How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
11:03
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Falling

  Clifton
Green Bay offensive line: Ugh and double ugh. A week after Chicago tossed around right tackle Allen Barbre, Cincinnati lit up left tackles Chad Clifton and Daryn Colledge. I still haven’t accepted that some guy named Antwan Odom -- who entered Sunday’s game with 17.5 career sacks -- beat Clifton and Colledge for FIVE. The Packers started the season with three new starters along the offensive line, and so far the results have been hugely disappointing. Trouble is, there aren’t any quick fixes on the roster. Neither of their top two reserves who can play tackle -- Breno Giacomini and rookie T.J. Lang -- have any NFL experience to speak of.

  Stafford
Matthew Stafford, Detroit quarterback: He’s thrown five interceptions in his first 67 regular season attempts. For some perspective, that’s a pace of 39 interceptions over a 16-game season. There’s nothing surprising about a rookie throwing interceptions, especially when his team is behind and he’s pushing to make plays. We like aggressive quarterbacks, and sometimes aggressiveness and interceptions go hand-in-hand. But the Lions aren’t going to win many games with a quarterback who turns the ball over at that rate. Either he’ll need to refine his decision-making in a hurry, or the Lions will have to accept these lumps as they come.

Minnesota pass protection: We’ve made a big deal about the lack of downfield passing thus far in the Vikings’ offense. But we probably haven’t emphasized enough that quarterback Brett Favre hasn’t always had the time to let those plays develop. Favre, noted throughout his career for a quick release and nimble feet, has been sacked seven times in two games. Rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt, who has been strong in run blocking, has appeared especially vulnerable to speed rushes. Blitz pickup has also been a concern. I’m sure future opponents have already taken note.

Rising

  Knox
Johnny Knox, Chicago receiver: Everyone knew Knox had elite speed. But I don’t know if there were many people who thought a fifth-round draft pick from Abilene Christian would possess enough sophistication in the passing game to contribute eight catches and 152 yards in the first two games of his career. It helps to have a fearless quarterback like Jay Cutler, who has never been afraid to throw to young receivers. But for two weeks, at least, Knox is getting open and making tough catches like a veteran. He’s given the Bears’ anonymous receiving corps a much-needed lift.

  Harvin
Percy Harvin, Minnesota receiver: It’s pretty clear that Harvin is an early favorite of Favre. They have connected eight times for 77 yards and two touchdowns, all team highs, and Favre clearly trusts Harvin’s ability to break tackles and run after the catch. The fact that Favre is looking to him in the red zone is particularly notable. Harvin has also come close to breaking two kickoff returns and is averaging 29.7 yards on six returns this season. If you had any doubts, it’s now obvious that Harvin is one of the few rookie receivers who -- like Knox -- is ready to play at a high level from Day 1 of his career.

  Hillenmeyer
Hunter Hillenmeyer, Chicago linebacker: Hillenmeyer held his own in the Bears’ first game without Brian Urlacher since 2004, a feat in itself. Bears coach Lovie Smith was happy with the way Hillenmeyer called the defense and got the front seven aligned in a 17-14 victory over Pittsburgh. For now, it looks like Hillenmeyer has staved off any chance that Chicago would seek out Derrick Brooks or another veteran to replace him for the rest of the season. Hillenmeyer will retain his job as long as he can keep the Bears’ defense organized on the field.

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