LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen participated in fewer snaps on defense than key reserve Willie Young in Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins, but the five-time Pro Bowler doesn't believe reduced playing time for him is in the team's plans.

"It's probably an aberration," Allen said, laughing. "They haven't told me I am on reduced playing time. We'll take it for that."

Allen played in 46 of the club's 70 snaps against the Dolphins, while Young participated in 54 snaps.

In the third quarter, Miami marched 83 yards in 13 plays with Lamar Miller capping the drive with on a 2-yard touchdown run. The Bears didn't utilize Allen during the drive, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker pointed out the Dolphins weren't faced with many third-and-long situations. On that possession, Miami faced third down just twice with 2 yards to convert. The Dolphins also converted a fourth-and-1.

"Going forward, obviously we want him in the game," Tucker said. "He's been a highly-productive player for us. It was an unusual series. We had a lot of short-yardage situations. We didn't really get into third-and-long. We visited with him about it, and we're ready to move on. We'll be fine. We just tell him that we're going to make sure that we get him on the field as much as possible."

Allen wasn't concerned about a lack of playing time, but immediately after the game referred questions regarding the situation to the coaching staff.

"We haven't really talked about it," Allen said. "The rotation happened that way I guess. We'll move on to New England."

The Bears held out Allen when the team faced Green Bay on Sept. 28, but he's played in six games this season, contributing 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There will come a time in Sunday's game in New Orleans when one of the two quarterbacks won't be able to keep up.

And it may be only because there's no more time left.

When Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees get together -- and it's not often -- the scoreboard operator usually gets a workout.

Nearly two thousand passing yards and 211 points combined in the only three head-to-head meetings between those two giants of the quarterbacking world is evidence enough that the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints appear headed for another shootout in the Superdome this Sunday night.

"You're not playing against him," Rodgers insisted on Wednesday. "This is the Saints against the Packers."

But that doesn't mean the Packers quarterback won't have to react to what Brees and the Saints' offense throws at him. Or vice versa.

In those three meetings, Brees has thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. However, Rodgers has the edge in Total QBR (see accompanying chart).

The three meetings were:
  • 2008 -- Saints 51, Packers 29: On "Monday Night Football" in New Orleans, the Saints tied a team record for points (which they have since surpassed) and scored seven touchdowns. Brees threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
  • 2011 – Packers 42, Saints 34: In the Thursday night season opener at Lambeau Field, Rodgers threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, while Brees put up 419 yards and three touchdowns but was stopped on the 1-yard line on the final play of the game.
  • 2012 – Packers 28, Saints 27: In Green Bay, Brees threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns, while Rodgers threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. The Saints missed a field goal with less than three minutes remaining.

Those three games may play no role whatsoever on Sunday. But the way Rodgers has started this season, it's hard to envision a defensive struggle is in the offing. He has thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception this season. In the Packer' four-game winning streak, they have averaged 36.3 points per game. That's better than their scoring average (35.0 ppg) in 2011, when they set the franchise record for points (560).

"The year that he's having has been, you just kind of shake your head," Brees said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. "He’s so impressive. Anytime there's a guy like that on the other side of the ball, you know you have to be at your best and it seems like all the little things in a game like this, all the little details are magnified.

"It's not one of these, 'Hey, we've got to be perfect.' Nobody is perfect. But you have to be pretty darn close. You have to be as good as you can be to have a shot at these guys when he's pulling the trigger on the other side."

In spite of the Saints' struggles in their 2-4 start, their offense has been as explosive as usual at home. In their two games at the Superdome (both victories), they have combined for 907 yards and 57 points.

"It's easy to say, "Well, you start with both teams [which] have had good offenses,' yet just as we say that, you can find yourself in one of those 17-13 games," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

That hardly seems possible, but both Payton and Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that they have no preconceived notions about the way the game will play out. McCarthy said Wednesday that the plan in every game is to "shoot all your bullets. Hopefully, you're hitting them and they're not hitting you."

"If it ends up being a shootout, we've got to be prepared to do that," Packers right guard T.J. Lang said. "And I think we are every week [with] the amount of production that we've been having. I hate predicting games like that, saying it's going to be a shootout or a defensive battle. We've got to be prepared to do whatever it takes on game day."
BAGSHOT, England – The Detroit Lions found out about this trip around a year ago, and when they did, they began to plan. In the interim, the Lions changed coaching staffs, but most of that didn’t matter when it came to the off-field logistics.

It started with a lot of advance scouting and preparations. Lions team president Tom Lewand estimated there were three trips taken to England to scope out facilities in helping the team choose their hotel. The Falcons had the first choice and chose The Grove in Hertfordshire, England; Detroit picked the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa. Then it took time to understand all the potential issues they might face.

While that was happening, they were also doing research into how different teams went about this trip before them, from where they stayed to when they traveled and more.

It’s why Detroit traveled Monday night instead of making the trip later in the week, as other teams playing in London have done. Being in the same spot for so long – and in facilities they deemed top-notch – has given this week a similar feel to a training camp, yet a few thousand miles away.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell tried to think of everything. The team collected the passports of players last week and checked on passport statuses of players they brought in for tryouts, so there was no chance of a player forgetting theirs or not having one. Caldwell spoke with sleep specialists and members of the military about the best way to fight off jet lag from the five-time-zone difference the Lions faced when they arrived Tuesday. He specifically spoke with military members because they travel often with quick turnarounds.

“Everything that we talk about, it’s on [the players’] iPads, so they have the information right there readily available to them,” Caldwell said. “And then we also had a sleep specialist that came in and talked to them about what they should do, what they should do on the trip, what these first three days are like, things of that nature to try to make certain that you’re in the best possible shape you can be in, from a rest standpoint.”

Caldwell said that while he did not talk to the team about the Ebola virus because they were flying on a private charter, his medical personnel were aware of it because “obviously, it’s a national issue right now, so it’s not something that you just kind of turn your back on.”

So everything was covered.

The Lions made sure the typical conveniences of their Allen Park, Michigan, facility were also evident – including having a pingpong table and video game systems with FIFA Soccer available. These two things are staples in the team’s player’s lounge in America.

“A few guys brought their systems,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “So even if they didn’t have that accessible to us, we were still going to play some games. But it’s really helped a lot.”

To aid this, the Lions did what many businesses do in shipping things from Europe or Asia to North America. They put some of their equipment and supplies on a ship months ago and sent it across the Atlantic Ocean.

“A lot was office equipment,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said. “We’ve got to set up an office here. Network equipment we had to send over, servers and that kind of thing. And some of the things like athletic tape, supplies.

“It was really supply-based, that we knew didn’t have expiration dates and had longtime items we could plan through. So a lot of it was both office and football equipment-based.”

That includes, somewhat surprisingly, paper. The typical 8-by-11 sheets the Lions use are not the most commonly-used size in England, according to Lewand.

With the office set up and the Lions turning conference and banquet rooms into different meeting rooms around the Pennyhill Park complex, it in some ways feels like home, even though it clearly isn’t.

“I could stay here all week,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “I haven’t even been to the spa yet. It looks sweet, though.”

The spa was one of the bigger benefits to staying at their hotel, which is also the training ground for the English national rugby team. So the facility has all the benefits for elite athletes, which has helped in their preparation.

“They have hot tubs over there, cold tubs, obviously massages, saunas and steam rooms,” Lions running back Reggie Bush said. “All those different things. I try to spend quite a bit of time over there.”

Players also marveled at the size of the rooms and cornerback Rashean Mathis said he’d consider vacationing at the hotel another time.

Often, hotel rooms in big cities such as London and New York are small. The Lions have spacious facilities -- and Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley have two-floor rooms to themselves. Raiola said he has a huge tub and heated floors in his bathroom.

It feels more like an apartment than a random hotel room in the middle of a city.

But it is not actually home.

“It’s not Union Lake,” Raiola said. “But it’s all right. It’ll do.”
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Shortly after they were allowed to begin contacting free agents last March, the Minnesota Vikings placed a call to the agent for former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, to explore the possibility of reuniting him with coach Mike Zimmer in Minnesota.

Johnson wound up agreeing to a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers an hour after players were able to sign with new teams; Zimmer said in a radio interview in March that Johnson "wanted to be with me," but ultimately wanted to be closer to his hometown of Selma, Alabama. And in a conference call with Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday, Johnson said he thought about following Zimmer to Minnesota after five years with him in Cincinnati.

"Of course,” Johnson said. “I came into the league under Coach Zimmer. I learned a lot under him. He’s a great coach and a great, great guy. It was a pleasure playing under him."

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis, Everson Griffen
AP Photo/Tom GannamEverson Griffen has been productive in Mike Zimmer's scheme, collecting 7.0 sacks through the first seven games.
The Vikings, meanwhile, had agreed to a new five-year deal with Everson Griffen before the start of free agency, keeping the player that Zimmer said in March was their first choice at defensive end. It seemed difficult to imagine a scenario where the Vikings could have paid both Griffen and Johnson, and it might be a moot point now, but seven months later, the Vikings seem to have no regrets about their decision.

Griffen has seven sacks this season, which has him tied for the second-most in the league, and he matched his career high with three on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Zimmer doesn't place much value on individual sack totals; they're easy to come by, he said on Wednesday, and repeated his mantra about being more concerned with team's overall number of sacks than who gets them. But in the time he's had Griffen, Zimmer said, he's seen a player who was eager to embrace the defensive philosophy the coach brought to Minnesota.

"Since the day we walked in, he's kind of been excited about this regime defensively, how he can go from just being an athlete to being a football player," Zimmer said. "That's how I always got the impression with him. He's been very, very diligent about buying into what we're preaching. It's not just about running up the field and sacking the quarterback. It's about doing your job so other people can have success, too."

That's a philosophy Johnson knew well, and it probably took some projection on the Vikings' part to see that Griffen could work as an every-down right end in the scheme after playing in three different defensive line spots under former head coach Leslie Frazier. Johnson, of course, is playing for Frazier in Tampa, and has two sacks in four games for a 1-5 team. He's looked back on some of the advice he got from Zimmer, whom he called a "father figure," to help get him through the tough start.

"He’d say, 'Tough times don’t last, tough people do,'" Johnson said. "That was his mentality. These first six games here have been tough times down here. So tough times don’t last but tough people do. I’ve taken that with me from Cincinnati. I try to apply that not only in football but life as well.”

It's clear Zimmer and Johnson still hold each other in high regard, but the Vikings made their investment in Griffen last March. So far, Zimmer seems happy with the choice.

"It's not only the pass-rush things," Zimmer said. "It's buying into playing the run, too. I think that allows him to have success."
BAGSHOT, England -- Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola was asked about the royals on Wednesday afternoon and in the land of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, it can be a confusing question for an American.

“I looked it up this morning, just to see who won,” Raiola said.

Wait, what? Raiola thought reporters were talking about the Kansas City Royals, the team that lost Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. Instead, though, Raiola was being asked if he was following much of the drama around the royal family, which make headlines in Great Britain regularly.

“Hell no,” Raiola said. “I don’t know what’s going on. Our cab driver was talking about Prince Harry and how crazy, I guess the Queen was in town because the flag was out last night. [The cab driver said] like this flag is out which means the Queen is staying there.”

In England, though, following the royal family is as much of a gawking sport as celebrity-watching is in the United States and some Lions spent their first day in the country as tourists.

Some Lions traveled into central London, even if their hotel is about 75 minutes away from the city in Bagshot, England. Punter Sam Martin and tight ends Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron all sent pictures in front of Big Ben to their Instagram followers.


A photo posted by Eric Ebron (@ericebron) on

Running back Reggie Bush went into the city, by driver, for a late dinner with his wife, Lilit, at Nobu. Tahir Whitehead's anniversary is tomorrow, so he is planning on heading into London to have dinner with his wife then.

But for many Lions who have not been overseas before -- Bush is well-traveled, as is Ndamukong Suh, who recounted prior trips to London as among his most fun vacations -- this is a completely different experience.

“The impression from other people that I’ve been talking to who actually spent more time down there (Tuesday), they really enjoyed it, did a lot of sightseeing and did some shopping,” Bush said. “I think the big thing was taking the train down into London, a lot of guys did that yesterday.

“So they really enjoyed that part of it. I think everybody has been enjoying it so far.”
BAGSHOT, England -- It has been almost half the season already, but Reggie Bush insists the Detroit Lions are still learning.

When trying to understand why a running game featuring two backs who were considered among the best tandems in the NFL a year ago have been moving in neutral, he looked at the new scheme the Lions are putting in and the time it is taking to learn it.

The learning process and struggles with a running game that could take more of a hit if right tackle LaAdrian Waddle misses time with his concussion, is a bit of an enigma. It won’t help, either, that the Lions’ top three tight ends all didn’t practice Wednesday due to injury.

“It’s getting into a rhythm, into a flow with this new offensive system,” Bush said. “We’re still kind of learning and I’m not at all worried. I wouldn’t want to run behind any other offensive line, just going back to what we did last year, we have the guys here.

“We have what it takes to get it done and it’s just a matter of getting into a rhythm. We’ve had some injuries, too, and that’s obviously hurt us a little bit. We’re getting there. Nobody is worried, it’s not a time to panic, but it is a time for a sense of urgency.”

It may not be a worry, but it should be a viable concern.

A season ago, the Lions had a 1,000-yard rusher in Bush, had Joique Bell with over 500 yards rushing and had numbers in the middle of the pack, mostly because both Bush and Bell were used as receiving threats as well.

Both were averaging at least 3.9 yards a rush (Bush 4.5, Bell 3.9) and were talked about as one of the top tandems in the NFL.

This season, though, they have plummeted. Neither Bush (3.5) nor Bell (3.3) have come close to Jim Caldwell’s goal of four yards a carry. And as a rushing offense, they have been unable to move the ball. Detroit is ranked No. 31 in the NFL in rushing yards a game (82.43) and yards per rush (3.12).

The Lions are also tied for 28th in first downs rushing, with 31, although of the four teams they are tied or ahead of, three have winning records, including Denver.

“The scheme is good,” center Dominic Raiola said. “It’s a matter of one person breaking down here or one person breaking down here. Especially in the run game, all six have to go. We just have to be in sync. No one can go rogue. No one can go off schedule.

“We have to be on schedule all the time for it to go.”

The running issues are more than just the offensive line, though. With the new offensive scheme brought in by Joe Lombardi, some of the blocks have changed from what they were a season ago in both the run game and the screen game -- both of which involve the running backs heavily.

Raiola wouldn’t say exactly what has changed in the way they block this year, only that there are differences.

And Caldwell isn’t blaming one area of the offense when it comes to the Lions’ run struggles. He’s looking at the whole operation of it.

“We just haven’t been as consistent as we’d like,” Caldwell said. “We haven’t blocked consistently well enough. We haven’t run it consistently well enough with the ball in our hands. There’s a number of different things.

“The blocking includes not only linemen, not only tight ends, the lead back or whomever it might be, but then also on the flanks as well, the receiving corps. So all of it, we’re constantly in an evaluation mode with trying to find out what suits us best in terms of what we do best. That’s been the struggle, so we just have to stay after it.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe the Green Bay Packers’ bye is coming a week too late.

When they began preparations on Wednesday for the New Orleans Saints, their final game before their week off, they did so without four key players – cornerback Sam Shields, safety Morgan Burnett, defensive end Datone Jones and running game James Starks.

Neither Shields nor Jones played in last Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. Shields sustained a knee injury in the Oct. 12 game at Miami. Jones has missed the last two games because of an ankle injury.

Starks left Sunday’s game because of an ankle injury, while no injury was announced for Burnett during or after the game.

All four players were in attendance but did not take part during the portion that was open to reporters.

The full injury report will be available after practice.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- How was your Tuesday? However it went, it was probably more enjoyable than Mike Zimmer's.

While players took their day off on Tuesday, the Minnesota Vikings coach had another procedure to remove the rest of the kidney stones that first sent him to the hospital on Friday and gave him some pain during the Vikings' game with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The operation on Tuesday was "not pleasant at all," Zimmer said on Wednesday, but he said the ordeal should be behind him now, and was in a good enough mood to joke about it on Wednesday.

"(Athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman was talking to the team today, and I told him to get the video of the procedure I had done and show the team," Zimmer said. "I think there would have been some throwing up or something."

When a reporter joked that Zimmer was probable for Sunday's game, the coach responded, "I'm definite."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since 2010, no player has captured one of the NFL's player-of-the-week awards more often than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

On Wednesday, he was named the NFC's offensive player of the week for the 10th time since 2010. It was the second time he has taken home the honor this season.

Why did Rodgers win the award this time?

Take your pick:
  • In Sunday's victory over the Carolina Panthers, Rodgers had as many touchdowns (three) as incomplete passes on the way to a 255-yard performance that equated to a 154.5 passer rating, the second-highest of his career and the third-best rating in Packers' history for a quarterback with at least 20 attempts.
  • It was Rodgers' fourth game in a row with at least three touchdown passes without an interception. Tom Brady, who did it in 2007, is the only other player in NFL history to pull off that feat.
  • It was also Rodgers' sixth straight game without an interception. That tied Bart Starr's team record set in 1964. Rodgers has not thrown an interception since Week 1, a stretch of 192 attempts -- his career-high and the second-best streak in team history behind only Starr, who had 294 attempts between interceptions in 1964-65.
LONDON -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.


WR Calvin Johnson: It is still unclear if the star receiver is going to play Sunday against Atlanta at Wembley Stadium, but he is clearly making progress on his injured ankle. He said he is feeling good and that he did a little bit of field work last week, which is a step up for him. He also told the NFL Network he has been running more than before, another good sign of his eventual return. It’ll likely be a decision between the coaches, doctors and Johnson as to whether he plays Sunday or waits until after the team’s bye, but it does sound like he is closer to full strength than a week ago.

LB Josh Bynes: He signed with the Lions when Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers and has slowly moved his way into some snaps with the Detroit defense. He has played in 30 total snaps the past two weeks spelling Tahir Whitehead. But the Lions clearly have some trust in him as he was in the game on the second-to-last series against New Orleans, when Glover Quin picked off Drew Brees to set up the game-winning score.

The Lions free-agent defensive signings: Detroit made three moves critical to its defense during the offseason -- bringing in defensive ends Darryl Tapp and George Johnson along with safety James Ihedigbo. Ihedigbo was the team’s biggest defensive move and after missing three games due to a neck injury has become one of the Lions’ best defenders and a smart pairing with Glover Quin at safety. The more surprising play has come from Tapp and Johnson, both guys who were questions to make the roster at one point -- Tapp was cut and re-signed in August -- and have found roles in the Detroit defense. Tapp has been good against the run and Johnson leads the Lions defensive linemen in sacks (four) and is third among Detroit defensive linemen in tackles with 16.


WR Ryan Broyles: Another week with the Lions decimated by injuries, another week where Broyles has little to no role in the offense. At this point, it looks like unless there is an in-game injury, Broyles just isn’t going to see the field much at all. He has one reception for 21 yards this season and has not run more than three routes in a game.

The Detroit running game: Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick have all had injuries this season, but it still doesn’t explain why the Lions have been unable to run with any success. Detroit is 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (82.43) and yards per rush (3.12). Neither Bell (3.5 yards per carry) nor Bush (3.3 yards per carry) are even close to Jim Caldwell’s stated preference of four yards per rush and other than brief spurts in second halves, the Lions just haven’t been able to move the ball on the ground.

S Isa Abdul-Quddus: The starter at safety when Ihedigbo was out, Abdul-Quddus has primarily become a special-teams player at this point. His snaps have decreased every week since Ihedigbo’s return, from 19 against the Jets to 15 against Buffalo, one against Minnesota and none against his former team, the Saints. He still has a role on special teams, where he is part of their core, but it looks like he won’t be remaining as a player in a defensive package for Teryl Austin unless there is an injury.
BAGSHOT, England -- The Detroit Lions are on another continent, but they are still without star receiver Calvin Johnson at practice.

Johnson missed his seventh straight day of practice Wednesday, although he did stand off to the side watching the offense work out. He said Tuesday he is making some improvements in trying to return from his high ankle sprain to his right ankle.

He was one of six Lions players not practicing for Detroit on Wednesday at the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa, where the team is practicing and where England's national rugby team also works out.

All of the players who didn't practice for the Lions on Wednesday are of significance: right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and three tight ends -- Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron.

When it comes to Fauria and Ebron, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said they are making improvements. Fauria hasn't practiced or played since injuring his ankle before Week 4 against the Jets. Ebron has not practiced since tweaking his hamstring in practice last week.

"Practice would be one of those things where it goes day-to-day with those guys," Caldwell said. "Both of them are rapidly improving and I have to sort of wait and see what happens, what the doctors say where they are before we can utilitze them. So at this point it is kind of a day-to-day thing and see how it goes."

The Lions had Jordan Thompson, Kellen Davis and practice squad receiver Ifeyani Momah working out as tight ends Wednesday during the media portion of practice.

Packers hang with Pearl Jam

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
GREEN BAY, Wis. – You might have seen T.J. Lang's picture from backstage at Monday night's Pearl Jam show in Milwaukee.

The Green Bay Packers right guard posted a shot of himself and teammates Matt Flynn, Corey Linsley and Josh Sitton with the band's frontman, Eddie Vedder, on Twitter.

Not pictured was quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But he was there and met one of his rock heroes before the show.

"Well we did hang out and talk for a little while backstage before the concert," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "And he did say that he was [a Packers'] owner. A buddy had gotten him a stock certificate a few years back."

Vedder, a Chicago-area native who remains partial to his hometown teams, donned a Packers' jersey during the show with the No. 10, which is Flynn's number. But the jersey was not Flynn's. Rather, the Packers had one made up with that number to commemorate the 1991 Pearl Jam album "Ten."

"People thought Flynn had given him the jersey, and Flynn obviously played along or maybe in his mind believed it was a Flynn jersey that he was wearing," Rodgers said. "I'm pretty sure it said "Vedder" on the back."

Vedder gave Rodgers a shoutout during the show, however, Rodgers said the story the singer told the crowd about asking Rodgers if he’d be interested in a trade to the Bears for quarterback Jay Cutler was a tall tale.
LONDON -- The Detroit Lions have the top-ranked defense in the NFL and after two weeks outside the top 10 of the Power Rankings, the Lions are back pushing for a spot among the elite in the league.

The Lions are up to No. 10 this week, the fifth-highest team in the NFC and the second-highest team in the NFC North behind Green Bay, a team on a tear since losing to the Lions in Week 3.

Detroit knows how close it is, though, to being even better than its 5-2 record. The Lions are still No. 1 in the NFL in two categories: defensive QBR (31.8) and total defense (290.3)

"We feel like right now we're in a good position," safety Glover Quin said. "Obviously, we feel like we could be undefeated. We've left some games out there, and we still haven't played a total, total game. So we always feel like no one can beat us if we don't beat ourselves and if we play our game, it's going to be hard for a team to beat us .

"With the weapons we have on offense, the guys we have on defense and our special teams, we feel like we have a complete team."

This is what the Lions are trying to continue in London on Sunday when they face Atlanta at Wembley Stadium.

Just a note -- due to travel to London and the scheduling of events here, my power rankings ballot returns next week.
MINNEAPOLIS -- For 57 minutes, the Minnesota Vikings put together what would have stood up as their best defensive performance of the season, if not for what happened in the game's final three minutes. The Vikings had forced four turnovers, sacked Kyle Orton four times and held the Bills to 10 points, in a game that was one defensive stand away from a Vikings victory.

But it's what happened on that final drive that commanded most of the attention after the game, and deservedly so. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink of defeat several times on a 15-play, 80-yard march, only to give Buffalo new life on a series of coverage breakdowns.

Though the result was the same as the four games the Vikings lost on last-minute touchdowns last season, the approach wasn't. Nearly a year after defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams criticized former defensive coordinator Alan Williams for being too timid in a final-drive loss to Dallas, the Vikings blitzed Orton four times on the final drive, sacking him twice on blitzes and using a number of creative fronts that bumped tackles Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson out to wide alignments.

The breakdowns at the end of the game, though, are what will stick out about an otherwise impressive performance.

"This is a 'now' business," safety Harrison Smith said. "Everything is right now; you want to win right now. That's just the world we live in. We have to (develop) as fast as possible."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' defensive performance after a film review of the 17-16 loss to the Bills:
  • Vikings coach Mike Zimmer alluded to the Vikings getting burned by their aggressiveness on the final drive, and while his blitzes worked, Josh Robinson's press coverage of Sammy Watkins on a third-and-12 didn't. Watkins, who has two inches and 12 pounds on Robinson, quickly fought off his jam and got inside for a 20-yard gain on a slant. "Poor technique," Zimmer said of the play. Robinson had inside leverage on the play but is still learning to press effectively and needed to throw off Watkins' timing on the route.
  • Floyd had what might have been his best game of the season, thanks to a game plan that moved him around the Vikings' defensive front. Floyd had a sack and two hurries, one of which came after he lined up over the left tackle and chased Orton outside the pocket. Joseph's sack on the final drive also came from a three-technique spot, and Everson Griffen's third sack came when he worked a stunt with Floyd after the Vikings showed a seven-man blitz and rushed four.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr was targeted early and often on shallow crossing routes, but the rookie had a monster day, registering 10 tackles, ranging back to break up a pass, recovering two fumbles and rushing Orton on 11 of Zimmer's 13 blitzes. He missed several tackles and also blew up another screen pass, showing great reaction time to take down fullback Frank Summers for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter. It wasn't a complete performance for Barr, but it was an impressive one, which once again hinted at the rookie's potential to be a dominant player once he figures everything out.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dom Capers said he has had an open-door policy ever since he became the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator in 2009.

Maybe his players have been walking through that door more often of late.

 Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams attributed the Packers' defensive improvement over the past five weeks, in part, due to improved communication between the players and coaches.

"Whether it's the head coach or it's Dom, at the end of the day we're the ones out there, so we have to be comfortable," Williams said Monday. "I think the communication line has been really [going] well between coaches and players, and the understanding has been really good between us of understanding what we see on the field, trusting what they see on the film and in their game plan and adding that all in together and coming up with a game plan."

The Packers remains near the bottom of the NFL in several key defensive statistical categories, but they did climb out of last place in rushing defense (they're now ahead of only the Cleveland Browns) this week. However, the past five games have seen far better production. Only four teams allowed more points in the first two weeks combined than the 60 that the Packers gave up to the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.

In the five games since, they have allowed just 17.4 points per game. That's fifth-best in the league.

Last week in practice, Capers did at least one thing that could be directly attributed to input from his players. He and coach Mike McCarthy devoted an entire period to working on the read-option that they were sure to see plenty of from the Carolina Panthers. And they rendered it ineffective in Sunday's 38-17 rout of the Panthers.

"The more looks you get, the better you play things," Williams said. "I think we've done a good job of that over these past few weeks of doing that and getting better looks. Guys know where they have to be and how it's going to look in the game."

Also in recent weeks, Capers ditched the "quad" package -- essentially a 4-3 alignment that he had never before used in Green Bay until the season opener -- although he said the players had no issues with it and that it remains on his call sheet.

But against the Panthers, Capers unveiled an alignment the Packers call "NASCAR" that features four outside linebackers on the defensive line without any traditional linemen.

McCarthy has a leadership council made up of several veteran players, and Capers said he welcomes the input.

"To me, it's not what I know or what I think," Capers said. "They have to know and believe in it and go out and execute. That's so important. We've got good guys on this team, and I always tell them, 'Hey, if you've got anything on your mind, you let me know.' Because it doesn't do me any good if I don’t know about it. Yeah, I'm always interested in the way they feel because they’re the guys that have to go do it and do it with confidence."