The picture that is the NFC North became clear as mud this week, as the three way tie at the top disintegrated and became a two way tie for second, with a clear leader and a clear loser at this point. With one game between division rivals, one loss was inevitable, but the division as a whole went 1-3 this week, a complete reversal of the week one success that had the division riding high. Overall the NFC North is 4-4 after two weeks, sitting right in the middle of the NFL pack.
Vikings vs. Packers
We here at detroitlionspodcast.com would never hope for a player to get hurt. Individual members of the staff however might crack a smile when certain members of opposing teams (particularly NFC North rivals) who have been proven to do things that those staff members find abhorrent, miss time. Even if they have them in all of their cash leagues this year. Two games into the season I can conclusively say a few things I believe about these two teams. Both have offensive lines that are not good. Neither of these lines have done a good job protecting their quarterback or opening holes for running backs. The Vikings are worse, but the Packers are certainly not good.
Aaron Rodgers had the look of a cow that has just realized that it’s entering a killing floor by the end of the game. He was trying to put the team on his back and carry them to victory, but nobody else had received the memo that teams scoring more points win the game. It must not have been sent by the head coach, because he was not doing any of the things a good offensive team does to disrupt a furious pass rush. Eddie Lacey’s third quarter disappearing act, and McCarthy’s switch to a two tight end set in that same quarter cost the Packers what was a very winnable game. When the team ran three or four wide receiver sets, they scored points. They switched to two tight end sets for much of the middle two quarters, which did allow them to gain some yardage in the third quarter, but not consistently enough to net even a field goal in the middle half. Truthfully, this offensive performance reminded my of the last decade of the Lions offense before JBC took hold. They found something that worked and immediately went away from it rather than forcing the opposition to stop it.
The Packers defense was very successful in bottling up the Vikings running game and applying pressure on the quarterback. Nick Perry looks like he may actually finally be living up to his draft Status. Perry has been consistent in producing pressure on the quarterback so far this season from the edge. Their secondary however was missing key components and played very softly trying not to give up touchdowns. They were letting the receiver catch the ball and tackling him, allowing Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen to get open underneath their coverage at will. The Packers front seven is decent, but their secondary is a mess right now.
The Vikings offense lost Adrian Peterson. With that said, he was having a terrible game and has thus far this season looked old and slow. Matt Asiata led the Minnesota running backs with 2.3 yards per carry. Sam Bradford looked pretty good in his first start, getting the ball to whoever was open. That bodes well for the Vikings, as right now this team will go as far as Sam Bradford can take them. I’ll take sentences I never expected to type for 500 Alex! The line is awful, and Bradford is made of porcelain, that’s not a good thing for the Vikings. The NFC North is a cold weather division and the quarterbacks need more toughness than he’s shown.
The Vikings defense is not great in the nickel and was actually awful when they had to resort to dime defense. The Vikings linebackers are the best part of their coverage units and removing as many of them as possible was a good tactic for the Packers. The Vikings pass rush is terrifying, assaulting Aaron Rodgers from the opening drive to the final play of the game. They forced Rodgers’ field of view down. When a quarterback is looking at the rush rather than his receivers, the pass rush has done it’s job, and Rodgers had to find holes in the rush before he could find his receivers for much of the day.
Packers and Vikings
In short, both of these offenses are train wrecks and that is the only thing stopping these two teams from being as good as the pundits said they would be. In Green Bay, there seems to be a disconnect between what the coaching staff seem to think they have, and what they actually have. Minnesota has lost the two most important pieces of their offensive unit. Defensively, the Vikings looked very good but had a few issues. The Packers looked like their secondary would stop them from being as successful as they could be until some key players come back from injury. The Vikings are 2-0 and sitting atop the NFC North but have played two teams that didn’t look particularly good. The Packers sit in third place in this division, and will go a long way toward telling the world who they really are this weekend against the Lions. Only a fool would call any game in week three a must win, but the Packers look like they are on the precipice of imploding with tensions between Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy reportedly nearing a boiling point.
The Chicago Bears
The Bears got smoked by the Eagles this week. I would just like to state for the record that I think that two of the three general managers who did not draft Carson Wentz should be fired. I get the Titans not wanting to take a second quarterback in a row, that is just good management. The Rams and Browns however should be ashamed of themselves. The Bears dropped their game 29-14, and looked bad. I said it in the preseason, and said it last week: The Chicago Bears are not going to be successful this season but they have some good players to build around and have taken the steps to do so. None of that matters this year though, and THE BEARS ARE A TERRIBLE TEAM. It is not too early to say that. This year is over for them and the band is rehearsing the mid-season funeral dirge. There is a zero percent chance of this team winning the NFC North.
Jay Cutler has a broken or not broken thumb. That ends their hopes for a productive offense. Martellus Bennet famously called him the worst quarterback in the NFL. Apparently he has never been introduced to Brian Hoyer. The more mobile Hoyer will likely pick up some garbage-time stats and achieve 16-team fantasy league relevance for bye week coverage but this offense will be in the toilet, floating aimlessly in a circle until Cutler returns. The offensive line is so bad that a team loaded with impressive skill position players will never be able to move the ball consistently.
The defense is about half built. Unfortunately for the Bears, the other half is bad enough that the good half doesn’t matter. Half a secondary, a good linebacker corps, and a pedestrian defensive line led to a rookie quarterback with solid support shredding them for 29 points. That is likely to be the story for the Bears all season.
The Sad Picture in Chicago
The Bears have dropped both of their games in convincing fashion, drifting like a schooner with no wind. They are scoring only 14 points per game and giving up 26 points per game. Lions fans have seen what a season with those numbers looks like and the Bears may be cruising for a top five draft pick if they can’t right the ship and get back on course. The Bears are the worst team in the NFC North, and very well may be the worst team in the NFL without Jay Cutler. Chicago fans have forgotten what a terrible quarterback actually looks like and they might get an extended opportunity to remember.
The Detroit Lions
The Lions dropped their game with the Titans in the most obscene display of a team that is clearly better than their opponents doing everything they can to not win a game in the history of professional sports. From the general manager not signing enough linebackers, to the head coach punting rather than trying a 56 yard field goal, to the team committing 17 penalties for 138 yards. Going from first and goal on the one yard line to first and 31 on the 31 yard line and negating consecutive touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford was the part of this game that pretty much summarized the Lions’ effort this week.
The offense for the Lions is actually in very good shape this season. They should have had three touchdowns this week, with Eric Ebron’s phantom pass interference penalty negating what should have been the game winning score. The Lions had 137 yards rushing against a stout Titans defense that had bottled up Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in week one. A scary number of drops plagued the Lions in week two, Golden Tate has all but disappeared from the offense as a productive player and Ameer Abdullah was lost for the season. With that said, Marvin Jones is having a season that is on pace to rival the legend he replaced in the line up, Anquan Boldin is contributing a great deal, and Eric Ebron is having a great season.
The Lions defense lost Ziggy Ansah, which is a blow but Devin Taylor is having a great year at the other end spot and Kerry Hyder is tied for second in the NFL in sacks. The linebacker corps has been decimated and at this point, until players come back from injury, that is likely to be an unfixable issue. Most of the available free agents are bodies with little to contribute. The Lions secondary has not been perfect but it has been solid. Stopping tight ends seems to be something the Lions will struggle with all season, not having been willing to give their less skilled players help in coverage assignments they may not be able to handle.
The Outlook in Detroit
The Lions are in second place in the NFC North, having the tie-breaker against the Packers. With the rest of the division faltering, they may be able to make some noise in the division despite their own shortcomings. After last week’s poor effort I am not holding my breath in anticipation of a 15-1 season.
The NFC North
The division’s top team took a sizable step back last week. While the Vikings may get a few weeks grace period as teams collect tape on their offense without Peterson and with Bradford at the helm (unless Jerrick McKinnon or Matt Astasia are better players than they have shown to this point), the Vikings offense just turned from grinding the other team down to an air raid. For the moment though, they are on top at 2-0. The Lions are in second place at 1-1 but with how tight their games have been and how uninspiring their play was against the Titans, it’s hard to feel good about where their season is headed. The Packers are a mess, but they have done this before. At 1-1, they are by no means limping through the season and will likely rebound. The Chicago Bears languishing at the bottom of the NFC North, are terrible. Let me say that again in case I have somehow not made that message perfectly and definitively clear over the last six weeks of analysis: The Chicago Bears are a terrible team.