NFL Nation: NFC North

DETROIT -- It's hard to hold Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his troops responsible for Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Not when you consider they picked off two passes, recovered a fumble after a strip-sack and gave up just 10 points.

Peppers
"They basically kept us going there for the first two-and-half, three quarters," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the defense.

But that was little consolation to those on the defensive side of the ball after Sunday's game. Even though the Packers' offense gave the Lions almost as many points (seven on Eddie Lacy's fumble that the Lions returned for a touchdown and two on a safety), the Lions managed to keep things going in the second half, officially converting 6-of-8 third downs plus two more by penalty.

Rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gave the Packers their first interception by a safety since Dec. 2, 2012, and cornerback Davon House added a second pick of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, although after House was ruled down at his own 1-yard line rather than in the end zone for a touchback it led to the safety.

In the third quarter, with the Lions threatening to increase their lead, Julius Peppers registered his first sack as a Packer, forced a fumble on the play and recovered it on his own.

"I think statistics show that anytime you're able to come up with three turnovers, we've been shown the numbers before [but] I can't recall off the top of my head, but usually the games tilt in your favor," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Unfortunately, it didn't."

The stat Matthews was referring to: The Packers were 31-7 when registering three or more takeaways since McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006.

The problem was the Packers' offensive ineptitude forced the defense to stay on the field for more than 38 of the 60 minutes.

"We definitely took a step in the direction of getting pressure on the quarterback and getting turnovers," Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. "There were a lot of plays where we could have even got more pressure and more sacks. There were a lot of plays where we had some more turnover opportunities. We need to take advantage of those opportunities when they come."
DETROIT -- Teams have gone back to daring the Green Bay Packers to run the ball and even with Eddie Lacy in their backfield, they still can't do it.

Like so many teams did after quarterback Aaron Rodgers' MVP season of 2011, the Detroit Lions spent most of Sunday's game at Ford Field sitting back in a two-deep safety look in an effort to prevent the Packers' passing game from heating up.

It worked just how the Lions drew it up.

The result was a 79-yard rushing performance that included just 36 yards on 11 carries from star back Eddie Lacy, who fumbled on his second carry and was stuffed for a safety 2 yards into his own end zone in the second quarter of the 19-7 loss at Ford Field.

"We've got to be able to run the ball when teams play us like that." Rodgers said. "It happened [after] 2011, we saw two-high all the time. We didn't run it great that year, but we ran it a little bit more effectively than we did today."

The lack of a running game made it easy to defend the Packers' passing game. Their longest play from scrimmage was just 18 yards – a pair of passes to Jordy Nelson and Andrew Quarless. It was the first time since Nov. 9, 2008 that they failed to have at least one 20-yard gain (passing or rushing). It also was the Packers' shortest long gain in a game since Oct. 5, 1998.

Through three games, Lacy has 113 yards on 36 carries, putting him on pace for 603 yards -- or 575 fewer than he had last season when he was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. His start has left him puzzled and, perhaps more troubling, unsure of what has gone wrong.

"I don’t know if I have to be more patient or speed things up," Lacy said. "But one way or another I'm responsible for the run game."

Lacy's fumble was his first since the fifth carry of his pro career, and it put the Packers in a hole for the second straight game. A week after the Jets turned a fumbled exchange between Rodgers and center Corey Linsley on the first play into a touchdown, the Lions returned Lacy's fumble for a score of their own.

"There's no excuse for that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's two weeks in a row we've had a fumble on the first play and we fumbled the second play. That's unacceptable. And on top of it, it turns into seven points. We gave up nine points on offense."

On the safety, rookie tight end Richard Rodgers got blown off the line of scrimmage by defensive end Jason Jones. That prevented right guard T.J. Lang from pulling, which was his assignment, and by the time he saw linebacker DeAndre Levy shoot through his gap, it was too late.

But the problems in the running game are greater than just a fumble here and a safety there. Through three games, they have averaged 78.7 rushing yards per game after putting up 133.5 (the seventh-best average in the league) last season.

"It's something that we expect to be a big part of our offense," Lang said. "And we've been disappointing in that category the first three games."
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DETROIT -- It was just one play, one failed play, but in many ways it encapsulated everything that was wrong with the Green Bay Packers' offense in Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

It was fourth-and-5 from the Lions' 20-yard line with 6:59 remaining. Jordy Nelson, the NFL's receiving yardage leader through the first two weeks of the season, found himself open up the right seam. It's a route he's run, and run successfully, hundreds of times. As Nelson took the route to the post, quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw him break free and fired what would have been a touchdown that could have at least given the Packers a chance at a comeback victory for the second straight week.

And the ball came up short and well behind Nelson.

Game over.

With the Rodgers-Nelson connection off -- Nelson had just five catches for 59 yards after combining for 18 receptions and an NFL-high 292 yards the first two weeks -- the Packers (1-2) had little chance given their lack of a running game and dearth of playmakers at the other skill positions.

The result was the lowest scoring output of a game that Rodgers started and finished -- and his second-lowest passing yardage total in such games -- since he took over as the Packers' quarterback in 2008, leaving it open to wonder what exactly is missing from what has been and what was supposed to be a prolific offense.

"There's a lot missing," said Rodgers, who completed 16-of-27 passes for 162 yards. "There's execution missing. We haven't been able to run the ball very well in any of the three games. We just haven't executed as well as we have in the past in the passing game."

Forget for now about the Packers' woeful running game, which totaled just 76 yards on 22 carries and featured a fumble by Eddie Lacy on his second carry of the game. That Rodgers and Co. could not shred a Lions' second-handed secondary which was missing starting strong safety James Ihedigbo and also had to play its fourth, fifth and sixth different nickel defensive backs of the season at various points on Sunday is perhaps most troublesome.

It showed that even a patchwork secondary can take away one player -- Nelson -- if it wants to and expose the lack of weapons around him. The Packers dropped at least three passes, one each by Randall Cobb, James Starks and Jarrett Boykin.

Cobb called his three-catch, 29-yard showing "embarrassing."

"I've got to figure out what it is that I can do to help and do more and give this team more," Cobb said.

Although the only points came on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless in the first quarter, the Packers' tight ends have not come close to replicating the big-play threat that Jermichael Finley provided before his neck injury last season.

"We need to find a way to get those guys the ball when they're really trying to take Jordy away," Rodgers said. "Find a way to get Randall the football more, and we've got to run block better and we've got to run better."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted that perhaps he stuck with an unproductive running game too long, saying he "maybe should have given [Rodgers] the ball completely earlier," but the normally accurate Rodgers missed his mark more than usual, so it might not have mattered.

Even before the missed fourth-down throw to Nelson, Rodgers overthrew Cobb on a roll-out pass on third down that killed the opening drive of the third quarter and then short-hopped a ball to Boykin on third down that ruined the next possession.

Counting the Nelson play, five of Rodgers' incompletions where underthrown, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That came a week after six underthrown incompletions (the most of his career).

"We got what we wanted," Nelson said of the fourth-and-5 play. "We had an opportunity to make a play and just weren't able to connect on the throw. It's not an easy game. Sometimes we make it look easier than what it was, but today was not easy at all."
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NEW ORLEANS -- The biggest moment of Teddy Bridgewater's college career came on this field, in a Sugar Bowl MVP-winning performance that thrust him into Heisman Trophy conversations and had him among the early favorites to be the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

On Sunday, Bridgewater was back in the Superdome, for another career milestone that looked nothing like the last one.

The Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback made his NFL debut on Sunday in the middle of a game where his mentor had gone down with a broken foot. He operated behind an offensive line that struggled to protect him, with a sometimes-malfunctioning communications system in his helmet and at the end of a week where they took Adrian Peterson out of action. By the end of the game, Bridgewater was without the last two players the Vikings signed to contract extensions -- tight end Kyle Rudolph and right guard Brandon Fusco -- as he tried to engineer a comeback in a stadium that once cheered him but was now snarling at him.

Little about it fit the carefully manicured environment the Vikings had constructed for Bridgewater's development, when they could take advantage of veteran Matt Cassel's presence and bring the rookie along at his own speed. Now, with Cassel likely to miss months after breaking several bones in his foot on a second-quarter scramble, Bridgewater's initiation to the NFL will come through live fire.

"This is where I've always wanted to be," Bridgewater said. "Unfortunately, the way it happened wasn't the way I expected it to. But I was relaxed. The guys put their trust in me. They told me, 'Hey, nothing's changed. The game plan isn't going to change. We're just going to continue to play football.'"

The Vikings have little choice at this point but to throw their fortunes behind Bridgewater, and while their prospects this season will hinge on how effective the rookie can be in the NFL, Bridgewater didn't look rattled on Sunday. He completed 12 of his 20 passes for 150 yards, making several nice throws on the run against a Saints defense that rarely gave him opportunities to set his feet and gaining 27 yards on six rushing attempts, including one designed run. Bridgewater wasn't asked to run much in college, but he was effective doing it on Sunday, largely out of necessity, and he did an impressive job extending plays; running back Jerick McKinnon dropped Bridgewater's final throw of the day, but it should be noted that Bridgewater delivered the ball on third-and-13 after making several Saints defenders miss.

"I thought he was very composed. I didn't see any panic," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I believe he's going to be very good."

The Vikings have believed that since they evaluated Bridgewater before the draft, and in a season where carefully laid plans have already been blown to bits, maybe it's for the best that the team will devote significant resources to Bridgewater's development. The fates of Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman were likely going to hang on Bridgewater at some point anyway. Serendipity has dictated that process will start now.

"He's ready," Rudolph said. "Since he got here in the offseason, he's worked extremely hard to put himself in a situation that when the opportunity came -- he didn't know if it was going to be at all this year, but I felt like he came out there and showed a lot of poise and composure in the huddle. He did well."

Packers' Matthews ailing again

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room Sunday after the Green Bay Packers' 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field:

Matthews
Matthews ailing again: Here's a new one for Clay Matthews -- the outside linebacker left the game with a groin injury in the fourth quarter. Aside from his broken thumb last year, the only other injuries Matthews has battled during his career have been to his hamstrings. Although Matthews remained on the sideline and appeared ready to go back into the game, he never did. "One of their little receivers tried to cut me, and I planted wrong, so I felt a little something down there," Matthews said. "It doesn't feel too bad. We'll see how it does moving forward. Can't really give you a timetable or anything along those lines because I've never done it before, but we'll kind of see how it goes." Matthews said he thought the receiver was Golden Tate.

Taking the blame: Coach Mike McCarthy admitted he was wrong to call the timeout with 17 seconds left in the second quarter, when the Lions had the ball at their own 25-yard line. Following the timeout, Matthew Stafford hit a 52-yard pass to Corey Fuller and put the Lions in position for a 41-yard field goal -- which they missed -- on the final play of the first half. McCarthy was hoping to get a stop and force a punt that might have set up a field goal chance for his own team. "That was a poor decision on my part -- the timeout at 17 seconds, there's too much risk in the decision," said McCarthy, who also admitted he erred on the Lions' offside penalty on their kickoff in the fourth quarter. When the Lions re-kicked, Packers tight end Brandon Bostick was called for holding, which forced the Packers to start at their own 10.

McCarthy's message: Asked what McCarthy said to the team after the game, a downtrodden Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said: "That's classified."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:55
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NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 20-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

What it means: The game's most significant development came on the Vikings' field goal drive at the beginning of the second quarter, when quarterback Matt Cassel injured a toe on his left foot while escaping the pocket and running for 5 yards. Cassel did not return, and in his place, rookie Teddy Bridgewater admirably tried to sustain a Vikings offense that was missing several playmakers and struggled to protect him. Bridgewater hit 12 of his 20 passes for 150 yards and ran six times for 27 yards. He could make his first start next week.

Stock Watch: The Vikings' defense recovered from two early Saints touchdown drives to keep the team in the game, but a crucial (and controversial) penalty on Captain Munnerlyn helped extend the Saints' final touchdown drive. Munnerlyn and safety Robert Blanton got to Saints quarterback Drew Brees on a third-and-13 play, but Munnerlyn was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he threw Brees to the turf. Brees jumped up, went after Blanton (whom he'd thought had hit him) and proceeded to direct the Saints to a decisive score. The Vikings struggled to stop the run on the first two touchdown drives and were down 13-0 before they could sustain a drive on offense.

Injuries mounting: The last two players the Vikings signed to contract extensions -- tight end Kyle Rudolph and right guard Brandon Fusco -- were unavailable to finish the game. Rudolph left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury, and Fusco left with a shoulder injury. In Fusco's place, guard Vlad Ducasse was flagged for holding and a false start on his first drive. The Vikings also had to finish the game without cornerback Josh Robinson, whose recurring hamstring issues cropped up again, and linebacker Chad Greenway, who was already playing with a broken hand.

Game ball: Safety Harrison Smith was again outstanding, making a tackle in run support to force a punt and breaking up a pair of passes, but we'll give it to Bridgewater based on what he had to do with little help in a tough environment. He didn't have much time to set his feet against an active Saints pass rush and will probably want a couple of throws back, but with no Adrian Peterson, an injured Rudolph and a leaky offensive line, Bridgewater acquitted himself well in his debut.

What's next: The Vikings (1-2) return home to face the Atlanta Falcons in a late game next Sunday afternoon.

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:49
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DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: The Packers finally got some big plays from their defense -- a pair of interceptions and a strip-sack/fumble recovery that perhaps cost the Lions a touchdown -- but it did not matter because the Lions and their patched-up secondary rendered the Packers' offense almost completely ineffective. Aaron Rodgers completed just 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards. Without much of a running game to supplement the offense, the Packers ran just 51 plays and totaled 223 yards. It was the lowest-scoring output by the Packers in a game that Rodgers started and finished since he became the starter in 2008. The previous low came in a 9-0 win over the Jets in 2010.

Stock watch: When Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off a Matthew Stafford pass that was tipped in the first quarter, it ended a streak of 25 games (including playoffs) without an interception by a Packers safety dating to Dec. 2, 2012, when Morgan Burnett had a pair of interceptions against the Vikings. On the flip side, another streak ended, and it wasn't good. Running back Eddie Lacy fumbled on his second carry of the game, and it was his first fumble since Week 1 of the 2013 season. He had gone 325 carries without a fumble, including the playoffs last season.

Off the hook: Coach Mike McCarthy should thank Lions kicker Nate Freese for missing a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. It let McCarthy off the hook for an ill-advised timeout with 17 seconds left in the second quarter with the Lions facing third-and-7 from their own 25. Before the timeout, the Lions showed no urgency and might have been content to run out the clock and take a 12-7 lead into halftime. After the timeout, Stafford took a shot deep and hit receiver Corey Fuller for a 52-yard gain to set up the field goal try.

Injury report: Given how much the Packers' defense was on the field, it perhaps wasn't surprising that it sustained some fatigue injuries. Linebacker Clay Matthews dropped out with a groin injury late in the game, and although his return was listed as questionable and he remained on the sideline, he never came back in the game. Also, linebacker Jamari Lattimore and cornerback Davon House (who had the Packers' other interception) went to the locker room to receive treatment for cramps and then returned.

Game ball: The Packers gave Julius Peppers a $7.5 million signing bonus to make game-changing plays. After a relatively quiet first two games, Peppers kept the Packers in the game with a strip sack of Stafford and a fumble recovery after the Lions had the ball and a 12-7 lead at the Packers' 7-yard line and were poised to score in the third quarter. It was Peppers' first sack of the season after he had a half-sack wiped out by a penalty in the season opener.

What’s next: The Packers play the second of three straight NFC North games on Sunday at the Chicago Bears.

Bryan Bulaga returns for Packers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:10
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DETROIT -- With the Detroit Lions' secondary in tatters, the Green Bay Packers should be able to move the ball through the air if they can protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Bulaga
Having right tackle Bryan Bulaga should help that.

Bulaga was declared active for Sunday's game at Ford Field after missing last week's game against the New York Jets because of the knee injury he sustained in Week 1 at the Seattle Seahawks. In Bulaga's absence, Derek Sherrod allowed three sacks in six quarters of action.

On Friday, Bulaga appeared to be on track to play despite being listed as questionable for the second straight week.

The Lions are not only without safety James Ihedigbo but also may have to use Danny Gorrer, who was signed by the Lions this week, as their third cornerback behind starters Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay. They also promoted cornerback Mohammed Seisay from the practice squad Saturday.

Packers cornerback Casey Hayward, who also was listed as questionable because of a glute strain, will be available for the game. However, that does not necessarily mean he will have a role on defense. Last week against the Jets, the Packers went with Davon House as their No. 3 cornerback in the nickel package over Hayward.

For the second straight week, Jamari Lattimore will start at inside linebacker for the injured Brad Jones (quadriceps).

With only 52 players on the roster after they placed outside linebacker Andy Mulumba (torn ACL) on injured reserve Friday, the Packers had only six inactives for Sunday's game. Mulumba's injury opened the door for rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott to be active for the first time.

Here are the Packers' inactives:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You could see it in Al Harris' eyes that day back in January 2008. It was the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, and the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl cornerback was amped up for the challenge of covering receiver Plaxico Burress.

Too amped up, as it turned out.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCalvin Johnson has put up his best numbers against Green Bay, but the Packers' Sam Shields is up to the challenge.
Burress used Harris' overly aggressive, physical style against him and burned the Packers for 11 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' upset win at Lambeau Field.

That was a full year before defensive coordinator Dom Capers and most of his current staff came to Green Bay, but it's a lesson that might be worth reminding their cornerbacks this week when they prepare for a megasized challenge in the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.

"It's important for our guys, particularly our corners, to play with their technique and play with their leverage and just play football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "Anytime you go up against a top-notch player like Calvin, you can't let players like that take you out of your technique."

Surely, that message has been conveyed to Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and the rest of the Packers' secondary this week. Shields is most likely to draw Johnson the most, although Capers has said repeatedly that you can't cover him with the same defensive back all the time. The Packers say they aren't worried about a guy like Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract this offseason, trying to go out and justify his contract by trying to shut down Johnson.

If anything, Shields should be confident in knowing that he has done it in the recent past. Shields covered Johnson for most of last year's Thanksgiving game at Ford Field. Although the Lions won in a 40-10 blowout, Shields held Megatron to just three catches for 46 yards in seven targets when he was in coverage, although Johnson still managed six catches for 101 yards overall for the day.

"At the end of the day, it's all competition, and he's a big challenge," Shields said. "You know a guy like that, you want that. In the NFL, all eyes on you, everybody wants to see what you're going to do against Calvin Johnson. So you know, like I said, do the right things, do my keys, my techniques right, everything will be good."

The same goes for Williams, who has had success -- and seen others have success -- against Johnson. In 2012, Williams' primary job was to cover Johnson, and he held him to four catches for 54 yards without a touchdown in a game at Lambeau Field. However, Williams did not have him the entire time, and Johnson still managed a 100-yard game. And he saw Charles Woodson hold Johnson, in his worst game against the Packers, to two catches for 10 yards for an entire game in 2009.

However, those were not the norms for Johnson, who in 12 career games against the Packers has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns -- the most catches, yards and touchdowns he has against any one opponent.

Williams remembers the Harris-Burress situation and, for one, doesn't think Harris played as poorly as most thought.

"I went back and looked at that game, he was in some good positions, and at the end of the day, you battle a guy like that, and he's just making plays for his team, you can live with that," Williams said.

But he and others also do not think the same circumstances apply to a player they know as well as Johnson, their divisional foe.

"We play him twice a year, so it's not anything new," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "It's not like we’re on a team that might see him once every two or three years, we see him so much that we understand the challenge, and the challenge is huge."

Allen practices, Marshall sits

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen (lower back) practiced without restrictions on Friday, but wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) remained sidelined for a second consecutive day.

 Marshall and Allen are both expected to play Monday night versus the New York Jets.

Besides Marshall, six other Bears were held out of Friday’s practice: defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff
(concussion), linebacker Shea McClellin (hand), defensive end Trevor Scott (foot), cornerback Sherrick McManis (quad), center Roberto Garza (ankle) and left guard Matt Slauson (ankle).

McClellin’s situation took a turn for the worse. The linebacker had limited in participation in practice on Thursday, but he sat out the entire workout on Friday.

According to head coach Marc Trestman, McClellin suffered the hand injury in practice this week, not during the 28-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2.

In other health news, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and safety Chris Conte (shoulder) were both limited for the second straight practice, while receiver Josh Morgan (groin) had full participation. Morgan should be available to face the Jets.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' time without Adrian Peterson officially began last week, but it wasn't until early Wednesday morning that the team made a move to suggest it would be without the 2012 NFL MVP for the foreseeable future.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Sang TanMatt Cassel is not likely to see opposing defenses selling out to stop the run game without Adrian Peterson, but he's been in similar situations before.
Vikings players head into Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints knowing it could be weeks, if not months, before Peterson is back on the field. The practical effects of that move might weigh heaviest on the man now charged with running the Vikings' offense on the field, knowing he won't have Peterson to occupy defenses' attention.

Matt Cassel has been in this situation before, winning a pair of games when Peterson was out with a foot injury in December. But the Vikings could be without Peterson for a longer period of time this year. Unlike last year, when Cassel had emerged the winner of the Vikings' bizarre quarterback carousel and was playing for a team with no playoff prospects and little to lose, he's trying to keep the job he won over rookie Teddy Bridgewater in training camp.

Cassel threw four interceptions in the Vikings' 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday, though coach Mike Zimmer said Cassel had played well from training camp through the Vikings' season-opening win over the St. Louis Rams, adding, "I'm not going to let one bad afternoon define it."

What I'll be curious to see, however, is how long Cassel can keep the Vikings' offense productive, and the team can keep its record competitive. Otherwise, the Vikings could have reason to turn over the job to Bridgewater at some point this season and give him a chance to develop on the field.

In the meantime, Cassel will have to work without one of the underrated luxuries of quarterbacking next to Peterson. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Vikings quarterbacks have seen eight-man fronts on 122 dropbacks since the start of the 2012 season, the second-most in the NFL during that time. Some of those looks have been a tacit sign that defenses didn't have to worry about getting beat by the Vikings' passing game, but many have been a reflection of how much attention Peterson commands. Neither Cassel nor Christian Ponder were able to make the most of the single-coverage looks they saw last year, but Cassel had drilled both of his throws against eight-man fronts this year for a total of 31 yards.

In any case, Cassel is not likely to see defenses selling out against Matt Asiata or Jerick McKinnon in the same way, and the Vikings won't be able to rely on the big gains they came to count on from Peterson in their offense.

"I think when you have a back who is capable of making big plays and has a history of making plays -- 10, 15-yard runs -- those plays can supplant some plays you're not getting in another area," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "I think when you're coaching a player like that you kind of count on that you're going to get those kind of plays. I think Matt and Jerick both had big runs, but I don't think you can say, 'Hey, in this game we are going to get three or four runs over 15 yards,' like you would with Adrian. You just have to adjust your plan."

The defining moment of Cassel's career came in 2008, when he stepped in for an injured Tom Brady and led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record in the wake of Drady's deflating injury. He drew parallels to that experience Thursday, but the difference this time is, he's not working with the remainder of a team that went 18-1 the year before. These Vikings are young, they've lost their best player and they'll need Cassel to play well.

"We do have a young, impressionable team. I think that the main thing is trying to block out the noise on the outside because there is a lot of it going on right now," Cassel said. "The Saints aren't going to feel sorry for us when we go down there on Sunday. Part of doing this job is overcoming some adversity, and we've faced some adversity, obviously, early this year."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer still sounded optimistic on Thursday he'd have Chad Greenway on the field this Sunday in New Orleans, despite Greenway's broken left hand. But the Vikings have injuries to several starters to track on the other side of the ball.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was added to Thursday's injury report after being limited in practice with a chest injury, and tight end Kyle Rudolph was again limited in practice with an abdominal injury. Right tackle Phil Loadholt was a limited participant with an ankle injury for the second straight day, though Zimmer thought Loadholt would be ready to go for Sunday's game.

"He'll be fine," Zimmer said. "He's tough."

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) returned to full participation on Thursday, while defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was a limited participant after missing Wednesday's practice. Linebacker Brandon Watts also worked in a limited capacity for the second consecutive day, after returning from a knee injury.

"He's got great speed," Zimmer said of Watts. "He's a young, developing player that I think has a great future in this league. He's got some coverage ability and it's hard to find linebackers with coverage ability nowadays, the way the league is."

Linebacker Michael Mauti was a full participant with a foot injury for the second straight day, and could be in line to make his regular-season debut on Sunday. If Greenway is unable to go, Mauti or Gerald Hodges might start in his place at weakside linebacker, but Zimmer said he thinks Greenway is improving.

"He feels a lot better today," Zimmer said. "He didn't practice, but he feels a lot better. He was running around pretty good, so we'll see how he does tomorrow."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As he sat on his couch last Sunday, watching a handful of Minnesota Vikings special-teams mistakes in the final game of his suspension, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he did a fairly good job of following his wife's "lecture" to stay calm in front of his kids.

That is, except for when he saw the Vikings put just nine players on the field for a third-quarter punt return, after the New England Patriots faked a decision to go for it on fourth down and made a late switch to their punt personnel.

[+] EnlargeMike Priefer
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallSpecial teams coordinator Mike Priefer returned to the Vikings this week after completing sensitivity training.
Of his reaction to that play, Priefer said, "I probably can't say it in public."

Priefer has the Vikings' special-teams units back under his control now after he completed sensitivity training to shorten his suspension from three games to two for making a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. The Vikings brought Priefer back to work on Monday, and the coach received a standing ovation from players in his first meeting.

"It was awesome,” Priefer said. “Normally, I’m there three or four minutes before the meeting starts. I walked in right as the meeting started because we had just finished up a staff meeting, and it was really, really a cool thing. It was something I didn’t expect. It was a warm reception and I really appreciated it. I’m an emotional guy and I really did appreciate it. Reflecting back on it, I think that will be one of the great things that’s ever happened to me as a football coach.”

Priefer wouldn't get into the details of what he did during sensitivity training, but said he embraced the training session. "I don't know if I've changed," he said, "but I think I have more awareness of my surroundings and other people around me. I think I'm a better man because of it."

Now that he's back and he's served the full punishment that resulted from a six-month independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations against him, Priefer said he told players the situation is "all behind us. It's over.

"The situation is a dead issue and it’s time to move on. I know it was hard for them. I apologized to them because of what I basically put them through being away for two weeks. But now it’s time to improve and get better. We have a lot of work to do.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson can speak comfortably and fluidly about most topics.

Ask him about quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and he'll go on and on about his arm strength, play-making ability and even their friendship.

Ask him about running back Eddie Lacy, and he'll marvel at his ability to break tackles.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
AP Photo/Mike RoemerAaron Rodgers is targeting Packers receiver Jordy Nelson at a record rate.
Ask him about the Packers' history, and he'll recite championship seasons and players from the past.

But as everyone saw Sunday, after he caught nine passes for a career-high 209 yards in the win over the New York Jets, Nelson's tone tends to change when it comes time to talk about himself. That was evident when he stepped to the podium in the Lambeau Field auditorium for the first time in his seven-year career and said: "I'm going to hate this, so go ahead [with questions]."

If Nelson keeps catching passes and piling up yards at a league-leading rate, he had better get used to the attention. Nelson leads the NFL in receiving yards (292), 45 ahead of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, and is tied with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham for the league lead in catches (18).

"It's just awkward being up there," Nelson said Wednesday back in the friendly surroundings of the Packers' locker room. "It singles you out."

The only person Nelson wants to do that is his quarterback.

"You do care about your quarterback and what he thinks," Nelson said. "It's taken a lot of years to get to that point, a lot of reps, a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations. And the biggest thing there to take is that he has confidence in me and trust in me."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, no NFL receiver has been targeted on a higher percentage of their routes through two games than Nelson, who has seen the ball 42.3 percent of the time he has gone out for a pass. For his part, Nelson does not think he will continue to be targeted at this pace, an average of 15 times per game. Rodgers, however, might have other ideas.

"I think we've found ourselves targeting him more and realizing that there's a lot of good things happen when the ball's thrown his way," Rodgers said this week on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show.

That, perhaps more than anything else, has caught the attention of others.

"You better know where he is," said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, whose team is preparing to face Nelson on Sunday. "He's no different than a couple guys that we have on our team. I would assume that you better know where Calvin Johnson is, because without question he's a great talent. So we know where he is, and we're certainly looking at all of our options."

Despite signing a four-year, $39 million contract extension in July that made him one of the league's top-10 highest-paid receivers, Nelson has remained relatively anonymous. He's never made All-Pro or a Pro Bowl, accolades he said he has never given a second thought.

If you don't believe him, you should hear him try to pronounce the word accolades.

"You'll take wins and playoff wins and Super Bowls over that any day," Nelson said. "All the accolations will come at the end. Again, we are two games into this. We are a long ways away from any of that."

Accolations?

"Whatever that word is," Nelson said. "Just make sure you type it correctly when you write it."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were without linebacker Chad Greenway -- because of a broken hand and a rib injury -- at practice on Wednesday, as well as right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder).

Tight end Kyle Rudolph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes joined those three players on a list of Vikings starters who missed practice time on Wednesday. Rudolph was limited with an abdominal injury, which showed up on the Vikings' injury report for the first time, while Rhodes was limited because of the groin injury he played with last Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer said Rhodes will be "fine" to play on Sunday, after he played last week's game against the New England Patriots.

Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed the Vikings' first two games with a knee injury, also practiced in a limited capacity for the first time this season. Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) was limited, and linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) was a full participant.

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