How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert



1. Tommie Harris, Chicago defensive tackle: There is some sort of underlying battle going on between Harris and the Bears, and it culminated with Harris missing a week of practice as well as Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. It doesn’t appear that Harris’ chronically sore left knee flared up, raising the intrigue level several notches. Coach Lovie Smith is covering for Harris, for now, and said he made the decision to give Harris a week off in hopes of getting more productive play later this season. Of course, Harris had a week off earlier this month during the Bears’ bye. With nine tackles and no sacks through five games, Harris has had almost no impact this season. This could be the beginning stage of his departure from Chicago.

2. Minnesota’s safety play: With cornerback Antoine Winfield (foot) sidelined, there is even more pressure on Vikings safeties Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams to elevate their play. However, both have made significant mistakes on big plays in the past two weeks. Two weeks ago, Johnson whiffed in the open field on a 33-yard touchdown run by Baltimore tailback Ray Rice. Sunday, Williams overran Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace, opening up the middle of the field for a 40-yard touchdown play. Williams tried to stop his momentum, but ultimately he blocked Johnson from a tackle opportunity. Johnson and Williams need to break up plays, not extend them.


3. Lovie Smith, Bears coach: I won’t join the chorus of those who believe Smith’s time in Chicago has run its course. Not after one game, no matter how embarrassing it was. But I will suggest that Smith is finding out why most defensive-minded head coaches leave the play calling and day-to-day management of the defense to a full-time coordinator. Smith took over most of those duties from Bob Babich this offseason, but recently the Bears' defense has looked disorganized and slow to adjust. The position of defensive coordinator is a full-time job and requires singular authority. At this point, Smith isn’t fulfilling either requirement.



1. T.J. Lang, Packers left tackle: I know, I know. It was only against Cleveland. But if nothing else, Lang’s solid performance Sunday gives the Packers a level of flexibility they didn’t have during the season. If starter Chad Clifton is sidelined, they don’t have to juggle the entire offensive line to replace him. Most importantly, Daryn Colledge can make himself a permanent home at left guard while Lang fills in at left tackle. That continuity will be important as the season progresses. The real question is if Lang can wrest the full-time job away from Clifton. I don’t think that’s happened yet, but it could be coming.


2. Sidney Rice, Minnesota receiver: The name of this category is “Rising,” so I wouldn’t continue to put Rice here if he wasn’t producing better performances on a weekly basis. Rice lost a catch in a postgame scoring change, but his 10-reception outing at Pittsburgh was still a career high. His 25-yard reception along the right sideline in the fourth quarter, ruled a catch after coach Brad Childress challenged the original call, was a tremendous example of Rice’s length and foot skills. And were it not for a questionable tripping call, Rice’s 10-yard touchdown reception with 8:16 remaining might have won the game.


3. Ryan Grant, Green Bay tailback: Grant surpassed the 100-yard mark for the first time this season at Cleveland, and his total of 147 yards was his highest since running for 156 yards in Week 14 of the 2007 season. Grant mixed in runs of 37 and 15 yards, the type of explosive plays he produced with regularity during his breakout season in 2007. The Packers don’t need 147 yards every game from him, but a couple long gainers would help take the edge off pass rushes and make the Packers’ play-action game more effective.