NFC North: Mike Tice

MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings hired Brad Childress as their head coach in 2006, infamously keeping him in the Twin Cities before he could get on a plane to interview for the Green Bay Packers' head-coaching position, they were taking their chances on an offensive coordinator from a successful team (Philadelphia) who had not been a NFL head coach or a playcaller for the Eagles. That search wrapped up six days after Vikings ownership fired Mike Tice on the final day of the season.

When the Vikings removed the interim tag from Leslie Frazier's title before their final game of the 2010 season, they were taking their chances on a defensive coordinator who'd done good work for them and managed to win three of the final six games in a chaotic year marked by the collapse of the Metrodome. But Frazier, like the man he replaced in the middle of the season, had not been a head coach.

Those two searches were relatively short -- the first likely because of the Wilf family's inexperience as NFL owners, the second because the Vikings were rewarding a candidate who had interviewed for a handful of jobs elsewhere and who had kept the team together during a trying season. The Vikings' current search for a head coach, though, has general manager Rick Spielman criss-crossing the country, talking to coaching candidates. As ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reported on Saturday and as we discussed on Friday, the Vikings will interview San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman on Saturday.

That would make Roman the sixth known candidate the Vikings have talked to. And all of those -- Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Roman -- are current coordinators who have never been NFL head coaches beyond an interim level.

After the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30, Spielman outlined his process by talking about the research he'd already done on previous head coaches. NFL coaches can come from 13 different backgrounds, he said, and none had proven to be more successful than any other.

"That can be anything from head coaches that are currently offensive coordinators, former head coaches that are currently defensive coordinators, defensive coordinators [and] offensive coordinators without head-coaching experiences, college head coaches with and without NFL coaching experience," Spielman said. "So there is a long list of areas that you can look for in a head coach."

We'll say this with the disclaimer that the Vikings could certainly be talking to candidates whose names haven't been publicized, but the list so far has zeroed in, almost exclusively, on coordinators who haven't been permanent head coaches yet. As ESPN's John Clayton pointed out this week, the Houston Texans decided to go away from a coordinator because of how many have failed at the NFL level -- 60 percent, in Texans owner Bob McNair's estimation.

If the Vikings have found the coordinator pool to contain the best candidates, great. Spielman has too much riding on this hire -- his reputation as a GM and possibly his future with the team -- not to turn over every stone, and he has gone through this search in his typical diligent manner.

Roman certainly has the wares to be conducting an extensive interview tour this year, too; he's helped the 49ers get to the NFC title game and the Super Bowl with two different quarterbacks, and has designed one of the league's most diverse offenses behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a power running game. The Vikings could certainly use someone with that kind of offensive know-how, especially if he's able to develop a young quarterback.

But it's worth pointing out the considerable risk in the coordinator pool, and the Vikings should be well-acquainted with that, based on the past two coaches they've hired (and fired). The search, at least so far and at least with the names that have become public, hasn't included as much diversity in coaching backgrounds as we thought it could. We'll have to presume that's because Spielman is finding the right people in a class of coordinators that's historically been fraught with risk.

"There is no specific [type of coach we have to have]: offense, defense, college coach, high school coach, whatever," Spielman said on Dec. 30. "It is a coach that we feel is the best fit for our organization."
News broke Friday morning that former NFC North coach Mike Tice won $100,796.20 at a horse track, and I'll admit that my first thought was a total cheap shot. So I didn't write it and wasn't planning to in the future -- until Tice went on a Twin Cities radio station and delivered it himself.

Speaking to KFAN-100.3, Tice said: "I finally made my $100,000 fine back from selling those Super Bowl tickets."

Yes, as you might recall, Tice paid the NFL $100,000 in 2005 for scalping his Super Bowl tickets when he was the Minnesota Vikings' head coach. Tice spent two seasons as the Chicago Bears' offensive line coach and one as its offensive coordinator before the team fired most of its staff in January.

Regardless, it's not a cheap shot when the target of the proposed cheap shot instead cheap shots himself, right? That's my rule, at least.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice has resurfaced publicly for the first time since the team overhauled its coaching staff, agreeing to interviews with both the Chicago Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press. He told both outlets that he plans to return to coaching in 2014 but will be sitting out this season while living in his Seattle home.

Tice denied reports that he and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't get along and described his one year-stint as the Bears' offensive coordinator this way: "Sometimes in life, we find ourselves trying to get along and trying to please as opposed to being who we really are.''

The Bears fired Tice when he was under contract, meaning he will receive his regular salary from them this season.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Here are some key dates for the Bears from Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune spoke to Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer about his plans for Cordarrelle Patterson and Joe Webb.
  • As they plan to bring in linebacker Desmond Bishop for a visit, the Vikings have once again proved that their actions are more valuable than their message. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com explains.
  • Bishop on his release by the Green Bay Packers, via Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "I would be lying if I said I wasn't surprised, but at the same time, I knew it was a definite possibility. I'm fully healthy right now, but I think my injury was part of the reason. If I didn't get hurt, maybe we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now. You have to add the injury into the equation, but I don't think that was the main deciding factor."
  • Bishop's goal is still to be the NFL's defensive MVP, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has a long Q&A with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Among Rodgers' answers were a reaffirmation of his support for friend Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers outfield who continues to be hounded by implications that he has used performance-enhancing drugs. Rodgers: "Ryan’s a good friend and I care about him a lot as a person. He’s a great person, and I stand with my friend."
  • Detroit Lions defensive back Don Carey is approaching 2013 as if he is a starter, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Lions signed tight end Matt Veldman and released Dominique Curry, notes the Detroit News.
  • Lions rookie Ziggy Ansah got a bit emotional when he walked out of the tunnel at Ford Field as part of a tour Monday. Birkett has more in the Free Press.

NFC North links: Remembering Lombardi

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
8:49
AM ET
Chicago Bears

Defensive end Shea McClellin has been dealing with plantar fasciitis this offseason. However, he is not expected to be limited when the team continues workouts on Tuesday.

Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune: "How difficult had [Jay] Cutler become? For those of you scoring at home, Cutler has warred to some degree with the ousted Ron Turner, the ousted Mike Martz and the ousted [Mike] Tice. Raise your hand if you think Cutler’s coach-killing doomsday clock just moved one more closer to the end. There are two common denominators here: One, Turner, Martz and Tice have not been snapped up as OC’s in the NFL, and two, Cutler. Just because the offensive coordinators haven’t been hired for that role by other teams doesn’t mean Cutler isn’t impossible to work with."

Detroit Lions

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press previews the Lions' minicamp.

Cortland Finnegan was on the Lions' radar in 2012, but the two sides were unable to work out a deal.

Green Bay Packers

Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung remembers Vince Lombardi on what would have been the coach's 100th birthday.

A passion for the game helps Ryan Pickett continue to thrive in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

Minnesota Vikings

Former Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin is focusing on the future and leaving the drama back in Minnesota.

Wide receiver Stephen Burton is out to prove he can contribute to the team's offense.

NFC North links: Marinelli, Tice move on

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
10:00
AM ET
Chicago Bears

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Tice won't be back with the Bears next season, reports ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright. New coach Marc Trestman addressed Marinelli's departure during his introductory news conference. "I had a chance to talk to Rod, and we had a good discussion," Trestman said. "He's made up his mind, I believe, to move on. I know to move on." Tice said the Bears let him go.

Trestman was evasive when asked about Brian Urlacher's future with the Bears, reports ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg.

In his interview with GM Phil Emery, Trestman provided a 13-month calendar that started with his first day on the job and ended with a Super Bowl XLVIII parade, reports the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.

Trestman on quarterback Jay Cutler, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times: "[Cutler] has shown moments of efficiency, thereby we ought to be able to find the mechanisms to make him more efficient on a play-by-play basis. ... We’re going to work one day at a time in a proactive way with a sense of urgency to get [Cutler] to be the guy that he wants to be and we want him to be.”

Detroit Lions

Wide receiver and kick returner Devin Thomas ended his brief retirement to sign with the Lions, the AP reports.

In an interview with NFL Radio, free-agent-to-be Cliff Avril said he could play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme and that he'd prefer to play somewhere on a natural playing surface. "As far as what I would prefer, I definitely wouldn't mind playing on grass, because playing on turf puts the joints in a bad situation after a few years," Avril said.

A look at the cornerbacks the Lions could consider in April's draft, from Paula Pasche of the Journal Register News Service.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers could be saying goodbye to some household names this offseason. "Receiver Greg Jennings, a two-time Pro Bowl player, is an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return," writes Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Linebackers Brad Jones and Erik Walden -- two players who started the majority of the season -- are unrestricted free agents. Tight end Jermichael Finley, safety Charles Woodson and linebacker A.J. Hawk are all under contract, but all three could be released due to large salary cap numbers. Donald Driver, the franchise's all-time leader in catches and yards, will probably be gone."

Woodson was initially skeptical about moving from cornerback to safety, writes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Minnesota Vikings

Erin Henderson, an unrestricted free agent, would like to stay with the Vikings, writes Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press. "I've called Minnesota home, I have a Minnesota [driver's] license now, everything," said Henderson. "I feel like I've built a pretty good foundation here and come a long way in my years that I've been a part of this organization. And I appreciate the time and effort they've put into me."

Vince Ferrara and Jesse Smithey interviewed safety Harrison Smith and touched on Smith's goals this past season, Adrian Peterson's season and Smith's training camp initiation. Harrison on Peterson: "There’s really not a lot of words that can describe what he does. He’s the most talented guy that I’ve ever seen and he has the best work ethic that I’ve ever seen. He’s just a freak show.”
As we've discussed, the Chicago Bears retained most of former coach Lovie Smith's assistants to give their new coach the option of keeping them as part of his new regime. The Bears did allow special-teams coordinator Dave Toub to depart for the Kansas City Chiefs, and it appears new coach Marc Trestman at least will bring in new offensive coaches, as well.

ESPN's Adam Schefter has already reported Trestman's first hire: Former New Orleans Saints assistant Aaron Kromer as offensive coordinator/offensive line. Kromer and Trestman worked together on the Oakland Raiders' staff in 2001 and 2002, and their respective backgrounds suggest that Trestman will call the plays in 2013. It also means that Mike Tice, the Bears' offensive coordinator in 2012 and offensive line coach in 2010 and 2011, will be looking for a new position.

On the other hand, you wonder if Trestman would consider keeping defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and the rest of the Bears' respected defensive staff. That decision will be based in part on whether Trestman wants to continue the "Tampa 2" framework that Smith brought to the Bears in 2004 and that has been well coordinated by Marinelli since 2010.

Hopefully Trestman will shed some light on that possibility during a news conference scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Thursday.

BBAO: New deal for Leslie Frazier?

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
8:45
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Earlier this week, we suggested the Minnesota Vikings have won enough games this season to make coach Leslie Frazier's return in 2013 a given. And because next season is the last year of the original contract he signed as the team's coach, it made sense that some sort of a contract extension would be on the way.

Teams typically don't let coaches enter a season in a lame-duck contract situation, at least ones they believe in. So Sid Hartman's blog item (yes!) for the Star Tribune makes perfect sense: Owner Zygi Wilf authorized an extension earlier this week and the deal could be announced any day.

Frazier is 14-22 since taking over during the 2010 season. But this season he has managed to imprint his vision on a team that is in the playoff race in mid-December. The Vikings have more work to do, but they are trending in the right direction under Frazier.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Frazier and Vikings receiver Percy Harvin had a previously unreported heated exchange prior to Harvin going on injured reserve, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The Vikings are looking at using cornerback Chris Cook in nickel packages Sunday at the Houston Texans, according to Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The Green Bay Packers aren't looking to hire any consultants or specialists to help place-kicker Mason Crosby, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • It doesn't sound as if Packers defensive back Charles Woodson will play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Woodson is hoping to get some regular-season action before the playoffs begin after breaking his collarbone.
  • Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was thankful last Sunday for the pass rush of teammate Mike Neal, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Opponents are absolving Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice of blame for the performance of the offense this season, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Bears defensive lineman Henry Melton believes he is as good as any defensive tackle in the NFL and plans to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Bears linebacker Lance Briggs via Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com: "In my worst nightmare, this is where I imagined we'd be; in my very, very worst nightmare."
  • Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas (knee) is hoping to play back-to-back games for the first time since October, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions receivers coach Shawn Jefferson on receiver Calvin Johnson, via John Niyo of the Detroit News: "[T]he mental aspect caught up with the physical aspect of his game. And when they hit each other, it was just this big explosion. It's like the perfect storm has happened inside him."
  • Tight end Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) again didn't practice Thursday, raising the possibility he will miss Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com has more.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
3:10
PM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, here are three issues that merit further examination:

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

BBAO: Updating the injury lists

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
7:15
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Wednesday's busy day of news, videos and podcasts left some practice updates for the early morning. Here's the NFC North summary as best as I can gather:

Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte was a limited participant in practice Wednesday, an encouraging sign of progress with his ankle injury that knocked him out of last Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Detroit Lions brought receiver Titus Young back to practice after a week of inactivity, but he worked with the second team and his status for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts is unclear.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) worked out on the side but doesn't seem likely to play Sunday against the Vikings. And the Vikings, meanwhile, cleared tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Harrison Smith from their concussions and both practiced. Receiver Percy Harvin was a limited participant but still seems iffy for Sunday's game.

Let's take a more detailed spin around the division on this fine Thursday morning:

BBAO: Trade Ndamukong Suh?

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
7:00
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press takes the latest Ndamukong Suh story to the next level, suggesting the Detroit Lions trade Suh rather than re-sign him to a lucrative contract when his rookie deal expires in a couple years. Sharp notes the Lions' well-documented salary-cap issues stemming from the previous rookie scale, which could require them to put up more to keep Suh than he might receive on the open market, and writes:

"Suh remains one of the most puzzling, contradictory personalities in Detroit sports history. He's intelligent, articulate. He has an engineering degree from Nebraska. On many levels, Suh's what you want all athletes to use as a blueprint. But he's also annoyingly arrogant and capricious. Suh still believes that the NFL must change to how he plays because the league's never before experienced his combination of size and speed."

If Suh is going to annually face NFL scrutiny, Sharp reasons, he might not be worth the type of contract he is likely to seek. I'm not sure if the Lions will view it the same way, but I do think Sharp's point on the nuance of Suh's next contract is valid. The five-year, $60 million deal they were required to give him as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 draft, which included $40 million guaranteed, raises the floor of negotiations significantly for his next deal.

Regardless, it's clear that patience is wearing thin for his future in the Detroit community. Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Lions, neither Suh nor coach Jim Schwartz, deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com has a long and detailed feature on the medical ordeal of former Lions running back Jerome Harrison.
  • The Green Bay Packers used cornerback Davon House in their base defense Sunday night rather than rookie Casey Hayward because they thought House was a better matchup against the New York Giants' big receivers, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Don't count on the Packers tinkering with their offensive line, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wonders if the return of receiver Greg Jennings can help solve the Packers' issues against the Cover 2 defense.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com breaks down the tape of the Minnesota Vikings' loss to the Chicago Bears. Among the notes: Geoff Schwartz played more snaps at right guard than Brandon Fusco for the first time.
  • It's not known if Vikings coach Leslie Frazier disciplined tailback Adrian Peterson for missing the team bus before Sunday's game. But Frazier did say the situation was "a big deal," according to Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings radio analyst Pete Bercich on quarterback Christian Ponder, via Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "If it looks like this at the end of the year, you have to have a backup plan. You have to have another viable starter to come in here. You can't wait forever for a guy to improve. You have a viable running game."
  • Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, whose play calling came under scrutiny after the debacle in San Francisco, had a good game plan for his makeshift line and his quarterback, who returned from a concussion. It was executed well, despite several players being injured."
  • Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune reviews the latest turmoil on the Bears' offensive line.
  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on his taunting penalty Sunday, via ESPNChicago.com: "It took some points off the board. I think we got a field goal there and we could have had seven. Four points gone, and I've got to be smarter than that. If anyone else on offense had done that I would have probably yelled at him like it can't happen here. I can't do it again obviously."

Final Word: NFC North

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

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Tice: 'Buck up and win a fight'

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
1:49
PM ET
I listened in on Mike Tice's weekly meeting with reporters Wednesday to see what, if anything, had resulted from the Chicago Bears' embarrassing offensive performance in Monday night's 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Would there be personnel changes? Fundamental scheme adjustments? Or simply a challenge?

Tice, the Bears' offensive coordinator, didn't rule out anything to improve pass protection that allowed 5.5 sacks to 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith. He discussed backup tackle Jonathan Scott's competence and the struggles of right tackle Gabe Carimi. Tice also said that from now on, he will "always" incorporate the possibility of help for each pass protector.

Mostly, though, Tice in essence is expecting Carimi and the rest of the Bears' offensive line to man up.

"At a certain point," Tice said, "a player, a man, needs to grit his teeth, buck up and win a fight."

Smith embarrassed Carimi several times, on one occasion driving him back into quarterback Jason Campbell for a sack. But left tackle J'Marcus Webb and right guard Chilo Rachal also had their moments, and after 10 games, Tice indicated he is done waiting to see if the line can reach a level of consistency as a group.

"When you're at six games to go," Tice said, "what you have to do is say, 'That's it, from now on I can't say, OK, we're making strides, let's do this.' There has to be a very determined effort on us and our staff to make sure that we do have, always, chip help answers, slide answers, two guys on one guys answers. Because I've found unfortunately that you can't take for granted that we're going to have [a consistent] level of play."

Indeed, the Bears will start by providing chip help for their tackles Sunday against Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, whom Tice referred to as "Waldo" to emphasize the Bears will know where he is at all times.

There isn't much the Bears can do from a personnel standpoint unless Carimi's confidence is so shot that he can't function. Scott has started 30 games for four NFL teams over seven seasons, and he would be the shortest of short-term answers.

Mostly, I think, the Bears are going to have to suck it up and do whatever it takes to protect the quarterback. Tice can't trust this group to straighten itself out permanently if it hasn't done so by now. If that means limiting the types of plays they can call or routes they can run, so be it.

Tice said Wednesday that "what we've got to do is block better," which is true. But what beyond anything else, the Bears have to make sure they provide as much support as possible to achieve that end.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
11:30
AM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com

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

BBAO: Down the stretch they come ...

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

DETROIT -- Well, lookie what we have here.

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

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

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

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

BBAO: NFC North race tightens

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
8:30
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Well then. A few things changed in this division after I departed the Metrodome early Sunday evening.

The Chicago Bears lost for only the second time this season, a 13-6 defeat to the Houston Texans that tightened our NFC North standings. There is now one game separating the Bears (7-2) and Green Bay Packers (6-3). The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, are now 1.5 games off the pace at 6-4.

The Bears also lost their quarterback and good luck charm for an undetermined time after Jay Cutler suffered a concussion at some point during the first half. How important has Cutler been to the Bears of late? Going back to Week 7 of last season, they are 12-1 in games he starts and finishes and 1-6 in games he's missed or left early.

The Bears signed Jason Campbell to give them a better fallback than they had last season in Caleb Hanie, but rare is the team that effects an entirely smooth transition to its backup quarterback. Coach Lovie Smith couldn't estimate how much time, if any, Cutler would miss, making this story one of our top priorities for the next few days.

But while we have a moment, let's take a tour of Sunday's local coverage in the NFC North:
  • Michael Wilbon of ESPNChicago.com calls it a "giant mistake" for the Bears to have entrusted their play calling to new offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
  • In another era, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, Cutler probably would have finished the game.
  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The problem wasn’t just that Jay Cutler suffered a concussion against the Houston Texans on Sunday night. It was that he and the Bears played as if they were concussed for most of the first half."
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: "The prospect of being without Cutler for more than one half is more daunting than the loss to the Texans. The Bears probably have five games on their schedule -- Packers, Vikings twice, Lions and the 49ers next week -- that will be more significant than this one."
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com after the Vikings' 34-24 victory over the Detroit Lions: "Rebuilding or not, the Vikings are in the thick of the NFC playoff chase as they take a break before playing three in a row against two teams that figure to be playing in January."
  • Christian Ponder won back Vikings fans for at least one week, writes Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on running back Adrian Peterson: "He's becoming the player of the year when he should have been thrilled with being considered the comeback player of the year."
  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions opted against employing words such as 'desperate' and 'dire' when describing their rapidly fading playoff chances after losing a must-win opportunity against the Vikings. But that’s only because they sought solace in another diagnosis. Delusion."
  • John Niyo of the Detroit News: "It's a long season. One after another, the Lions' players kept repeating that phrase after the game. The more they said it, though, the more it sounded like wishful thinking. Because the way they played Sunday -- and the way they've played on too many Sundays the last two months -- this season likely won't be long enough."
  • Lions cornerback Chris Houston, via Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com: "Our shot for the playoffs, it's kind of slim. But if we come back and win these three home games, we'll still have a shot."
  • Five of the Packers' final seven games are against NFC North opponents, notes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Mike Vanderamuse of the Green Bay Press-Gazette hands out midseason awards for the Packers.
  • Here is our bye week report on the Packers if you missed it over the weekend.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD