NFC North: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila

We're Black and Blue All Over:

Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson was the big NFC North winner at the ESPYS on Wednesday night, bringing home the awards for best comeback and best NFL player.

For those of you who didn't see it, Peterson showed more public personality than he typically does in receiving the first award. He also made sure to mention two locals who he believes played vital roles in his return from knee surgery: Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and the team's chef, Geji McKinney.

Two other NFC North players had been nominated for an ESPY. Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson lost the best record-breaking performance to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, while Johnson and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lost to Peterson for best NFL player.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall thinks he needed offseason hip surgery in part because the Bears didn't have enough weapons around him last season. Marshall, via Sarah Spain of ESPNChicago.com: "I am [looking forward to having more weapons]. It was tough sledding last year. I think that's why I had to have the surgery. I had 2-3 guys on me every single play…."
  • The contract of Bears cornerback Charles Tillman will expire after the season but he doesn't think this is his final year in the NFL, writes Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Tillman would prefer to play his entire career with the Bears, according to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com looks at the training camp battle for the Detroit Lions' No. 3 quarterback spot between Kellen Moore and Thaddeus Lewis.
  • As Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News points out, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has admitted he made a mistake in counting on tailback Jahvid Best to return to the field last season. Best was released Wednesday.
  • Tight end Jermichael Finley is the ninth-most important player on the Green Bay Packers' roster, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Packers guaranteed $8.25 million in the new contract of Packers safety Morgan Burnett, notes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks back at the career of Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame.

Dead money in the NFC North

July, 14, 2009
7/14/09
2:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Those of you with ESPN Insider subscriptions can view this comprehensive Football Outsiders analysis of the NFC North's salary cap situations.

Individual cap numbers have grown less significant to the general public in recent years as the salary cap ceiling has grown exponentially. Most NFL teams can fit every player they want under their cap limit. Some have resorted to artificially inflating cap numbers to consume excess space, a polar reversal from the frenzied cap years of the late 1990's -- when teams were forced to release players or renegotiate their contracts in order to make the cap work.

With all that said, I thought I'd give you a snippet of FO's analysis. You might have heard of the term "dead money." It refers to the amount of cap space devoted to players who no longer are on the roster. Some degree is unavoidable, as teams release players all the time when they are in the midst of multi-year contracts. The player no longer receives the cash, but by NFL rule he still counts partially against the team's cap allotment.

Careful planning and reasonable contracts can limit dead money, leaving more cap space to use for players who are on the roster. Below, you'll see the player on each NFC North team that consumes the most amount of "dead money." This year, Minnesota has done the best job of limiting its excesses. Here you go:

Chicago Bears

Tailback Cedric Benson ($2.509 million)

Detroit Lions

Defensive tackle Cory Redding ($7.333 million)

Green Bay Packers

Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila ($1.571 million)

Minnesota Vikings

Tailback Maurice Hicks ($300,000)
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

It drives me crazy when teams make a drastic switch in scheme because that is what the cool kids are doing.

Scouts Inc.: Weaknesses
• AFC: South | East
• NFC: North | South

In this case, the cool kids are Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England and other successful 3-4 teams. Of course, I understand many teams are now led by men who come from flourishing teams that ran the 3-4, but that doesn't make it the right decision. I can see -- to some degree -- why Denver would make this switch, as its defense hasn't been successful in recent memory and the defensive players on its roster were inadequate for either an odd or even front.

Kansas City bothers me because its most valuable front seven players -- Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey and Derrick Johnson -- all are far better fits for a traditional 4-3 than the 3-4. Doing that to Dorsey is especially sinister. However, it wasn't like Kansas City was a powerhouse on that side of the ball either.

 
  Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
  The Packers are counting on B.J. Raji's versatility to help them in their transition to a 3-4 scheme.

But the Green Bay switch really gets under my skin. Two years ago, the Packers had an upper-tier defense while running the 4-3. The strength of that team was a very deep, talented and versatile defensive line. The Packers rotated big men in, stayed fresh up front and put an awful lot of pressure on opposing offenses for four quarters. Last year, the defensive front was hit hard by injuries, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was released and Corey Williams was dealt to the Browns before the season. Why not just bring in one or two more 4-3 linemen and stick with what worked?

Turning Aaron Kampman, Green Bay's best front-seven player, into an outside linebacker is criminal. He was one of the better defensive ends in the league, and those guys don't grow on trees. Surely Kampman will not do it often, but dropping him into coverage with any regularity is a mistake. Although Cullen Jenkins, another very talented defensive lineman, is versatile enough to play end or tackle in the 4-3, he is a penetrator and asking him to hold the point as a 3-4 end could be a waste of what he does best.

I am also not fond of A.J. Hawk, a prototypical 4-3 weakside linebacker, and Nick Barnett, a very successful run-and-hit middle linebacker in the old scheme, being the starting two inside guys in the new 3-4. Neither player is equipped to take on massive guards at the point of attack. I expect to see these two getting swallowed up far too often.

I must admit that I expected the Packers' front seven to be even more ill-equipped to make this change at this point of the year than they are right now. I was shocked that B.J. Raji fell to Green Bay in the first round, and I feel Clay Matthews Jr. should fit the scheme well. Matthews is more linebacker than defensive end, while Kampman is the exact opposite. Those two could complement each other at outside linebacker rather well.

That being said, rookies rarely adapt quickly to the 3-4, and although Matthews did play some of the scheme last year at USC, neither player has extensive experience running it.

It should be noted that Dom Capers will be the one coordinating the change. Capers knows what will make the transformation more palatable.

I still contend that the Packers would have been better off sticking with the 4-3 and still drafting Raji. Without making the change, Green Bay would not have had to uncharacteristically jump back into the first round to fill a position of need, and could have used the resources that it took to get Matthews to add to other areas of the team, such as offensive tackle or another 4-3 defensive end. Expect some growing pains on defense.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DANA POINT, Calif. -- I'll be joining some of my ESPN.com colleagues over at the St. Regis in a few hours but just wanted to bring you up to date on the happenings in the NFC North.

It wasn't a newsy weekend as the movers and shakers traveled to Southern California. But here are links that will keep you on top of your Black and Blue game:

  • Detroit president Tom Lewand insists the Lions did not deviate from their long-term plan by signing a 36-year-old nose tackle (Grady Jackson) and trading for a 30-year-old linebacker (Julian Peterson), according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Without former president/CEO Matt Millen, Lewand is now the Lions' top representative at these meetings, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
  • A tip of the hat to NFC East colleague Matt Mosley for this one: New York Giants owner John Mara said that taking away the Thanksgiving game from Detroit would be "particularly damaging." There are no plans to do so.
  • Here's one we missed Sunday: According to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford scored an impressive 38 on his Wonderlic test. Receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Hakeem Nicks, whose names have been mentioned prominently as possible targets for NFC North teams, scored a 15 and 11, respectively.
  • Thomas Rozwadowski of the Green Bay Press-Gazette listens to former Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila give a sermon at a Wisconsin church. The theme: "Where is the love?"
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells the story of why the NFL isn't planning to change overtime rules by relating three key Packers games that included at least two possessions in overtime.
  • Five years ago, Minnesota businessman Denny Hecker was trying to purchase part of the Minnesota Vikings. Now, his Twin Cities empire is in ruin and he has debt of more than $500 million. Here's a profile from Automotive News.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy's season-ending press conference Wednesday morning was filled with platitudes and big-picture discussion, but pretty light on specifics. Speaking for about 30 minutes, McCarthy told Wisconsin reporters:
  • He has made no decisions about his coaching staff, most notably the future of defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. McCarthy is evaluating coordinators Wednesday and the rest of his assistants next week.
  • Suggesting that youth is a reason for the Packers' 6-10 record is "convenient," but not necessarily accurate.
  • The Packers "definitely made the right move at the quarterback position" by trading Brett Favre and installing Aaron Rodgers as the starter.
  • The defense never overcame the season-ending injury of defensive end Cullen Jenkins.
  • It's too early to know who will play middle linebacker next season. Incumbent Nick Barnett is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

To me, the most interesting part of the session came when McCarthy was asked about the Packers' general lack of pass rush this season. Yes, Jenkins was injured and veteran Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila flamed out, but from a layman's perspective it didn't appear the Packers followed through on their offseason promises to bring more pressure through blitzes and other schematic adjustments.

McCarthy said he and Sanders will speak "at length" about the pass rush in the coming days. But didn't they have the same conversation last year? And the year before that? McCarthy said the Packers had the necessary blitzes in their game plans this season but suggested they didn't -- or couldn't -- use them as often as they would have liked:

"Defense is obviously different than offense. Offense, they determine how you line up and when the ball is snapped. Defense, you prepare for certain personnel groups and certain situations and when they do occur, you call certain defenses. If they don't occur, those types of packages may not be used. They are all still part of our defense."

It's awfully convenient, to use McCarthy's word, to blame offenses for taking you out of your blitz packages. In reality, it means you got out-schemed, and the exchange indicates it will be hard for Sanders to keep his job following this week's evaluation.

If McCarthy and Sanders left last year's meeting with a plan to blitz more frequently, then Sanders failed to execute it. That's a pretty significant omission, and the Packers have now ended three consecutive seasons saying they need to improve their pass rush. Coordinators don't often get a third chance to make that correction.

NFC North team evaluations

December, 29, 2008
12/29/08
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
The Vikings converted an offseason spending spree into their first division title since 2000. Most notably, the additions of defensive end Jared Allen (14.5 sacks) and receiver Bernard Berrian (964 receiving yards) turned a .500 team into a 10-win group. The Vikings still have some areas to work on, but they will enter the playoffs with victories in five of their past six games while boasting arguably the NFL's best player in tailback Adrian Peterson. Grade: B+

Biggest surprise: Coach Brad Childress benched protégé Tarvaris Jackson after an 0-2 start, a shocking admission that the quarterback Childress groomed as his starter was not ready to take the reins of a playoff-caliber team. Even more surprising, backup Gus Frerotte -- whom the Vikings coaxed away from retirement in the offseason -- replaced Jackson and won eight of 11 starts. Jackson has since regained the starting job, but it would have been hard to predict such a turn of events at the game's most crucial position.

Biggest disappointment: The Vikings have one of the NFL's best placekickers in Ryan Longwell, but overall their special teams were a surprising liability this season. Opponents scored seven special teams touchdowns against them, a league record. Some of the issues could be traced to individual mistakes -- punter Chris Kluwe dropping a snap or an incorrect alignment on field goal protection -- but for the most part the breakdowns were across the board. The Vikings missed coverage demon Heath Farwell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, and created some disarray by failing to settle on return men for either kickoffs or punts.

Biggest need: Years of heavy offseason spending has left the team fairly well stocked, but one area of concern is right tackle. Ryan Cook was rarely effective in his 15 starts, and the Vikings tried to replace him with utility backup Artis Hicks before Hicks suffered a torn triceps muscle. Cook's three-year conversion to right tackle has been bumpy and the Vikings should consider replacing him in the offseason.

Second-guessing: Why did Peterson fumble nine times on the way to the NFL rushing title? Peterson's theory is that his strong running style leaves him upright more than most running backs, giving defenders more time to pop the ball loose. There is some merit to that explanation, but it doesn't explain every fumble. The bottom line is that Peterson at times lost focus on one of his primary jobs -- protecting the ball -- in his effort to break long runs.

Chicago Bears (9-7)
The Bears took early control of the NFC North but missed a chance to create a deep cushion after giving up leads against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. And yet even with those missed opportunities and a 1-3 stretch in late November, the Bears could have earned a wild-card berth had they won their season finale at Houston. That failure should jump-start a number of self-scouting exercises, especially to figure out why their defense slipped in nearly every area two years after leading the team to the Super Bowl. Grade: B-

Biggest surprise: There was a general consensus that Matt Forte could be a 1,000-yard back in the NFL. But Forte not only rushed for 1,238 yards, but he also led the team with 63 receptions. Those weren't all dump passes into the flat, either. Forte showed a natural ability to position his body for red zone receptions and was by far the most important player on the Bears' offense this season.

Biggest disappointment: The Bears finished the season ranked No. 30 against the pass, failing to mount much of a pass rush from its defensive line and displaying little coverage savvy in the back end. Cornerback Nate Vasher was a complete non-factor and might not return next season, while multiple other players alluded to frustration with defensive coordinator Bob Babich's schemes. The Bears blitzed more than any team in the NFL, according to STATS, an approach that too often left the secondary exposed for big plays.

Biggest need: Fantasy players need the Bears to upgrade their receiver position, which boasts no one who should be considered a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. But until they get their defense rectified, it's not going to matter how many offensive weapons they add. The Bears should look for defensive game changers -- no matter what position they play -- this offseason. No position, other than that of Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, should be considered untouchable.

Second-guessing: Was Devin Hester's performance as a receiver -- 51 receptions, 665 yards and three touchdown -- worth reducing his threat as a returner? There was no way Hester would have kept up the scoring pace of his first two seasons (11 touchdowns). But he never came close to returning a kickoff or punt for a touchdown this season. There has to be some connection. Right?

Green Bay Packers (6-10)
It was reasonable to expect some drop-off following the departure of quarterback Brett Favre, but few could have predicted a second-half collapse that would leave the Packers with a 6-10 record. The defense fell into an injury-induced tailspin, and while quarterback Aaron Rodgers produced solid statistics, he didn't take over in the fourth quarter of close games as Favre often did. This team had far too much talent to finish with a losing record. Grade: D

Biggest surprise: Tramon Williams stepped from obscurity into a substantial role as a part-time starting cornerback. He ranked third on the team with five interceptions while displaying solid coverage skills and undeniable big-play ability. Williams excited enough people that it seems possible the Packers will move veteran cornerback Al Harris during the offseason and install Williams as a full-time starter alongside Charles Woodson.

Biggest disappointment: Safety Atari Bigby seemed on the verge of big things at the end of last season, but he was never healthy in 2008. He managed only 21 tackles and one interception in seven games before being placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. The ripple effect of his injuries were notable throughout the defense. Backup Aaron Rouse struggled, and eventually the Packers were forced to use Woodson at safety for three games. Bigby is a tremendous athlete with big-time hitting ability but, like the Packers, had a very unlucky year.

Biggest need: It's a toss-up between offensive tackle and defensive line, but the need for defensive help seems more immediate. The Packers played most of the year with three healthy defensive tackles and they would be taking a huge risk if they count on former first-round pick Justin Harrell for anything next season. The Packers need to improve not only their interior run defense but also on the edge in passing situations. The losses of Cullen Jenkins (injury) and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (ineffectiveness) left Aaron Kampman all alone in disrupting opponents' passing attacks.

Second guessing: The decision to part ways with Favre was defensible. Allowing the divorce to extend well into training camp was not. Because they didn't believe Favre really wanted to play for another team, the Packers decided to hold tight and assumed he would eventually go away. When Favre refused, the Packers were left with a monstrous distraction at a crucial time of team-building. No matter what anyone said at the time, the drama disrupted the team and played a role in the general confusion and miscommunication that has plagued the team all season.

Detroit Lions (0-16)
There are 16 reasons why Detroit will undergo yet another rebuilding program this offseason. The first 0-16 season in NFL history exposed a poorly-constructed team that needs help at nearly every position, most notably along both lines. They'll have two first-round draft picks to jump-start the process, including the No. 1 overall, but first will have to replace fired head coach Rod Marinelli. Grade: F

Biggest surprise: President and general manager Matt Millen had kept his job for so long, amid so much losing, that it seemed he had a lifetime appointment. So while his firing was not undeserved, it was downright stunning to see owner William Clay Ford -- with prompting from son Bill Ford Jr. -- pull the trigger after the Lions opened 0-3. Even Ford could see where Millen's incompetence had led the franchise. And if you're looking for the Lions' second-biggest surprise, it would be Ford's decision to retain Millen's top two subordinates -- interim general manager Martin Mayhew and chief operating officer Tom Lewand -- to rebuild the team. If there was ever a time for a clean slate, it's now.

Biggest disappointment: There are so many choices, but the best place to start is quarterback Jon Kitna. When the season began, you could have made an argument for Kitna as the best quarterback in the NFC North. But he was average at best during the first month of the season and never seemed comfortable with new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto. The Lions essentially fired Kitna by placing him on injured reserve with a relatively mild back injury. The move left the team shuffling through four different quarterbacks, and it's possible that none of them will be in Detroit next season. The Lions ended the season with the division's worst quarterback situation.

Biggest need: The Lions' defense gave up almost 170 rushing yards per game and got pushed around on a weekly basis. The first step to rebuilding the defense is finding some defensive linemen who can control the line of scrimmage. You can't always add a star at this position, but there are plenty of free agents and likely draft picks who could add some muscle and physicality there.

Second-guessing: Why did Marinelli think that Colletto could transition the offense from Mike Martz's passing attack to a zone-blocking run scheme? First of all, the zone-blocking scheme can take several years to install. Marinelli should have known he didn't have that long. Second, Colletto had never been a coordinator in the NFL. As the season progressed, it didn't look like Colletto had many schematic answers for the way the Lions were playing. Colletto is a well-known offensive line coach who might have been in over his head in this job.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The conclusions already are coming in. If you're a Green Bay fan, your team is 5-8 because:

OR

OR

  • Releasing punter Jon Ryan prior to the start of the season in favor of Derrick Frost, who has since been released.

OR

  • Coach Mike McCarthy has gotten too conservative with his playcalling at key junctures of games.

I'm sure there are plenty of other explanations, and maybe we'll make the Packers' collapse a "Have at it" topic one of these weeks. For now, here's one more possibility: Age.

The Packers entered the season with an average age of 25.57 among the 53 players on their active roster, making them the youngest team in the NFL by that standard.

I'm a bit wary of going in this direction, considering all the veteran players the Packers have at key positions -- from cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson, to defensive linemen Aaron Kampman and Ryan Pickett, to offensive tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton, to receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. (But on the flip side, the Packers have almost exclusively young and inexperienced players as backups. There are very few positions, including quarterback, that have an experienced veteran as the top backup.)

We'll save that argument for a later day. But I did find it notable that coach Mike McCarthy didn't disagree with a suggestion Monday that the age of his roster might have compounded some problems this season.

Asked if mistakes are generally coming from young players, or whether veterans are at fault as well, McCarthy said:

"There is plenty to go around. You could probably point more toward the youth. We've had some situations where guys, they don't have as much experience in certain situations where it's not clean for them. Frankly the number of conversations that I've had with some of our younger players last week and the week before, in some of the one-on-ones that I had, that was one of the topics that came off. That's just a part of the growth that you have with younger players and everybody goes through it. Some of the older players, I think maybe they are trying to do too much. We've talked about that..."

NFC North midseason awards

November, 5, 2008
11/05/08
12:14
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

You've heard of getting ahead of the curve? Well, we jumped out a bit two weeks ago when we presented our near-midseason awards on a slow Saturday during the bye week. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we're kinda out of juice now that the actual midseason has arrived and the bosses want a true slate of midseason awards to coincide with the midpoint of the season.

So here then are the first updated near-midseason awards at midseason in ESPN.com Blog Network history:

 
 David Stluka/Getty Images
 No, there's nothing wrong with your computer screen: Kyle Orton is the NFC North's midseason MVP.

Rookie of the year: Chicago tailback Matt Forte
He hasn't had a 100-yard game since the opener, but Forte's steady work has put him on pace for an 1,100-yard season. His best contribution might be as a receiver, where he is more comfortable than anyone could have imagined. UPDATE: Obviously, we knew it was a matter of time before Forte got his second 100-yard game. It came Sunday against Detroit, putting him on pace for a 1,280-yard season.

Coach of the year: Chicago's Lovie Smith
Green Bay's Mike McCarthy got consideration for navigating the Packers through the Brett Favre mess. But Smith's decision to start quarterback Kyle Orton, and his willingness to trust him with a wide-open offense, has put the Bears in the thick of the division race. UPDATE: Smith will really earn this award if the Bears hold on to first place with backup quarterback Rex Grossman at the helm.

Yin and yang executive award: Green Bay's Ted Thompson
Clearly, Aaron Rodgers was ready to assume the team's quarterback position. And clearly, Thompson should have ended the Brett Favre saga sooner. You can only wonder how much of the Packers' penalties and other sloppiness can be traced to a distraction-filled training camp. UPDATE: Thompson is so confident in Rodgers that he's already made him a very rich man. And the Packers still have a limp in their gait.

Quietest 684-yard performance: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson
Yes, he has five touchdowns -- including a 54-yard jaunt last Sunday at Soldier Field. But his production hasn't translated into victories; only one of his four 100-yard games have come in a win. UPDATE: Darn! We thought this would happen but didn't write it: Peterson's 139 yards Sunday against Houston gave him a second 100-yard game in a Vikings victory. Another lost scoop.

Offensive player of the year: Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings
Jennings is the NFL's most explosive receiver, leading the league with 685 receiving yards and 12 receptions of at least 20 yards. Defenses should know by now that he's Aaron Rodgers' favorite receiver. UPDATE: Jennings has slumped to second in the NFL with 764 yards, but he has managed to save face by maintaining his league lead with 14 receptions of 20 or more yards.

Defensive player of the year: Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson
It's been nothing short of miraculous: Woodson is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions despite playing the past six games on a fractured toe. He's hardly practiced but his coverage hasn't suffered. (Ask Dallas' Terrell Owens.) UPDATE: Woodson is back to practicing on a limited basis but it hasn't affected his performance on Sunday.

Most Valuable Player: Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton
Can't say I envisioned writing these words, but Orton is the key to the Bears' success these days. His accuracy and quick adaptation to the no-huddle offense has caught opposing defenses off guard. Face it: with an injury-depleted defense and a mediocre running game, the Bears are a passing team. Gasp. UPDATE: And that means the passer isn't supposed to run. But Orton tried to get fancy the other day at Soldier Field and will miss a few games because of a sprained ankle.

Biggest swing and miss: Detroit's plan to run the ball
The Lions' conversion to a zone-blocking run scheme, a knee-jerk reaction to the pass-happy ways of former coordinator Mike Martz, has been a total disaster. Linemen aren't blocking it well, runners aren't finding the holes and coaches aren't mixing up the calls. Their average of 77.7 rushing yards per game is the third-worst mark in the NFL. UPDATE: That average is now down to 72.0 yards and is kind of like the stock market: No one knows where rock-bottom might be.

Best offseason acquisition: Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian
Berrian has given the Vikings exactly what they were missing last season: A receiver who could take advantage of the attention paid to tailback Adrian Peterson. Berrian's 517 receiving yards rank 10th in the NFL and put him on pace for a career season. UPDATE: Berrian now ranks 9th with 621 yards. He's only a few Gus Frerotte rainbows away from the first 1,000-yard season.

Worst offseason acquisition: Minnesota fullback Thomas Tapeh
The Vikings envisioned Tapeh as a long-term companion for Adrian Peterson and paid him top money for a fullback. As it turns out, however, the Vikings didn't know Tapeh had knee surgery a month before signing. He played in two games and already has been released. The Vikings could be on the hook for as much as $1.855 million. UPDATE: It turns out his name really wasn't Thomas. (Sarcasm alert.)

APB Award: Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila
"KGB" has a half-sack to his credit despite playing in all seven games. The Packers are limiting his playing time to maintain his health, but it's time to start wondering if he has simply seen his better days
. UPDATE: The Packers agree. They released Gbaja-Biamila last Saturday.

Most patience: Readers of this blog
Thanks for sticking with us through FavreGate I and II, MillenGate, the Soldier Field fracas and the OCCASIONAL typo or misjudgment. Most of all, let's keep having fun. That's what football is about, right? UPDATE: You're right, it's "Rob" Bironas.

Black and Blue all over: Game day

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
8:44
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

NASHVILLE -- It's a beautifully sunny morning here. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s and it's hard to imagine weather playing a role in Sunday's matchup between Green Bay and unbeaten Tennessee.

We took a pretty clinical look Saturday at Green Bay's decision to release veteran defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, noting his lack of production over time. But it also represented the end of an era for one of the Packers' longest-tenured players.

I thought Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a nice job putting Gbaja-Biamila's career in perspective, noting how he made Green Bay his home and connected with fans through a number of charitable endeavors. Give it a read if you get a chance.

We'll check back upon arrival at LP Field. For now, let's take a jaunt around the division:

  • Lori Nickel of the Journal Sentinel profiles cornerback Charles Woodson, who said long-standing rumors about his toughness and work ethic should never have surfaced. "If anybody ever watched me play football, there was never a question," Woodson said.
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes the Packers are running against the NFL tide by using Ryan Grant as their exclusive runner. They have given Grant the ball on 71 percent of their running plays; the Titans represent the opposite end of the spectrum with their split between LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looks at five key decisions the Bears made that have helped them to a 4-3 record. Among them: Keeping John Tait at right tackle and resisting the urge to release receiver Marty Booker.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks tailback Kevin Jones could have a big day Sunday against his former team.
  • Detroit Free Press writers consider whether the Lions could finish 0-16 this season. Michael Rosenberg: "The Lions do not do anything well."
  • Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at how Minnesota dealt with its latest off-field distraction, the possible suspension of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.
  • Vikings safety Madieu Williams, who will return Sunday from a neck injury that sidelined him for nearly three months, isn't worried about his first hit. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune has the story.

Packers gave KGB a fair shot

November, 1, 2008
11/01/08
2:57
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Gbaja-Biamila

It's hard to justify holding a roster spot for a designated pass-rusher who has a half-sack in seven games, and in those terms the Green Bay Packers faced an easy decision Saturday. When it came time to create a roster spot for young defensive tackle Justin Harrell, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was an obvious target.

Yes, the Packers had guaranteed his $6.15 million base salary the day they made him part of the opening-day roster. But Gbaja-Biamila wasn't helping them in any way. He wasn't getting to the quarterback, isn't a factor against the run and has no special teams value. And seven games is a decent amount of time for the team to decide if it thought better days were ahead. Obviously, it didn't.

If pass-rushers weren't so rare, Gbaja-Biamila probably wouldn't have made the roster in the first place. Even after offseason surgery, his knee seemed to bother him throughout training camp. It was worth giving him a shot to work through the issues, but in the end he wasn't up to it.

NFC North near-midseason awards

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
11:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The NFC North bye came almost exactly at the halfway mark of the season; it's Week 8 and all four teams will have played seven games by the end of this weekend. So now is as good of a time as any to hand out a few midseason awards after our inaugural half-spin through the Black and Blue division.

Rookie of the year: Chicago tailback Matt Forte
He hasn't had a 100-yard game since the opener, but Forte's steady work has put him on pace for an 1,100-yard season. His best contribution might be as a receiver, where he is more comfortable than anyone could have imagined.

Coach of the year: Chicago's Lovie Smith
Green Bay's Mike McCarthy got consideration for navigating the Packers through the Brett Favre mess. But Smith's decision to start quarterback Kyle Orton, and his willingness to trust him with a wide-open offense, has put the Bears in the thick of the division race.

Yin and yang executive award: Green Bay's Ted Thompson
Clearly, Aaron Rodgers was ready to assume the team's quarterback position. And clearly, Thompson should have ended the Brett Favre saga sooner. You can only wonder how much of the Packers' penalties and other sloppiness can be traced to a distraction-filled training camp.

Quietest 684-yard performance: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson
Yes, he has five touchdowns -- including a 54-yard jaunt last Sunday at Soldier Field. But his production hasn't translated into victories; only one of his four 100-yard games have come in a win.

Offensive player of the year: Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings
Jennings is the NFL's most explosive receiver, leading the league with 685 receiving yards and 12 receptions of at least 20 yards. Defenses should know by now that he's Rodgers' favorite receiver.

Defensive player of the year: Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson
It's been nothing short of miraculous: Woodson is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions despite playing the past six games on a fractured toe. He's hardly practiced but his coverage hasn't suffered. (Ask Dallas' Terrell Owens.)

Most Valuable Player: Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton
Can't say I envisioned writing these words, but Orton is the key to the Bears' success these days. His accuracy and quick adaptation to the no-huddle offense has caught opposing defenses off guard. Face it: with an injury-depleted defense and a mediocre running game, the Bears are a passing team. Gasp.

Biggest swing and miss: Detroit's plan to run the ball
The Lions' conversion to a zone-blocking run scheme, a knee-jerk reaction to the pass-happy ways of former coordinator Mike Martz, has been a total disaster. Linemen aren't blocking it well, runners aren't finding the holes and coaches aren't mixing up the calls. Their average of 77.7 rushing yards per game is the third-worst mark in the NFL.

Best offseason acquisition: Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian
Berrian has given the Vikings exactly what they were missing last season: a receiver who could take advantage of the attention paid to tailback Adrian Peterson. Berrian's 517 receiving yards rank 10th in the NFL and put him on pace for a career season.

Worst offseason acquisition: Minnesota fullback Thomas Tapeh
The Vikings envisioned Tapeh as a long-term companion for Peterson and paid him top money for a fullback. As it turns out, the Vikings didn't know Tapeh had knee surgery a month before signing. He played in two games and already has been released. The Vikings could be on the hook for as much as $1.855 million.

APB Award: Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila
"KGB" has a half-sack to his credit despite playing in all seven games. The Packers are limiting his playing time to maintain his health, but it's time to start wondering if he has simply seen his better days.

Most patience: Readers of this blog
Thanks for sticking with us through FavreGate I and II, MillenGate, the Solider Field fracas and the OCCASIONAL typo or misjudgment. Most of all, let's keep having fun. That's what football is about, right?

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher was one of at least two NFL players who were fined $20,000 for verbally abusing officials during a game last weekend. (St. Louis center Richie Incognito was the other. Denver cornerback Dre Bly, meanwhile, was fined $20,000 for criticizing officials in media interviews.)

Urlacher and Incognito were both penalized 15 yards during the game, but it's somewhat jarring to know a player can be fined more for showing disrespect to an official that he can be for tackling a player by his facemask -- which could cause serious injury. And because there are only a handful of people who can hear what the abusing player said, officials obviously get a high level of discretion.

NFL officials receive constant abuse from coaches and players, most of which goes unnoticed publicly because the audio isn't captured for television broadcasts. And we can't say for sure that these fines represent a new trend because the NFL only publicizes them when asked specifically by media members.

All that said, it's hard not to draw a connection between the fines and a series of high-profile officiating gaffes we've witnessed this season. Officials have a tough job, and perhaps the NFL is giving them a little cover right now.

On to the rest of the NFC North on this Saturday morning:

  • It's not clear whom the Bears will use as their nickelback Sunday against Minnesota with Danieal Manning (hamstring) out and cornerback Charles Tillman (shoulder) very questionable. One possibility, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, is rookie safety Craig Steltz.
  • The Bears need to improve their pass rush this weekend, writes John Mullin of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Green Bay likely will decide today whether to activate defensive tackle Justin Harrell from the physically unable to perform list. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette lays out the situation.
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as saying: "Everybody's going to be writing, 'Kabeer's back.'" Through six games, "KGB" has a half-sack amid multiple injuries afflicting the Packers' defensive linemen.
  • Minnesota receiver Sidney Rice (knee) said he "definitely" will play Sunday against Chicago after missing three of the past four games, Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune reports. Ultimately, though, the decision isn't in Rice's hands.
  • The best guess is that Dontarrious Thomas will start at middle linebacker Sunday for Minnesota but that Napoleon Harris will eventually reclaim the position. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press breaks down the situation.
  • Lions players still believe in Detroit coach Rod Marinelli, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News. "I absolutely love him," quarterback Dan Orlovsky said.
  • Good luck to Detroit left tackle Jeff Backus on Sunday when he faces Houston defensive end Mario Williams. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com sizes up the (mis-)matchup.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We've engaged in plenty of discussion the past two weeks about the youth of Green Bay's defense, especially when it comes to some of the replacements the Packers have used in response to a series of injuries.

On Wednesday, Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette casts a critical eye toward one of the team's top veterans -- defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who hasn't produced so much as a quarterback pressure since Sept. 14 at Detroit. Overall, Gbaja-Biamila has a half-sack to his credit and isn't a viable option as a situational pass rusher.

Gbaja-Biamila has been dealing with knee and ankle injuries, but last week the Packers removed him from their injury report. Defensive ends coach Carl Hairston said: "He's not as explosive as he used to be. It's going to take a little time and repetitions to get that back."

Gbaja-Biamila is 32, however, and Demovsky questions whether he is simply done as a feared pass rusher. If so, it appears unlikely the Packers would bring him back next season; already, they're paying him a base salary of $6.15 for 2008 that was guaranteed when he was a part of the roster on opening weekend.

Continuing our be-bop around the NFC North:

  • The Packers promoted linebacker Danny Lansanah from the practice squad Tuesday when the Miami Dolphins tried to sign him, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Veteran linebacker Tracy White was released to create a roster spot.
  • Mike O'Hara of the Detroit News wonders if the Lions could finish 0-16 and places odds on the chances of them winning each of their remaining games. Their chances of defeating Minnesota this Sunday at the Metrodome: Six percent. (They haven't won in Minnesota since 1997).
  • At this point, Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com doesn't see the Lions paying cornerback Leigh Bodden a roster bonus of $8.6 million due this offseason.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune offers a Bears primer for Chicago sports fans who have been distracted by the city's baseball teams. Among the points: The Bears' offensive line has performed better than expected.
  • "We're headed to the Super Bowl." That's what Bears defensive end Mark Anderson believes, according to Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune details the Vikings' system-wide special teams failure Monday night. Overall, the Vikings rank last in the NFL in punt coverage and 30th in kickoff coverage.
  • During our chat Tuesday over at SportsNation, a few people asked about Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin's violent hit on New Orleans tight end Billy Miller. The league won't fine Griffin, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, because Miller had established himself as a runner and thus was in position to defend himself.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

After the Packers' 27-24 loss to Atlanta, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

1. You can call this a knee-jerk reaction if you want, but it's probably time to start asking whether the Packers' chaotic training camp is catching up with them. The Brett Favre situation hung over most of camp, distracting coaches and players alike as everyone wondered who their quarterback would be in 2008. The Packers did their best to focus, but camp is supposed to be a time to re-establish the basic fundamentals and build a discipline for the season amid a distraction-free environment. And yet for the second consecutive week, coach Mike McCarthy noted poor fundamentals and "common mistakes" during his post-game news conference. I don't know if anyone is ready to connect the dots yet, but it's worth considering.

2. The Packers haven't been able to meet their offseason goal of establishing more consistent pass rush. They didn't sack Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan on Sunday and, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, knocked him down only twice on 28 throws. Veteran defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has been a disappointment and the rotation of linebackers Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar hasn't made much difference.

3. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed something by playing with a sprained throwing shoulder, which is a nice way of describing a mild separation. You probably shouldn't underestimate the symbolism of staying in the lineup, the way Favre always did. But more important, the Packers know they can count on Rodgers to play relatively well when he is less than 100 percent. As tough as it sounds, that's a must for all successful NFL players

And here is one question I'm still asking:

Can you still consider the Packers the most well-rounded team in the NFC North? Entering the season, I thought Green Bay had the best top-to-bottom roster in the division and one of the better collections of talent in all of the NFC. Given the significant injuries they've suffered, especially on defense, that distinction might no longer be valid.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

At about 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers walked into the team's indoor training facility for a throwing session that ultimately convinced coach Mike McCarthy that he should start against the Atlanta Falcons.

"I think Mike wanted to look into my eyes and see if I wanted to play," Rodgers said to reporters at Lambeau Field. "I told him, 'I want the ball. I want to be out there.' I just knew I was going to have to deal with the pain."

As Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette details, Rodgers took neither medication nor a pain-killing shot to help him through a 313-yard, three-touchdown passing day. In our coverage of Chicago's 34-7 victory Sunday over Detroit, we probably didn't devote enough space to what could be a career-defining moment for Rodgers.

"He's a special guy," defensive end Aaron Kampman said.

Rodgers' arm wasn't as live as normal, observed Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and he was in obvious discomfort in the fourth quarter of a 27-24 loss. But the Packers' injury-depleted defense had as much to do with the defeat as anything, and in the macho world of the NFL, Rodgers picked up some loyalty points by playing through a very uncomfortable situation Sunday.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • The Packers were unable to pressure Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel traces another quiet day for designated pass rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
  • McCarthy: "Our house is messy right now."
  • Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times touches on an item we didn't get to Sunday: Bears receiver Marty Booker's amazing one-handed reception that officials initially couldn't believe was a catch. The Bears challenged the play, and an incomplete call was reversed on replay.
  • The Bears' biggest battle in a relatively weak division might be complacency, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Rob Parker of the Detroit News has a simple solution for the Lions: "Rod Marinelli must be fired. Today." The Lions sure looked like a team that has given up, but replacing Marinelli at this point might not help matters.
  • Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press wonders when owner William Clay Ford will accept any public accountability for this season's debacle.
  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune suggests that a Minnesota victory Monday night at New Orleans would leave the team in decent shape after the most difficult stretch of its season.
  • Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press crunched the numbers: Since coach Brad Childress arrived in 2006, the Vikings are the NFL's seventh-most penalized team and have committed the sixth-most number of turnovers.

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