1. Ron Turner, Bears offensive coordinator: You have to wonder if these are the final weeks of Turner’s tenure. He has had one of the most difficult jobs in the Bears organization: Retrofitting his scheme to fit the sudden arrival of a downfield thrower. The challenge has been exacerbated by limited experience at receiver and an offensive line that has struggled to protect and open holes for the running game. But when an offense fails, you don’t fire all the players. Usually the coordinator is the first to go. Turner’s playcalling has left some room for debate as well. The use of receiver screens are good substitutes for a nonexistent running game, but only in moderation. Turner has overdone it to the point where defenses seem to know when the play is coming.
2. Minnesota Nice: That’s the phrase Minnesotans use to describe their cheery default condition for human relations. It’s also what outsiders refer to as their passive-aggressive bite. The latter emerged last week when the Metrodome’s landlord started an unnecessary fight with the Vikings over their future in the building. Asking the team to extend its lease or face penalty payments, even if a negotiating ploy, represented an underestimation of the team’s (and NFL’s) patience on the issue. Every moment spent talking about this secondary issue is one that won’t be spent on solving the bigger problem.
3. Anterior cruciate ligaments: Four of them have snapped this year on Green Bay players. The list includes not only linebacker Aaron Kampman and Al Harris, but also cornerback/kick returner Will Blackmon and receiver Brett Swain. The ACL tear no longer marks the end of a career, but all four players will at least face the same issue that Packers linebacker Nick Barnett dealt with: Controlled activity during training camp and the possibility of a “yellow light” for playing time when the 2010 season begins.
Stafford1. Matthew Stafford, Detroit quarterback: The final diagnosis is in, and we now know that Stafford threw the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday with a separated left shoulder. It seemed pretty obvious when Stafford dashed onto the field with his left arm hanging limp, but now we have further proof that Stafford cares deeply about winning and has the competitive/tough streak he’ll need to navigate the Lions’ rebuilding project. You might question the hubbub about a quarterback who has an injured non-throwing shoulder, but I think we can agree Stafford was in excessive pain that was probably exacerbated by taking a snap from under center. Brett Favre might have produced the division’s play of the year Sept. 27 against San Francisco. If that’s the case, Stafford certainly gave us the sequence of the year.
2. Charles Tillman, Chicago cornerback: We can’t let the Bears’ third consecutive loss overshadow a signature performance from Tillman, who forced three fumbles in Philadelphia’s 24-20 victory. Tillman is quite simply the NFL’s best player at poking the ball loose from ball carriers. Occasionally he misses tackles when focused too hard on the strip, but isn’t that ultimately the definition of defense -- getting the ball back for your offense? According to official NFL statistics, Tillman has already forced a career-high six fumbles this season in 10 games this season. That gives him 22 in his career. And counting.
3. Ryan Grant, Green Bay running back: His second 100-yard game of the season couldn’t have come at a better time for the Packers, who needed to protect their injury-plagued defense as Sunday’s game against San Francisco progressed. His 129 yards helped the Packers maintain possession for a whopping 41:39 of the game, including the final 5:50. I think Grant would be a better back if he were complemented by a speedy backup, which would help make his own shifty pace more definable. But Grant’s style -- five yards here, six yards there, the occasional 21-yard run -- does lend itself to grinding out the clock in November/December games.