NFC North: Keiland Williams

In which we look ahead to two more nights of exciting Week 2 preseason action in the NFC North:

Detroit Lions
Opponent: Baltimore Ravens
Location: M&T Bank Stadium
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: The Lions continue to experiment with their arrangement in the defensive secondary, and Jacob Lacey is expected to start at cornerback with rookie Bill Bentley playing in nickel packages. … The first-team offense is looking to sustain some success after a scoreless preseason opener. ... Two prominent players who missed that game, receiver Titus Young (birth of child) and defensive end Cliff Avril (late camp report) are scheduled to play. … Coach Jim Schwartz grew up in Baltimore and was tweeting cityscapes from his hotel room Thursday evening. … The game will be televised nationally on FOX.
Focal point: Tailback Jahvid Best appears likely to open the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, once again placing an emphasis on depth behind Mikel Leshoure (hamstring) and current starter Kevin Smith. You would figure that Keiland Williams and Joique Bell will once again get a heavy workload.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: Buffalo Bills
Location: Metrodome
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: The Vikings held a number of veterans out of their preseason opener, but most of them are expected to play Friday night. The list includes defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, cornerback Antoine Winfield and receiver Percy Harvin. … You should also get your first look at rookie cornerback Josh Robinson. … Tailback Adrian Peterson (knee) returned to practice this week but won't play. … The Vikings are looking forward to seeing rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh's big leg in the still conditions of the Metrodome.
Focal point: The most important task for the franchise is continuing to push the development of quarterback Christian Ponder, who made an encouraging 2012 debut last week. But almost as important is getting at least an even performance from backup Joe Webb, who hasn't had a good summer. The Vikings made Webb a full-time quarterback in the offseason, but if he falls short, he's too good of an athlete to cast aside.

Chicago Bears
Opponent: Washington Redskins
Location: Soldier Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Quarterback Jay Cutler will make his preseason debut, and the same is assumed for tailback Matt Forte and defensive end Julius Peppers. … The next installment of the Bears' left tackle drama is expected to include some first-team time for Chris Williams. The Bears want J'Marcus Webb to win the job, but at this point Cutler's safety is the primary goal.
Focal point: Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher's knee surgery brings new scrutiny on the Bears' emergency plan at the position, which for the moment includes moving Nick Roach inside from the strong side and inserting veteran newcomer Geno Hayes on the strong side. Is that an arrangement the Bears could use if Urlacher is forced to miss regular-season time? Or do they need to find help from the outside?

Preseason: Sluggish Lions start

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
7:40
AM ET
Reviewing Friday's action at Ford Field:

Cleveland Browns 19, Detroit Lions 17

Preseason record: 0-1

Of interest: Coach Jim Schwartz expressed disappointment about the overall play, but I interpreted that sentiment to higher expectations as a franchise. This was a typical, sloppy opening preseason game. … Defensive end Willie Young made a nice early play to strip Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, and rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley had an active and ultimately encouraging outing, recovering from an early 34-yard completion against him to get in position for two interceptions. He made one and dropped another that probably would have gone for a touchdown, but Bentley didn't seem to do anything to threaten his position with the first team. … The safety position remains a weak spot, as Amari Spievey sat out because of concussion-like symptoms. Remember, Spievey missed a portion of the offseason program because of headaches stemming from a concussion he suffered in January. … The first-team offense didn't score in three series, two of which ended in punts and one by a Matthew Stafford interception that should never have been thrown. … Those around the country who are rooting for rookie quarterback Kellen Moore to make the team didn't see a lot to be encouraged by. Moore completed 4-of-14 passes and continues to display an arm that doesn't appear to have enough zip, at least at the moment, to make it in the NFL. … Receiver Titus Young didn't play because of the expected birth of his child. … Say what you want about the Browns' run defense, but the Lions rushed for nearly 200 yards. Joique Bell registered 89 yards on 16 carries, while Keiland Williams added 71 on nine carries.

Local coverage: Schwartz via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Let's be clear, preseason games, we don't use them as a barometer and they don't count. But you want to play well. Win or lose, you want to play well, and I don't think we played well. We didn't play well on offense, on defense, special teams, from the beginning to the very end. And again, we had a chance." … Early returns on the Lions' offensive backfield were encouraging, writes Rod Beard of the Detroit News. … Schwartz had a tough assessment of Bentley, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "It's too inconsistent play for a cornerback. Give up the deep ball -- that's something that we shouldn't allow to happen -- and we were 50 percent on making interceptions. I don't think that's a good day at all for what he can do. I mean, he has a chance, if he knocks the deep ball away and makes two interceptions in this game, to have done something for himself. Fifty-50 isn't going to get it done." … Don't be concerned about the first-team offense, writes Birkett of the Free Press. … The Lions have stirred up the populace, writes Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News.

Up next: Friday, Aug. 17 at the Baltimore Ravens

Previewing preseason Week 1

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
1:15
PM ET
In which we look ahead to NFC North preseason football over the next two days. (A separate post on the Green Bay Packers' Thursday night turn on ESPN is right here.)

Chicago Bears
Opponent: Denver Broncos
Location:
Soldier Field
Day/Time:
Thursday/8:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes:
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee) is among those who won't play in a game most of the NFL will watch to see the return of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Urlacher has missed a week of practice because of soreness in his knee and then personal reasons, and it's possible the mystery surrounding his absence could be cleared up if he is in attendance at Soldier Field. Nick Roach will start in his place. … Defensive end Alex Brown signed a 1-year contract and will retire in an on-field ceremony before the game. … It's also worth noting that quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will be facing the team that began breaking up their nucleus in 2009.
Focal point: All eyes will be on left tackle J'Marcus Webb, who has a big lead in the competition for the starting job but still hasn't earned the full trust of offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Webb can either settle concerns with a solid performance or send the Bears back to the drawing board when camp resumes next week.

Detroit Lions
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Location: Ford Field
Day/Time: Friday/7:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: The Lions' defensive secondary will have three starters who emerged in the past few days. Rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley has done well during stints with the first team in recent days and is expected to start opposite Chris Houston. The Lions' safeties likely will be Erik Coleman and John Wendling. Louis Delmas had knee surgery this week and it appears Amari Spievey hasn't had a great camp. … Expect tailback Kevin Smith to start but there should be plenty of work for Joique Bell and Keiland Williams, among others.
Focal point: This will be the first time when we'll see a completely healthy Nick Fairley on an NFL field, and the Lions are eager to see what he can do. Fairley broke his foot during training camp last summer and was clearly limited in the 10 games he did play in. The preseason should give us a better idea if Fairley is destined to be a dominant difference-maker, as the Lions hoped when they drafted him, or if he will simply be a member of defensive rotation.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: San Francisco 49ers
Location: Candlestick Park
Day/Time: Friday/9 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Tight end John Carlson (knee), running back Jordan Todman (ankle) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) are among the players who won't participate. Starters should see a few series, although coach Leslie Frazier implied that an early scoring drive could make it a short night for the first-team offense. … The defense could see more action in its first game environment under new defensive coordinator Alan Williams. … Rookie Blair Walsh is the only place-kicker in camp, so he will get all of the kicks this preseason. We'll see if he gets the opportunity to demonstrate the strong leg he has displayed this summer.
Focal point: The Vikings have more than a half-dozen new starters, but from now through the foreseeable future, all eyes will be on quarterback Christian Ponder to gauge the level of his progress from a rocky rookie season. Preseason performance isn't always an indicator of true development, but we have found that to be the case with other young quarterbacks in this division.
The questions mount for every training camp practice the Detroit Lions conduct without Jahvid Best (concussion) and Mikel Leshoure (hamstring): Will the team sign a veteran free agent? Here's how ESPN's John Clayton tackled the issue in his Monday notebook:

Q: Why haven't the Lions brought in Cedric Benson or Ryan Grant? Although they know how Mikel Leshoure practices, they don't know how he'll do after his Achilles injury or against other defenses in real game situations. Jahvid Best might not come back this year and they have to face that fact. (Gary in Dallas)

A: I believe they think Kevin Smith is every bit as good as Benson or Grant for their offense, but the longer the Best concussion issues linger, the more signing one of the two might become a consideration. Best remains out and no one knows if or when he will be active. Leshoure is suspended the first two games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. It's pretty clear the Lions are waiting for Best to get healthy so he can be the backup. They aren't panicking yet.

The issue became somewhat more of a numbers game Monday when rookie running back Stephon Green departed practice with a knee injury. That left the Lions with four healthy tailbacks on their roster: Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams, Joique Bell and Stefan Logan.

While the Lions might need an extra body for camp purposes, I wouldn't be opposed to patience in this situation. First, there is always a reason why a player is available midway through training camp. Salvation rarely follows an early August signing.

Second, the Lions have the ultimate card in their back pocket. What did they do last season when Leshoure tore his Achilles and Best was ultimately lost to a concussion? They in essence became a college-style spread offense that led the NFL in passing attempts and set a league record, according to Football Outsiders' annual almanac, by using the shotgun on 68 percent of their offensive plays.

It might not be ideal, but the Lions' success in that scheme last season offers them the flexibility to give Leshoure and Best more time to get back onto the field before they start making plans to play without them.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
9:30
AM ET
After the Detroit Lions' 27-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertAfter falling to 7-4 following a loss to the Packers, the Lions take their turn in the examination room.
    Lost in the discussion over Ndamukong Suh's third-quarter ejection was how critical the accompanying penalty and his subsequent absence was. You almost forget that the Lions had stopped the Packers on third-and-3 at their 3-yard line. The Packers probably would have set up to kick a short field goal in hopes of taking a 10-0 lead. Instead, they got another set of downs and ultimately scored a touchdown on John Kuhn's 1-yard run. The penalty cost the Lions four points, and it also opened the floodgates for the Packers' offense. In the end, they scored 20 points with Suh off the field. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 10 of 15 passes when Suh was in the game. Afterward, he hit on seven of nine and averaged 16.9 yards per attempt. According to ESPN Stats & Information, all seven of those completions came against the Lions' four-man pass rush, one obviously watered down without Suh.
  2. As fallout from the Suh incident continues, it's probably only a matter of time that people start connecting Suh's style with the personality and approach of fiery coach Jim Schwartz. That's essentially what Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole wrote in the aftermath of Thursday's events. Cole made clear that Schwartz wouldn't encourage a player to do what Suh did Thursday. But, Cole wrote, "It's no surprise that Jim Schwartz's Detroit Lions are out of control" and added: "It's also not much of a surprise that the same coach who earlier this season stormed after San Francisco counterpart Jim Harbaugh is now watching his team's best player face a suspension for losing his cool." Schwartz's role in the incident with Harbaugh doesn't excuse Suh for his actions. But I agree with Cole in this sense: The coach sets a tone for his program. If the coach occasionally flies out of control, that's the example for decorum he has set for his players -- consciously or otherwise. The bottom line, according to ESPN Stats & Information, is that the Lions have had more personal fouls called against them since the start of Schwartz's tenure in 2009 than any other NFL team. Patterns always emerge over time.
  3. It's amazing how central running back Kevin Smith became to the Lions offense in such a short time, and that's why the Lions are keeping their fingers crossed on further tests to his right ankle. Smith touched the ball on four of the Lions' first five plays and had 10 touches in just over a quarter of play. X-rays were negative on the injury, and Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson reported on air Thursday that the Lions believe Smith has a high ankle sprain. Starter Jahvid Best (concussion) was at the game, but there is no indication when or if he will return or if he will play again this season. The Lions will have to hope that their extended weekend will give Smith enough time to heal. It's obvious they deem him a preferable option over current incumbents Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
How many defensive starters will the Lions have to replace for their nationally televised Dec. 4 game at the New Orleans Saints? It's quite possible Suh will be suspended. And the Lions finished Sunday's game with half of their secondary sidelined by injuries. Things got so thin that veteran Rashied Davis was pushed into emergency duty as a cornerback. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) didn't return after their injuries, leaving Chris Harris and a combination of Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald in their respective places. The Saints lead the NFL in total offense (436.9 yards per game) and are second in scoring (31.7).

ChatWrap: The Lions and Kevin Smith

November, 8, 2011
11/08/11
5:45
PM ET
Tuesday's SportsNation chat brought us a confluence of Kevins:
Kevin (NYC)

from one kevin to another about a kevin....what's the deal with kevin smith? Will he start and what role will he play?

Kevin Seifert (2:19 PM)

He won't start and he'll at best be a role player in the beginning.

But there's no sense in letting my answer stand when a person with much better information addressed it shortly thereafter. Speaking to reporters after a bonus Tuesday practice, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Smith didn't so much address a short-term need as he did prove that he is ready to resume his career during a workout last week.

"Kevin has long experience here with the Lions," Schwartz said. "[He's] very familiar with our system. But also we had a big workout last week, with an eye toward a lot of things we were talking about with the second half of the season, and you need to be prepared for a lot of different situations that come up. And honestly in his case, we hadn’t really planned on signing anybody, but Kevin looked so good. Ran well, moved well, was in great shape, and you know, has been a productive player for us when he’s been on the field and I think, one of the silver linings in this was it gave his body time to heal.

"He really impressed everyone and we sort of know what we have, again, when he’s healthy and he’s obviously in great shape."

In other words, Smith proved a ready-man contingency plan for a team that might or might not need one at his position. The Lions will get their best players on the field, and if Smith proves to be one of them, he'll play. In the meantime, I'm guessing he's the team's third back behind Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams while Jahvid Best recovers from a concussion.

NFC North Stock Watch

November, 8, 2011
11/08/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Communication in the Green Bay Packers' secondary: It's true that Packers defensive backs made three of the most critical plays in Sunday's victory over the San Diego Chargers. Safety Charlie Peprah and cornerback Tramon Williams each returned interceptions for touchdowns, and Peprah added a second interception to clinch the game with 14 seconds remaining. But anyone who has watched the Packers' pass defense has seen a number of blown coverages in recent weeks, be it on Michael Jenkins' 72-yard reception for the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7 or Vincent Jackson's 38-yard play Sunday for the Chargers. With each instance, we learn more about the value of injured safety Nick Collins, who has made most of the positioning calls for the Packers in recent seasons.

2. Clarity in the Detroit Lions' backfield: On several occasions, the Lions have downplayed their modest running game totals by noting how explosive they've been via the air. It's a fair point, and it's not worth obsessing over their running game as we move into the second half of the season. With that said, Monday's return of tailback Kevin Smith makes you wonder exactly what is in store for the backfield moving forward. Was it a sign that starter Jahvid Best's return is far from guaranteed? Is Smith just extra insurance for the people ahead of him, a list that includes Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams? Or are the Lions like the rest of us -- unsure where this is all headed -- and making sure they are fortified for each contingency?

3. High-mindedness in Minnesota: Sure, it sounded like a tough plan in theory for the Minnesota Vikings to release cornerback Chris Cook. He has been charged with a particularly infuriating crime, felony strangulation of his girlfriend, and the Vikings would have gotten a public relations boost in some areas had they cut their losses. But let's get real for a moment. Rare is the NFL team that will justify releasing a 24-year-old cornerback who was making substantial progress this season because of an untried legal issue. Cook's next court date isn't until Nov. 22. In the meantime, the Vikings have given Cook a paid vacation to get himself straight. I can't blame them.

RISING

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
AP Photo/Michael PerezBrian Urlacher made plays all over the field Monday night, collecting 10 tackles.
1. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears linebacker: There were plenty of heroes in the effort to limit Philadelphia Eagles stars Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson in Monday night's victory. Linebacker Lance Briggs, for one, played an inspired game. But Urlacher seemed to be running all over the field all night, collecting 10 solo tackles and tipping two passes. Vick managed 33 rushing yards and McCoy only 71 -- of which 33 came on one play. What you saw Monday night was a 33-year-old Urlacher playing the way he did when he was 23. An impressive effort, not to mention a lot of 33s.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers quarterback: Rodgers could be a staple in this feature, but we try to save him for special occasions. In this case, Rodgers capped his MVP first half with a number of accomplishments worth noting. First, his 64-yard pass Sunday to receiver Jordy Nelson was one of the best throws I've seen him make. Rolling to his right, Rodgers didn't have time to set his feet and simply flung the ball about 55 yards in the air. Second, that pass helped elevate Rodgers' completion percentage on throws of 20 or more yards downfield to 65.2 percent this season. That's a better completion percentage than all but three NFL quarterbacks have on all of their throws. Amazing.

3. Earl Bennett, Bears receiver: How much different did the Bears' offense look with Bennett back after a nearly two-month absence? He caught all five of the passes quarterback Jay Cutler threw him Monday night, totaling 95 yards and what amounted to the winning touchdown. It's long been established that Cutler loves throwing to him, but Monday you saw why: Bennett is tough, sure-handed and reliable in clutch situations. Other than tailback Matt Forte, you really couldn't say that about any other Bears skill position player this season.
Make that two veteran signings for the Detroit Lions. We noted the arrival of offensive lineman Leonard Davis Monday, and the team just confirmed that it also re-signed tailback Kevin Smith from a group of 24 players who worked out for the team during its bye week.

Smith played for the Lions from 2008-10, but the decision to pair starter Jahvid Best with rookie Mikel Leshoure squeezed him out of their 2011 plans. Leshoure's ruptured Achilles tendon was the beginning of a positional breakdown that has continued with Jerome Harrison's brain tumor and Best's latest concussion.

The Lions have been using a combination of Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams in recent weeks. Smith knows their offense well enough to step in right away, but it's not clear how quickly the Lions want to get him on the field or if they view him as insurance against Best's continued absence.

The Lions were off Monday and will return to the practice field Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
4:30
PM ET
After the Detroit Lions' 23-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, here are three issues that merit further examination:
Head Exam
Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss against the Falcons, the Lions take a seat in the examination room.

  1. The Lions are terming quarterback Matthew Stafford day-to-day because of an injured right ankle suffered on his final play of Sunday's game. Coach Jim Schwartz said that Stafford's right knee is "not an issue." Schwartz wouldn't reveal what an MRI showed but implied that the injury is not major. "If he had a broken bone or something like that," Schwartz told reporters, "he’d be more than day-to-day." Stafford has made seven consecutive starts, the longest streak of his young career, and unless Schwartz is dramatically underplaying the injury, you would like to think he'll find a way onto the field Sunday against the Denver Broncos. The bigger question will be whether Stafford can find his way out of a mini-slump that has produced his worst two starts of the season.
  2. Schwartz used the same classification on Stafford as he did for running back Jahvid Best, who still needs to pass a series of post-concussion tests before he returns to the field. I kind of liked what the Lions did without Best on Sunday, letting loose Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams on a number of quick-hitting interior runs to get them rumbling downfield. They combined for 94 yards, more than Best produced in five of his six starts. If you think that defenses have adjusted to what the Lions did earlier this season with Stafford, then it's imperative the Lions find a way to break their tendencies with the run game.
  3. The Lions rank fourth in the NFL with 57 accepted penalties, or more than eight per game. Some of them have been harmless and others have been critical mistakes. And too many have been like the first-down holding call against guard Rob Sims, putting the Lions in a first-and-20 situation. Whether you have an explosive offense or not, it's tough to dig out of many holes like that.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
I'm not sure what to make of rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was credited with the first (and only) tackle of his three-game NFL career Sunday. Fairley missed almost all of training camp, the entire preseason and the first four games of the regular season. So is he still in preseason mode? Is his surgically-repaired foot still not 100 percent? Is he adjusting to the level of play in the NFL? The bottom line is that we haven't seen a ton of impact yet from the No. 13 overall pick of the draft.

BBAO: NFC North race tightens

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
8:00
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Week 7 brought our division a little bit closer. Yes, the Green Bay Packers are 7-0. But the Detroit Lions' second consecutive defeat dropped their record to 5-2, just one game ahead of the now 4-3 Chicago Bears. And the Bears could even themselves out in the loss column while on their bye this weekend if the Lions can't win this Sunday at the Denver Broncos.

We'll have plenty to discuss this week even as the Packers join the Bears on their bye. The health of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the future of Minnesota Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian and the fallout from Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder's first NFL start are all on our agenda.

But first, a look at local coverage from Sunday's action:
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune on the Bears' tight win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London: "This trip across the Atlantic always was about the destination, so there's no need to nitpick problems along the journey. Like a British pound is worth more than a dollar, the NFL exchange rate on this win gives it added value for the Bears."
  • With that said, the Bucs certainly gave the Bears added opportunities to win. Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune looks at quarterback Josh Freeman's four interceptions.
  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler made no excuses for his shaky game, writes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears tailback Matt Forte has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for rushing this season, notes Dickerson.
  • Both teams looked affected by jet lag, writes Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Although his leg injury doesn't appear serious, Stafford hasn't played well in the past two weeks. Writes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "The NFL figures you out eventually. When you think you’ve got the biggest, most explosive array of fireworks, it’s only a matter of time before someone finds an extinguisher. The Lions’ offense is under water right now. There’s nothing dazzling about a total of two touchdowns and four plays of plus-30 yards in the past two games."
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "The Lions' offense isn't going to be dynamic every week, especially with so much required of the quarterback. As long as Stafford's ankle isn't damaged badly, they can crank it back up. But as reality checks go, this was a wincing one. Stafford was touched and struggled with his touch, a sight these Lions can't afford to see."
  • Lions running backs Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams combined for 94 yards on 18 carries, notes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Packers offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse after giving up a pair of sacks to Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "There were a lot of ups and downs. It's never going to go smoothly and never going to go the way you think it will, so you just have to keep playing and improve. I definitely have some stuff to work on, but the way we kept battling, it was fun to see."
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "[H]ardly anything coach Mike McCarthy's team does is easy."
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Make no mistake, the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings don’t like each other."
  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the Vikings' quarterback transition: "The difference between the two was astounding. The offense looked much quicker with Ponder taking shots down the field."
  • Vikings coach Leslie Frazier's trust in his defense wasn't rewarded, notes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Frazier said the organization will discuss the future of Berrian this week, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Vikings safety Husain Abdullah admitted to busting coverage on the Packers' 79-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings. Mark Craig of the Star Tribune has more.
The Detroit Lions have officially ended the season of running back Jerome Harrison, placing him on the reserve/non-football injury list. Harrison was diagnosed with a brain tumor during a physical following his since-voided trade to the Philadelphia Eagles, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Taking Harrison's spot on the roster is third-year player Eldra Buckley, who spent the past two seasons with the Eagles and worked out with the Lions this week. He had 31 carries in 2009 and 2010 combined, but played in all 32 regular-season games over that stretch.

With Harrison now sidelined, and the immediate future of starter Jahvid Best in doubt because of a second concussion in three months, the Lions presumably will move forward with veteran Maurice Morris as their top running back. Keiland Williams, a waiver claim last month who has 19 carries this season, will also be part of the rotation.

Earlier: Should Best sit out the rest of the season?
We're Black and Blue All Over:

As you might have heard Wednesday night, the Detroit Lions' trade for Philadelphia Eagles running back Ronnie Brown has been voided because running back Jerome Harrison, whom the Lions packaged as part of the compensation for Brown, failed his physical with the Eagles.

Harrison's exact condition is unknown. He was not on the Lions' most recent injury report, and he remains on their roster. Brown reverts to the Eagles. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Lions worked out four free-agent running backs earlier this week: James Davis, Charles Scott, Chauncey Washington, and DeShawn Wynn. Davis signed to the Lions' practice squad.

It was never clear if Brown was destined to become a significant part of the Lions' offense or if he was going to be a spot player behind Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams. Best's concussion remains an issue and could hold him out of Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, but Morris seemed next in line regardless.

It is clear, however, that the Lions aren't thrilled with their backfield depth as they approach the midpoint of the season.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Lions have a "gaping" hole in the backfield, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com examines the circumstances around Best's concussion.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "It's simplistic to say the Lions won't accept being pushed around anymore. In fact, it's so simplistic, I'm gonna say it."
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com reveals what Green Bay Packers receivers are doing to penalize each other for dropped passes.
  • Packers linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) should be able to return to the lineup in a few weeks, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks back at the Packers' performances against the Vikings without left tackle Chad Clifton.
  • Dam Pompei of the Chicago Tribune on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's in-game profanity Sunday night: "The message Cutler really sends -- to his coaches, his teammates, his opponent and the public -- is that he lacks respect and self control. Cutler doesn't have to agree with the call, or how it was made, but he does have to show courtesy to the people and the process. That's not football, that's life."
  • Jovial Bears defensive lineman Anthony Adams said he plans to "mess with" some Royal Guards during the team's trip to London. Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com has more.
  • Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, via Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times: "First of all, every team gives their linemen help. I thought we had a good game plan. It's not like, all of a sudden, 'The Bears' offensive line is so bad that they need all this help.' It's that, we haven't been giving them help, so now we're giving them help, it helps settle things down and build their confidence, and gives them a chance to hang in there and not jump the count."
  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune looks at the Minnesota Vikings' history of quarterback demotions.
  • Vikings coach Leslie Frazier went out of his way to say he is not giving up on 2011, notes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton hopes to have a Vikings stadium recommendation in place by Nov. 7, allowing for three weeks of hearings and public debate before a potential special session of the state legislature on Nov. 21. Doug Belden of the Pioneer Press explains.
  • The NFL won't stand in the way of the Vikings seeking alternative cities if their lease expires in February without a stadium agreement. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com explains.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
12:15
PM ET
After the Detroit Lions' 48-3 victory Sunday over the Kansas City Chiefs, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their win over the Chiefs, the Lions take their turn in the examination room.
  1. I have a feeling that the NFL world has caught Lions Fever, and nothing is more responsible than the sparkling start of quarterback Matthew Stafford. He's thrown seven touchdown passes in his first two games, the first Lions quarterback to do that since Milt Plum in 1962. But here's my favorite Stafford statistic for this week: Sunday was his third four-touchdown game in a career that has spanned 15 starts. The only other NFL quarterback to throw at least four touchdowns in four of his first 15 NFL games was Fran Tarkenton. I realize it took Stafford three years to get to start No. 15. But remember, Stafford was drafted as an underclassman. He's 23 and, through two weeks at least, we can say he is one of the NFL's top quarterbacks in 2011.
  2. Rookie Titus Young's 43-yard catch was one of the best all-around passing plays we've seen this season. I obviously wasn't watching the game live, so when I saw in the final gamebook that Young had a 43-yard catch on third-and-24, I assumed he had turned some kind of safe pass into a long gainer. How many offenses actually try to convert a third-and-24 from their own 28-yard line? So the aggressiveness was the first thing I liked. The second was how Stafford gunned the ball on a line about 50 yards in the air. The third was the ball skills Young displayed while leaping to make the grab and, with defenders surrounding him, holding on to it between his legs as he fell to the ground. Finally, I think it's worth noting that Stafford, from 50 yards away, saw the ball drop between Young's legs and hustled the team to the line of scrimmage to avoid a potential challenge.
  3. Here's a development interesting at least to me: The Lions have started 2-0 without returning a single kickoff this season. All five deep kickoffs have gone for touchbacks in the first two weeks. I view that as more of a statistical oddity than anything else, but it bodes well for the Lions. Returner Stefan Logan is a legitimate weapon and will get a few chances some point this season. And consider it this way: The Lions have scored 75 points this season despite opening every post-kickoff possession at their 20-yard line. What could they do if they start a few more possessions around the 35- or 40-yard line?
And here is one issue I still don't get:
I wonder if we'll find that in 2011, a team doesn't need a big running game to win as long as it has explosion in its passing attack. Jahvid Best gained 57 yards on 16 carries Sunday and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season. None of his runs have gone longer than 12 yards. The Lions gave newcomer Keiland Williams an extended look Sunday in mop-up duty, and it's possible he could provide a different look behind Best. Mikel Leshoure's training camp injury almost certainly will limit the running game's effectiveness this season. But will it matter?

Lions' backfield rotation clears up

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
11:40
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Detroit Lions' game-day deactivation list contained no surprises but did confirm their running back rotation for at least one weekend.

Newcomer Keiland Williams is inactive, meaning veterans Maurice Morris and Jerome Harrison will provide relief behind starter Jahvid Best. You had to figure it would take some time, maybe more than a week, for Williams to learn the offense well enough to surpass anyone on the depth chart.

To no one's surprise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are wearing their white jerseys, leaving the Lions to wear their home blues. As of 11:30 a.m. ET, it was 87 degrees here, but the humidity has dropped to 56 percent. So the heat index is "only" 92 degrees at this point.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

How will the Green Bay Packers split carries between what amounts to their co-starting running backs? As equally as possible, according to Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Here's what running backs coach Jerry Fontenot said: "They're both going to take pretty much all situations in the game. Evenly dispersed? I can't guarantee it. But I'm certainly going try to get each one of those guys an equal amount of opportunities to carry the football, to hold onto the football and to control the clock for us."

Obviously, the Packers aren't going to telegraph their game plan a few days before Thursday's preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. The truth is that Ryan Grant carried more in the preseason as the Packers tried to gauge his return from season-ending ankle surgery. But coach Mike McCarthy is clearly enamored with second-year back James Starks. I think the Packers will look for every opportunity to get Starks involved as often as possible, whether or not he is in the game on the first play as an official starter.

Continuing around the NFC North on back-to-school day for many of you:
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "When Aaron Rodgers opens his garage door every morning, he sees a Ferrari and a Lamborghini; a Corvette and a Mustang; a BMW and a Porsche. His garage is his playbook. His Ferrari is Greg Jennings, and his Lamborghini is Jermichael Finley; his Corvette is Donald Driver, and his Mustang is James Jones; his BMW is Jordy Nelson, and his Porsche is Randall Cobb. His biggest problem is deciding which key chain to grab. It's the NFL's version of 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.'"
  • Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji isn't lobbying for a reprise role as a fullback, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Kudos to Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz for not obsessing over 87-degree weather forecasted for the team's season opener in Tampa Bay. Asked if he would try to simulate the heat by cranking the temperature in the team's indoor practice facility, Schwartz said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "That's foolishness. We don't pipe in crowd noise, and we don't open up the doors and make it cold, and we don't try to smoke the team out. It's just a bunch of foolishness."
  • Schwartz told Lions players they have a chance to be the best team he has ever been involved with, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • New Lions running back Keiland Williams has some similarities with injured rookie Mikel Leshoure, writes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
  • Running back Marion Barber (calf) is the main injury concern for the Chicago Bears this week, writes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears teammates aren't worried about the commitment of linebacker Lance Briggs, who has asked to be traded. Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune profiles Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion, the likely replacement for suspended defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
  • Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press looks back at Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson's record of 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers in 2007. The Vikings open this season against the Chargers on Sunday.
  • The Vikings re-signed tight end Allen Reisner to their practice squad, notes 1500ESPN.com.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8