest being Sunday’s rough-and-tumble 24-20 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field -- but they’re adding up to a five-game winning streak, potential control of the NFC North and turning around what could have been a lost year amid a dispiriting start and injuries to key player after key player."
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Three of the biggest plays the Green Bay Packers made on defense Sunday against the Detroit Lions came from Casey Hayward, Dezman Moses and M.D. Jennings.That's a rookie second-round pick, an undrafted rookie and a second-year former undrafted free agent."
  • According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions receivers coach Shawn Jefferson was upset with receiver Titus Young at the end of Sunday's game, prompting what appeared to be an outburst toward offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
  • Mitch Albom of the Free Press: "[Y]ou could feel the weight of the Lions’ deferred 2012 dreams coming down on their heads like a theater curtain that snaps off its rods. They were not supposed to be the last-place team in their division. They were not supposed to lose to Minnesota on the road and then Green Bay at home, the 13th loss in 14 games to the Packers. Those were the old Lions, right? Those were days gone by. These were the days ahead. Weren’t they?"
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "The Lions have collapsed, and at the desperate, defining juncture, it was their starry strength that let them down. Something hasn't seemed right with Matthew Stafford and the offense, and on a telling Sunday, it fell apart."
  • Stafford looks like "a different quarterback this season," writes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com takes a detailed look at the Bears' matchup with the 49ers, ultimately predicting a 17-13 victory by the 49ers.
  • With quarterback Jason Campbell set to make his first start for the Bears, this would be a good game for the Bears' running game to take over, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Bears' heavy use of receiver Brandon Marshall is reminiscent of the way offensive coordinator Mike Tice used receiver Randy Moss in the famed "Randy Ratio" offense with the Vikings in 2002. Sean Jensen of the Chicago-Times explains.
  • Vikings general manager Rick Spielman on tight end John Carlson, an expensive and minimally productive free agent pickup, via Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com: "I think John Carlson has a lot of football (left) and is a very good football player for us and will be a good football player in the future."
  • This link will take you to all three parts of a bye week interview of Vikings coach Leslie Frazier by Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.

Final Word: NFC North

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

History rules: The Green Bay Packers have won 12 of their past 13 games against the Detroit Lions and 14 of their past 16, dating to the start of the 2004 season. Their most recent loss came in 2010, a game quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't finish because he suffered a concussion. Most every bit of conventional wisdom suggests the Packers, coming off their bye, are in the driver's seat heading into this game. All 14 ESPN experts have picked them to win, and Green Bay is a 3.5-point favorite on the road. The Packers are also riding an eight-game winning streak in NFC North games, the second-longest active streak in division games in the NFL. Of course, we all know what can happen when we rely on history and conventional wisdom.

Mike McCarthy
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Packers have a record of 17-7 in domes since Mike McCarthy became coach.
Indoor dominance: While we're on the subject of conventional wisdom, it's worth updating the Packers' elevated performance when they play indoors under coach Mike McCarthy, as they will Sunday at Ford Field. Overall, they are 17-7 in domes since McCarthy's tenure began in 2006 and have averaged 30.7 points in those games. Rodgers owns an NFL-record 117.0 passer rating in his career indoors. In his past eight indoor games, including the playoffs, he has put up these incredible numbers: 71 percent completion percentage, an average of 327.9 yards per game, 25 touchdowns and one interception. No wonder he prefers playing indoors so much.

Lions' opportunity: Could the Lions make this game a shootout? They certainty have the personnel in place. Receiver Calvin Johnson has been affected by injuries but still managed to put up a 200-yard game as recently as last week against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers will be playing without their two most important defensive players, cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews, and will have five rookies playing prominent roles Sunday. To make this a high-scoring affair, the Lions will have to overcome a near-season-long problem of slow starts. Did you know that all 11 of quarterback Matthew Stafford's touchdown passes this season have come when the Lions were trailing? I didn't until ESPN Stats & Information pointed it out. When the score differential is fewer than 10 points, Stafford has completed 59.6 percent of his passes and thrown seven interceptions. Facing a deficit of 10 points or more, he has completed 70 percent of his passes and thrown only one interception.

Tough trip: The Chicago Bears haven't won in San Francisco since their Super Bowl year of 1985, having lost the ensuing seven games at Candlestick Park by a combined score of 239-42. Although there was no shame in a close loss at home to the Houston Texans, the Bears haven't spurred much confidence among national experts. ESPN's 14-person/machine crew almost unanimously picked the 49ers; the lone holdout was former Bears coach Mike Ditka.

Campbell profile: The Bears announced Friday that Jason Campbell will make the start at quarterback because of Jay Cutler's concussion. For what it's worth, Campbell's recent history suggests he has the type of approach that could help the Bears win this game. He has the NFL's lowest average distance on throws since the start of the 2008 season (6.6 air yards per attempt), but that relatively careful approach has helped him compile a pretty impressive career touchdown-interception ratio of 74 to 50. A careful approach, with few mistakes, might not be a bad formula for this game. Campbell is 10-5 in his last 15 starts dating to 2010.

Good game for Jay Cutler to miss

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
12:59
PM ET
Common sense suggested that Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler wouldn't play Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers, eight days after suffering a concussion on a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit, his second concussion in three years and his third since entering the NFL in 2006.

In this case, at least, common sense aligned with reality.

Cutler
The Bears ruled Cutler out of the game Friday rather than stringing along an inevitable conclusion, announcing that backup Jason Campbell would make the start. Although we're not privy to the details and might never be, there is every reason to be relieved that neither Cutler nor the Bears were intent on rushing back for this game.

When you look ahead, Monday night's affair isn't a bad one for the Bears to play without their starting quarterback. The 49ers are a tough matchup with or without Cutler, and the Bears' priority in the second half of the season should be the four NFC North opponents they will play among their final six games. Those matchups, not so much the 49ers game, will determine whether the Bears win the division.

At the same time, I highly doubt the Bears are holding back Cutler for that reason. If he had been cleared medically to practice this week, I'm sure the Bears would have played him. But there is much less leeway in terms of evaluating post-concussion symptoms than there used to be in the NFL. Clearly, Cutler isn't ready to play based on the league's current protocol.

The Bears are 1-6 in the past seven games Cutler either has missed or hasn't finished because of injury. But that's why general manager Phil Emery spent $3.5 million to sign Campbell this offseason. Campbell is a seasoned veteran with a history of playing within the system, as a career total of 74 touchdown passes and 50 interceptions would suggest. I'll have more on Campbell in the Final Word post Friday afternoon.

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