NFC North: Marty Booker

Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall is averaging 7.6 receptions per game this season. So with a slightly better-than-average performance Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Marshall could achieve some hefty milestones with plenty of room to spare.

Marshall is nine catches away from hitting 100 for the season, an accomplishment that would place him among the most productive receivers in NFL history. As the chart shows, he would become the fourth player in NFL history to compile four 100-catch seasons in their careers. No one has done it five times, although the New England Patriots' Wes Welker is eight receptions away from doing so this season.

Whenever Marshall gets to 100 catches, he will tie Marty Booker's franchise record for receptions in a season.

We'll figure it all out when the final numbers come in, but I think we can safely project that Marshall is going to finish with the best season for a receiver in Bears history. As we noted Friday, Marshall leads the NFL in parentage of his team's targets (39.2 percent of all throws) as well as the percentage of his team's receptions (41.9) and passing first downs (44.9).

The real question is whether we can quantify it as the most productive year for a Bears player at any position. That will take some apples-to-oranges analysis to compare him to the likes of Sid Luckman, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton.

By the bye: Chicago Bears

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
12:15
PM ET
Reviewing the Chicago Bears at their bye:

Record: 4-1

Five-game capsule: The Bears are in excellent position after rebounding from a Week 2 debacle at Lambeau Field. Their defense leads the NFL in takeaways (17) and touchdowns (five), getting elite performances from stalwarts (two touchdown returns apiece for linebacker Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman) and relative newcomers (five combined sacks for defensive ends Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin) alike. Quarterback Jay Cutler has settled after throwing four interceptions and taking seven sacks in Week 2, limiting himself to two interceptions and five sacks over the next three games. Importantly, he has worked hard to keep receiver Brandon Marshall (35 receptions, 496 yards) involved in the offense. In short, the Bears have the look of the championship-caliber team they envisioned this summer.

[+] EnlargeTim Jennings
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTim Jennings has had a surprisingly strong start to the season, leading the NFL in both interceptions and pass breakups.
MVP: Briggs and Tillman deserve the attention they've received, and defensive tackle Henry Melton (4.5 sacks) has had a nice start. But the Bears' best player over five games has been cornerback Tim Jennings, who has made teams pay dearly for targeting him over Tillman. Opponents have thrown his way an NFL-high 46 times, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and he has responded with a league-leading four interceptions and 14 total pass breakups. Those plays have left opposing quarterbacks with a 23.4 passer rating on throws in his direction, the second-lowest rating against a qualified cornerback in the NFL. (Via PFF.) Jennings has locked down one of the few question marks the Bears had on their defense.

Biggest surprise: For as much attention as left tackle J'Marcus Webb has received since the start of training camp, culminating in the now-infamous events of Week 2, he hasn't been half-bad during the Bears' three-game winning streak. Webb gave up a sack to Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, but otherwise he has done what you'd hope for from a left tackle: Not drawn attention with his play. He has committed a modest two penalties, one false start and one for holding, and has rebounded admirably from the public embarrassment of his performance against the Green Bay Packers.

Stat to note: Offensive coordinator Mike Tice's background is in the power running game, but the most notable aspect of his scheme so far has been the frequency of deep shots down the field. Cutler has thrown 21 passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the second-highest total in the league. He has completed 10 of them, including four for touchdowns. For comparison, consider that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford have combined for 25 such throws.

Bonus stat to note: As productive as Marshall has been over the first five games, would you believe he is behind the pace set by former Bears receiver Marty Booker in 2002? Through five games that season, Booker had caught 37 passes for 566 yards. He finished the year with 97 receptions for 1,189 yards.

Looking ahead: The Bears will return from their bye with a Monday night game (Oct. 22) against the Lions, but they won't have another division game until Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings. That schedule quirk, which leaves them playing NFC North opponents in four of their final six games, will make the final month of the season awfully interesting.

Bye the by series: Last week's post on the Detroit Lions.
Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBrandon Marshall, left, and Jay Cutler, now reunited in Chicago, were regularly on the same page during their time together in Denver.
Having already been suspended for insubordination, Brandon Marshall figured he had nothing to lose. So after agreeing to a national television interview during his tumultuous 2009 season with the Denver Broncos, Marshall placed a large photograph of himself and quarterback Jay Cutler on his living room wall -- in clear view of the cameras.

Was there any better way to symbolize his displeasure with the Broncos -- and tell the world he wanted out of Denver -- than a reminder of the trade that sent Cutler to the Chicago Bears a few months earlier? "I was like, 'hey, let's make a statement,'" Marshall told ESPN 1000 earlier this year.

Most of our coverage on the Bears' acquisition of Marshall has focused on his previously boorish behavior and a recent incident outside a New York City nightclub. That's too bad, because it pushed to the background two stunning years Marshall and Cutler had with the Broncos, and it has overshadowed what, by all accounts, is the kind of football relationship that most teams only dream of assembling.

So consider this post our own blatant and staged attempt to shift the focus to football, if only for a moment while we await further news on Marshall's role in the nightclub fracas.

In 31 games together with the Broncos from 2007-08, Cutler and Marshall combined for 206 receptions, 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns. They were so locked in that by 2008, Cutler targeted Marshall on 179 passes in 15 games. That's the highest number over the past four years in the NFL, as the first chart shows.

But to hear Cutler and Marshall tell it, their wild production was not just the product of a strong-armed quarterback and a prototypical big receiver.

"His physical abilities are second to his mental side of the game," Cutler told EPSN 1000 in January. "I've never been with a receiver that understands the game, understands why we're doing certain things [like Marshall]."

Despite their limited time together, Cutler has thrown more touchdown passes to Marshall (14) than any teammate in his career. The same is true for Marshall. Although the Bears' offense differs schematically from the Broncos', new offensive coordinator Mike Tice has traditionally allowed quarterbacks and receivers flexibility to freelance when prudent.

More than anything, that's where Cutler and Marshall figure to make their hay in 2012 and beyond -- with unspoken adjustments and collective instincts.

"It's hard to find that and sometimes it's once in a lifetime," Marshall said. "... When you take two guys and put them on the field together and they have that chemistry, that's what's almost impossible to find. I can't explain it."

Describing their past time together in the present tense, Marshall said, "We will line up there and we'll get a coverage and he will just look at me and I'll know exactly where he wants to adjust my route on. You don't find that.

"It got to a point where coaches, they didn't know what we were doing so we'll install a whole play and they'll give us a play on the front side and put me on the back side and they'll tell us just do what you all do and just make it work. We had a lot of freedom in our offense, and we made it work and the chemistry was great. It was something special."

It's a little early to project another 100-connection season between Cutler and Marshall, but I think it's safe to say they are capable of production levels unseen in Chicago in a decade or more. (At least by a Bears team.)

The Bears' streak of nine consecutive seasons without a 1,000-yard receiver is the longest in the NFL. Their last statistical season of note came from Marty Booker, who caught 97 passes for 1,189 yards in 2002.

Marshall has caught at least 81 passes in all five of his full-time seasons. In their history dating to 1932, the Bears have had six receivers catch 80 passes in a season.

Even in today's unprecedented era of passing, it takes a lot for a quarterback/receiver duo to rack up a huge season. Health, complementary players and pass protection are all important factors.

But the chemistry that Cutler and Marshall claim to have -- and is borne out by the statistics -- is the rarest of commodities. We have a chance to watch something special from two presumably matured personalities still in their physical primes. When it's over, maybe the photograph above the fireplace will be more than just a prop.

NFC North weekend mailbag

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
12:00
PM ET
Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah Darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space


I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under
Yeah Darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space


Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die


Born to be wild
Born to be wild


That’s right, folks! I’m heading down to Florida for Spring Break … er, the NFL owners meeting, which unofficially opens Sunday and continues through Wednesday. (Question: Does connecting Steppenwolf with Spring Break date me?)

I’m hoping to run in to a number of our NFC North heroes/owners/general managers/coaches during my time in Orlando, and I think have a pretty good idea of the questions you would want asked. If you want to make sure I know what you want to know, be sure to hit the mailbag, send me a Facebook message or Tweet me.

For now, let’s address some of your lingering questions and issues from last week.

Responding to our discussion on Chicago and free agent receiver Kevin Curtis, Steve of Herndon, Va., writes: Curtis caught 60 passes in Mike Martz's system but I feel like the Bears aren't going to sign any veteran wide receiver free agents. Fair or not, Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd has left a bitter taste in Jerry Angelo’s mouth.

Kevin Seifert: Yes, nothing the Bears have done in the past 12 months suggest they are eager to add a veteran receiver to their talented but experience-shy mix. They want Earl Bennett to continue developing, they envision Devin Hester as a playmaking slot receiver and got some strong flashes from youngsters Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu last year.

But here’s where I’m coming from: Curtis (or Torry Holt for that matter) wouldn’t necessarily mean a loss of playing time for any incumbent. I just don’t think there is any harm in depth and, more important, competition. If Bennett, Hester, Knox and Aromashodu are ready to step up like many believe they are, let’s see them go to training camp and beat out a veteran receiver with experience in Martz’s system.

While all four incumbents have high ceilings, they aren’t established enough to enter camp with minimal competition. Let’s see them earn their roles, and ultimately they’ll be better for it. And if they’re not up to it, the Bears could plug in Holt or Curtis. There’s a big difference between counting on a veteran player, as the Bears did with Booker and Lloyd in recent years, and employing them as safety nets.

Second, it’s always worth keeping an eye on available players with connections to the current coordinator. Look at what’s happened in Detroit. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has been reunited with former Minnesota receiver Nate Burleson and quarterback Shaun Hill. Martz, meanwhile, made a point to bring quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan with him to San Francisco a few years ago.

Will it happen? I don’t see much urgency on the Bears’ part. Should it happen? To me, there is no downside.


Lucas of St. Paul writes: What do you think are the chances of the Vikings picking up Nathan Vasher on a one or two year contract to attempt to patch the secondary holes that the Vikes need to fill? And if the did get him would they still probably draft a CB in the first or second round?

Three minutes later, Adam of Madison, Wis., wrote: I'm sure this question has been asked to you already, but do you think Vasher could have a chance in Green Bay?

Kevin Seifert: I understand the question. Both teams are a bit thin at cornerback because of knee injuries to Cedric Griffin (Minnesota) and Al Harris (Green Bay). And sometimes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But in this case, I guess I would ask Vikings and Packers fans to tell me what they saw from Vasher the past few years that would suggest he would be a significant improvement over their incumbent depth?

Vasher really hasn’t been a factor since the Bears’ Super Bowl run in 2006. Chicago is no deeper than the Vikings or Packers at cornerback, and they chose to move on rather than even attempt to negotiate a lower contract.

Vasher is certainly a recognizable name. But I’m not sure I would trust him any more than I trust the younger players currently on each team’s depth chart.


Cal of Eau Claire, Wis., writes: When will they officially release the 2010 schedule?

Kevin Seifert: The exact date hasn’t been announced, but typically it comes in the first or second week of April. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we should get a few high-profile matchups announced next week at the owners meeting. That could include a national season-opener pitting Minnesota at New Orleans.


Alex of Wausau, Wis., writes: This new punter Green Bay signed from the Australian Football League, Chris Bryan, is he from Australia or what? I can't find any info on him other than he signed a three-year deal with the Packers.

Kevin Seifert: Yes, Bryan is in fact an Australian native who has been attending an academy known as Prokick Australia in hopes of making the transition to the NFL. According to this Australian media report, Bryan has played Australian rules football since 2005.

At this point -- and I emphasize we have many more points to go -- Bryan is competing with Tim Masthay for the Packers’ punting job. There is some precedent for Australian punters making it in the NFL. Success stories include Arizona’s Ben Graham, Philadelphia’s Sav Rocca and Dallas’ Mat McBriar.


Kody of Orem, Utah, tells us to pipe down after noticing our blurb about five years passing since the last time a Lions backup quarterback won a game: The Pack haven't had a backup QB win a game for them since 1992.

Kevin Seifert: Well-played. I can’t think of a better way to describe stability for one team and chaos for another.


CuRay of Albuquerque, N.M., writes: I am a huge lions fan. Do you think Detroit will take a long look at signing Justin Fargas or wait until the draft to find a new running back?

Kevin Seifert: I suppose it’s possible, but the Lions already have one veteran runner on their roster in Maurice Morris. At this point, it’s just as likely that they’ll sit tight on available runners like Fargas and see if they can find a younger, fresher set of legs in the draft. Running backs are quickly-spent commodities. More than any other position, it’s best to get them young.


Cody of Minot, N.D., writes: In re-signing Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are the Packers sending the message to T.J. Lang that he is not a legitimate starter and is better off being a utility lineman? I myself am happy with what I saw out of Lang last year. I'm a little bit confused on this one. Sing the words of wisdom to me, Kevin.

Kevin Seifert: The hills are alive/with the sound of music… Oh, wait, you meant wisdom on Lang. I don’t think the Packers were necessarily sending him a message. I just believe they don’t want to enter the season with an unproven starter and no safety net. It’s still possible that Lang could end up starting in 2010. But unlike last season, the Packers will have both Clifton and Tauscher available for depth and competition.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Rosalita came out Monday night at the Xcel Energy Center. Let's see if she visits you Tuesday at the United Center. Best of luck.

And maybe, just maybe, she'll feat new Chicago tight end Michael Gaines -- who agreed to terms Monday with the Bears. (Killer segue, if I do say so myself.) Gaines, released shortly after the draft by Detroit, offers a strong blocking option to the Bears' receiving duo of Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen.

Unless Clark or Olsen is injured, Gaines will be competing for the No. 3 tight end spot. Gaines could also figure in a hybrid role as a tight end/blocking fullback, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.

If he makes the team, Gaines will earn $1.25 million in 2009, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald wonders if the Bears were soured on veteran receivers after Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd produced underwhelming seasons in 2008.
  • Green Bay safety Nick Collins insists he has stayed away from some offseason workouts because of family reasons, not because he is unhappy with his contract. Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the story. Bedard also notes that Collins' statement contradicts that of coach Mike McCarthy, who has said that "business" has played a role in the situation.
  • If you come to Packers games via U.S. 41 -- including anyone in the Appleton, Wis., area -- you might want to read about the construction planned for the highway. Patti Zarling of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has details.
  • Detroit signed former Green Bay defensive end Jason Hunter, according to Scout.com via the Detroit News. The Packers released Hunter because he didn't fit into their new 3-4 scheme.
  • Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune offers more details from Vikings president Mark Wilf's public comments on the possibility of acquiring quarterback Brett Favre. Included is this quote from Wilf: "We just feel as a whole, as a roster, we are trying to improve every day, but we feel we made a lot of steps to improve off an NFC North Division win, and I think we are ready to take that next step and to go all the way."
  • Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway on Favre: "He's retired a couple of times, so you wonder where his loyalties lie." Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has that and more.

Booker, take two, ends in Chicago

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
4:17
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

  Booker

Chicago's decision to release receiver Marty Booker is not surprising. (Even though a certain doofus blogger left him off a list of potential cuts earlier this week.)

In his second stint with the Bears, Booker caught 14 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears were hoping he could be a short-term bridge for their receiving corps, but it was clear his 32-year-old body is starting to break down. A series of injuries forced Booker to miss three of the Bears' last six games, and he caught only three passes in the months of November and December combined.

The Bears have some work to do in order to upgrade the receiver position, but Booker wasn't going to be part of the solution.

The Bears also released linebacker Gilbert Gardner, who played in one game last season, and waived practice squad linebacker Marcus Riley.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Larry Fitzgerald streaks down the middle of the field for a 64-yard touchdown. Santonio Holmes snatches the ball from the air, deftly keeping his toes planted on the black part of the end zone.

Many factors contributed to the scores that electrified the final three minutes of Super Bowl XLIII. Arizona and Pittsburgh boast innovative offensive schemes. Both teams are led by Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks. And at least some of it boiled down to the simple fact that Holmes, and to a greater extent Fitzgerald, are productive receivers with dynamic skills.

A handful of NFL teams subordinate the importance of receivers in building a roster, including a certain member of the NFC North, which considers it a secondary position and a disproportionate weight on both the salary cap and cashflow. The Chicago Bears entered the offseason with a host of priorities stacked ahead of improving their thin receiver group, and it remains to be seen whether the course of the 2008 playoffs will impact their plans.

Top Receiver on 2008 Playoff Winners
Team Receiver Yardage
Pittsburgh Hines Ward 1,043
Arizona Larry Fitzgerald 1,431
Baltimore Derrick Mason 1,037
Philadelphia DeSean Jackson 912
San Diego Vincent Jackson 1,098

 Four of the five teams that won a playoff game in 2008 boasted a 1,000-yard wide receiver during the regular season. Philadelphia was the only team that did not, but rookie DeSean Jackson was close with 912 yards. In the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald and Holmes combined for 37 percent of the total offense and 50 percent of the touchdowns despite touching the ball on 14 percent of the plays.

These figures don't provide conclusive proof that blue-chip receivers are mandatory pieces of a championship puzzle. They do, however, demonstrate that a receiver can make a great impact despite limited touches; it was more than notable that the Cardinals and Steelers both relied on wide receivers with the championship on the line.

The Bears, on the other hand, set themselves up for an unproductive season from their receivers in 2008 by failing to replace the departed Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. They mostly relied on tailback Matt Forte and the tight end duo of Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen in the passing game while awaiting Devin Hester's development. Hester finished the season as Chicago's leading receiver but his production ranked deep in the netherworld of NFL statistics.

Devin Hester's 2008 Rankings
Category Among WRs Among all pass-catchers
Rec
(51)
46th 63rd
Yards (665) 42nd 49th
TDs
(3)
44th 61st

Rashied Davis (445 yards), Brandon Lloyd (364) and Marty Booker (211) combined for fewer yards than Fitzgerald accumulated on his own during the regular season. Booker is the only current Bears receiver with a 1,000-yard season in his career, and that came six years ago. The Chicago passing offense, while not the primary reason the Bears missed the playoffs, finished the season ranked No. 21 in the league.

And yet when Bears general manager Jerry Angelo stepped to the podium last month, he emphasized quarterback play as his primary focus. It is a defensible priority considering Kyle Orton's second
-half slide, but what Angelo said next was a cause for at least some concern.

"I know that there is going to be a lot of talk about a No. 1 receiver," Angelo said. "Guys, it starts with the quarterback. It's all about the quarterback. You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized. We're fixated on that and I don't want us to lose sight of that. The rest of that is peripherous stuff. That's something that if you don't have anything to write about, you'll write about that. It starts with the quarterback and that's the bottom line."

(Thanks to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times for posting the transcript of Angelo's news conference.)

It's true: The Bears don't necessarily need to acquire one of the top receivers expected to be available this offseason, whether it is Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh (free agent) or Arizona's Anquan Boldin (likely trade). But there is a happy medium between a Boldin-type receiver and the group the Bears have now.

Someone like Pittsburgh's Nate Washington (40 receptions for 631 yards in 2008) could help and wouldn't upset the Bears' cap structure. It might be worth signing Dallas' Sam Hurd, a restricted free agent who is recovering from ankle surgery, to an offer sheet.

Otherwise, the Bears are limiting the ceiling for Orton's improvement if they rely on the same formula as 2008. A soft-handed tailback and two good tight ends are not enough options for an offense that strives for balance. And from this vantage point, the Bears don't have enough potential for internal improvement to stand pat.

If Hester starts 2009 the way he finished 2008, he could push toward 1,000 yards. But Davis? He has proved to be, at best, a No. 3 receiver. Booker? He hasn't played a full season since 2002. Lloyd? His contract expires this month and the Bears hardly seemed enamored with him last season. Earl Bennett? His next NFL catch will be his first.

There are plenty of ways to win games in the NFL, and a big-time receiver isn't part of a mandatory formula. Competence and consistency are required, however, and for the Bears that would be an upgrade.

NFC North injury roundup

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
4:51
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We have a lot of significant injury information flowing Wednesday afternoon here in the Black and Blue. Let's take a team-by-team look:

Chicago: The Bears have listed receiver Marty Booker (cracked rib) as doubtful for Thursday night's game against New Orleans. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports Booker almost certainly won't play. For a while now, the Bears have been relying on Devin Hester, Rashied Davis and Brandon Lloyd as their top three wide receivers.

Detroit: Quarterback Daunte Culpepper (shoulder) was on the Lions practice field for warm-ups, but that's about it. Coach Rod Marinelli told reporters that Culpepper is "more doubtful than probable" for Sunday's game at Indianapolis. Former starter Dan Orlovsky practiced Wednesday but is still recovering from a hand injury, making it increasingly likely that Drew Stanton will get his first NFL start. The Lions' other option, barring a quick turnaround from Culpepper, would be Drew Henson.

Green Bay: The Packers have ruled out safety Atari Bigby (ankle) for Sunday's game at Jacksonville. That means cornerback Charles Woodson will make his third consecutive start at the position. Linebacker Brandon Chillar (groin) was limited and could give way to Desmond Bishop for the second consecutive game.

Minnesota: Quarterback Gus Frerotte said late Wednesday afternoon that he heard something "pop" when he injured his lower back Sunday at Detroit. Asked if he has a fractured bone, as has been reported, Frerotte said: "No." Frerotte said he hopes to return to practice at some point this week but that he is uncertain when or if it will happen. ... Frerotte and defensive end Jared Allen (knee) were two of five players who sat out practice. Coach Brad Childress said Allen is expected to play Sunday at Arizona.

Busy day for Chicago, Detroit

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
2:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

A couple of notable personnel moves already have taken place Tuesday in the NFC North.

In Chicago, the Bears signed receiver Devin Aromashodu off Washington's practice squad and placed defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek on injured reserve. The move, coming during a short practice week, suggests the Bears don't think they'll have receiver Marty Booker for Thursday night's game against New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Detroit cut ties with cornerback Brian Kelly, whom they once hoped to pair with Leigh Bodden as a formidable cornerback duo. But the Lions' failure to utilize Kelly this season -- he was held out of two games for which he was dressed and active -- is but one illustration of the flat-out chaos that has characterized their defense.

In the first game Kelly sat out, Oct. 5 against Chicago, Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry said he never intended to keep him on the bench for the entire game. After the second instance, Sunday against Minnesota, Lions coach Rod Marinelli attributed it to the use of a three-safety scheme designed to stop Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson.

But as Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press points out, the Lions used Bodden and Travis Fisher as their top two cornerbacks in passing situations. Kelly reportedly was disgruntled with his situation, hastening the move. Can you blame him?

NFC North evening roundup

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
10:29
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Been a long day over here in the Black and Blue, but let's catch up on some injury and personnel news from around the division:

Chicago: Receiver Marty Booker suffered a cracked rib in the Bears' 23-10 victory over Jacksonville, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Booker should play again this season, but it's possible he'll miss Thursday night's game against New Orleans because of the quick turnaround. We know this much: defensive tackle Tommie Harris rested during the second half of Sunday's game. We're not totally sure why. Coach Lovie Smith said Harris had a sore hamstring, while Harris said he was resting his knee, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.

Detroit: Quarterback Daunte Culpepper had his right shoulder examined Monday and his status is in question. Coach Rod Marinelli has more injured quarterbacks (Dan Orlovsky, Drew Stanton, Jon Kitna) than healthy ones (Drew Henson). The Lions' starter going forward is anyone's guess.

Green Bay: Right tackle Mark Tauscher tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, coach Mike McCarthy announced Monday. Tauscher will be placed on injured reserve, and as a pending free agent, it's possible he's played his last season in a Packers uniform. Even if the Packers want him back, you wonder if his knee will be ready. Tauscher suffered a 75 percent tear of the same ligament during the 2002 season. Some players never return when they re-tear an ACL.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

After the Bears' 27-3 victory at St. Louis, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

1. Linebacker Lance Briggs apparently asked a group of reporters Sunday if it looked like the defense "wanted it" Sunday against the Rams. It was a reference to an interview from earlier in the week, when Briggs said the Bears' defense will improve when it wants it enough. This was a timely week for Briggs to bring that dynamic into play; the Rams' offensive line is injury-depleted and couldn't have handled much of anyone Sunday. But to their credit, the Bears didn't let up: Five sacks and four interceptions made for their best performance in a long time.

2. This is neither here nor there, but I've been impressed with how many times I've seen diminutive Garrett Wolfe show up on special teams. Wolfe is listed as 5-7 and 186 pounds, but he's managing to be on the active roster every week primarily because he is willing and able to participate on coverage teams. His latest example was chasing down St. Louis' Derek Stanley at the end of a 75-yard kickoff return. Wolfe prevented a touchdown, and ultimately the Rams came up empty-handed on the ensuing drive.

3. Both of tailback Matt Forte's touchdowns Sunday came on inside trap plays. Left guard Josh Beekman made an especially good block on the first. It's a perfect playcall for a north-south runner like Forte.

And here is one question I'm still asking:

Is anyone going to emerge from the Bears' receiving position, which has produced 16 catches in the past three games? Everyone assumed that tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark would be the team's primary receivers, but when things were going well earlier this season, the Bears were getting weekly contributions from Rashied Davis, Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker. Davis and Lloyd combined for two receptions Sunday, and Booker didn't play because of a knee injury.

Friday NFC North injuries that matter

November, 21, 2008
11/21/08
5:35
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

I haven't heard an outcry since the dissolution of our Friday "Revealed" feature. But just so you know our thinking, it seemed like re-printing the entire Friday injury report was more confusing than helpful. So we've streamlined things a bit and will now tell you, as my NFC West colleague Mike Sando would say, about the "injuries that matter."

So here you go:

Chicago: Receiver Marty Booker (knee) has been declared out of Sunday's game at St. Louis. It will be interesting to see if the injury opens an opportunity for rookie Earl Bennett. ... The Bears also ruled out linebacker Darrell McClover (hamstring) and tackle Fred Miller (shoulder). Everyone else should be available.

Detroit: Receiver Mike Furrey (concussion), center Dominic Raiola (hand), cornerback Keith Smith (hand) and defensive end Dewayne White (calf) all will miss Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. ... Safety Dwight Smith (foot) and guard Edwin Mulitalo (knee) are questionable. Their status will be determined Sunday.

Green Bay: The Packers still have one more day of practice before Monday night's game at New Orleans, but the big question is whether receiver James Jones (knee) will play. Jones was added to the injury report Friday and is listed as questionable. He appeared to re-injure his knee last week against Chicago. ... Cornerback Jarrett Bush (ankle) hasn't practiced all week.

Minnesota: Tailback Adrian Peterson returned to practice, was removed from the injury report and will start Sunday at Jacksonville. Peterson was wearing a wrap on his right knee, but coach Brad Childress said it was nothing out of the ordinary. ... Defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder) was limited in practice but should play. Tight end Garrett Mills (ankle) is doubtful and isn't expected to be in uniform.

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.

Black and Blue all over: Orton next?

November, 1, 2008
11/01/08
10:40
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers' contract extension will help set the groundwork for another NFC North quarterback who seems on the verge of cashing in.

Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton, who has compiled a 91.4 passer rating in leading the Bears to a 4-3 record, has a similar situation as Rodgers. He has one more year remaining on his deal and has only recently emerged as a potential long-term answer at the position. And as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times points out, Orton and Rodgers have the same agent in David Dunn.

The market for young established quarterbacks is pretty well set now, so there is no rush from the Bears' perspective to complete a deal with Orton. And with former starter Rex Grossman still on the roster as the backup, there's an argument to be made that negotiations with Orton would be best saved for the offseason.

Regardless, it seems safe to say that Orton is next on the NFC North's priority list of quarterback contracts.

Continuing around the division:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago receiver Brandon Lloyd returned to the practice field Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, but it's not yet clear whether he'll be ready to play Sunday against Detroit.

Lloyd was the Bears' leading receiver when he sprained his knee Sept. 21 against Philadelphia. He has since missed three games.

Despite Lloyd's injury, the Bears have emerged as one of the NFL's better passing teams. The trio of Marty Booker, Rashied Davis and Devin Hester have filled in well behind him. Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton also is making liberal use of tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen.

Because we care, here are the Bears' receiving breakdown in the three games since Lloyd was injured:

Chicago pass distribution in the past three games
PlayerReceptionsYardsTDs
Devin Hester131751
Rashied Davis
131621
Greg Olson12 202 1
Matt Forte11761
Desmond Clark101260
Marty Booker81491
Jason McKie280
Kevin Jones250

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