How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

December, 22, 2009
12/22/09
11:01
AM ET
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Falling

1. Brett Childress, Minnesota quarterback/coach: I blame quarterback Brett Favre and coach Brad Childress equally for the recent public discussion of Favre’s playing time. Both played a role in a sensitive topic spilling over into the mass airways. Childress erred in approaching Favre with an open-ended topic of leaving a close game in the heat of the battle. Favre then submarined the coach by revealing that he wanted no part of Childress’ plan. These situations are fun for the media and interesting to some fans. But ultimately this one has exposed a disagreement between two men who have seemed to coexist well this season.

2. Ron Turner, Chicago offensive coordinator: There are all sorts of targets this week and every week in Chicago, but we’ll choose Turner so we can vent a season-long gripe. When visiting training camp this summer, it became clear that the Bears wanted to feature tight end Greg Olsen in the red zone. Nothing wrong with that sentiment, but the Bears’ failure to develop a second option near the goal line has hurt them as much as anything offensively. Too many of quarterback Jay Cutler’s interceptions have come on balls forced to Olsen, and Sunday in Baltimore, there was no doubt where he was going on a fourth-down play at the 1-yard line. The ball fell incomplete.

3. The zone blitz: I don’t know that it had an impact on Sunday’s game. But I decided once and for all that I hate the zone blitz when I saw Green Bay defensive lineman B.J. Raji line up as a nickel defender and try to cover a slot receiver. Raji was in coverage so that cornerback Charles Woodson could blitz. Woodson fell down as he reached the backfield, and Raji had no chance in coverage. The zone blitz was interesting when the Steelers first introduced it in the early 1990s, but it always leaves at least one player out of position. Having Raji amble downfield was an example of the zone blitz gone mad.

Rising

[+] EnlargeMatthews
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicClay Matthews spent much of his Sunday in the Pittsburgh backfield.
1. Louis Delmas, Detroit safety: Delmas has proved to be a playmaker and a live wire that the Lions can build their defense around. He’ll certainly need to even out his emotions moving forward, but he’s a ferocious hitter, more than willing in run support and decent in coverage. Of all the Lions' draft picks who have contributed so far this season, Delmas has been the most impressive. Remember that Sunday’s 100-yard interception return didn’t come against some no-name quarterback. No, Delmas stepped in front of a Kurt Warner pass at the goal line and didn’t stop running until he reached the opposite end zone. The play marked Delmas’ arrival on a league level.

2. Clay Matthews, Green Bay linebacker: If the Packers had held on to win Sunday at Pittsburgh, I think more of us would be talking about yet another eye-opening game from their rookie linebacker. Matthews abused Pittsburgh’s offensive line for much of the game, especially left tackle Max Starks, and finished with seven tackles and two sacks. He lost a third sack, and a forced fumble, when officials ruled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s arm was moving forward prior to contact. Still, Matthews has 10 sacks in 11 starts this season. That’s a rookie record for the Packers, and ties him at ninth among all NFL players this season.

3. Maurice Morris, Detroit running back: That’s right. We’re listing two Lions players in this category for the first time all year. I’m aware the Lions lost Sunday to Arizona, but the reality is all four NFC North teams ended up in the same boat. Morris gave the Lions their longest touchdown run in four years Sunday, a 64-yard scamper in the third quarter that, for a moment, had Ford Field rocking. Morris has been stuck behind starter Kevin Smith this season, and plans to offer a 1-2 punch never materialized. But if there was any doubt that Morris can still move his feet, it was erased Sunday.

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