Around the NFC North: Week 3
One-eighth of the 2013 season is in the books and as we look ahead to week three. The Chicago Bears improved to 2-0 and scored a big divisional win against the Minnesota Vikings, who are now 0-2. The odds of a team making the postseason after an 0-2 start are well-documented and quite low. The Cleveland Browns visit Minnesota this week so on paper, it seems like a good opportunity for the Vikings to get one in the win column. The Bears will travel to Pittsburgh to take on the ailing Steelers, who will be coming off of a short week after their Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Detroit Lions lost late in Arizona to the Cardinals. The Lions will travel to Washington this week to take on the Redskins, who fell to the Green Bay Packers. Both Detroit and Green Bay are 1-1 on the season. The Packers face another tough road game as they travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. The Bengals will have one fewer day to prepare for the Packers as they will be coming off of the Monday night game against the Steelers.
Let’s take a quick look at each matchup and what is in store for this week’s slate.
Detroit Lions (1-1) at Washington Redskins (0-2)
The Redskins have given up over 1,000 total yards in two games. The Lions have just over 800 yards in total offense over their two games. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that we won’t be seeing a defensive battle in Washington this week.
The Redskins have sputtered out of the gate and face the dreaded 0-2 start. The play of quarterback Robert Griffin III has come under some question after two games in which he posted a subpar performance. The effects of offseason knee surgery appear to still be affecting Griffin’s play, although he did have over 300 yards passing in each of his games this season.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is averaging 40 pass attempts in his two games and that won’t likely change this week. Washington’s secondary was shredded by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for 480 yards this past weekend. In addition, the Redskins also may be without starting safety Brandon Meriweather, who left Sunday’s game with a head injury after going in head-first on Packers running back James Starks.
Washington has essentially conceded the first half of both of their games, having scored a total of seven points. This has put a lot of pressure on Griffin and the offense to favor the pass and move the ball through the air while trying to catch up. Meanwhile, with a less-than-stellar secondary, the Redskins have been unable to keep opposing offenses out of the end zone.
The Lions lost a late lead against the Cardinals. While Detroit’s pass rush and defensive front has been very effective this season, their secondary has not upheld their end and appears to be the weaker end of that side of the ball. If Washington can somehow get off to a faster start and if Griffin has success through the air, they can give the Lions a tougher matchup than they have offered in weeks one and two.
Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2)
Someone’s getting their first win this week. The Vikings nearly walked out of Chicago with a big road win against the Bears but gave up a late touchdown pass with ten seconds left in regulation and were defeated. Running back Adrian Peterson had another 100 yard day and quarterback Christian Ponder showed improvement over his week one performance. The Vikings also benefited from a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson on the opening kick. Patterson will continue to be a threat in this area as the Vikings look to replace the production lost when they traded Percy Harvin.
The Browns played a tough game against their division rivals in the Baltimore Ravens, but fell short. It was Cleveland’s 11th loss in a row to Baltimore. The Browns, simply stated, aren’t likely to be very good this season nor make much noise. They have a tough time winning at all, let alone on the road and they will travel to Minnesota for this one.
As well as the Vikings played with the Bears this past week, this one should get them in the win column. Even if Ponder has a mediocre day and the offense isn’t great, Minnesota can still likely get by on the back of Peterson and their defense. Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden left Sunday’s game with a thumb injury after it hit a Raven defender’s helmet during a pass play. X-rays were negative but Weeden is not likely to play this week. Veteran backup Jason Campbell will likely get the start in this one.
Green Bay Packers (1-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)
The Packers took care of business at Lambeau Field in front of a record crowd of just over 78,000 and defeated the Redskins. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for a franchise record 480 passing yards and four touchdown passes on the day. Rodgers is now tied with Packers legendary backup quarterback Matt Flynn for most passing yards in a game. The Packers had the ball with two minutes left in the game, but opted to kneel out the clock with the game well in hand. Hopefully Rodgers gets another shot at eclipsing the 480 yard mark before he is done in Green Bay.
The Bengals scored their first win against the Steelers on Monday night. The Cincinnati pass rush was relentless and the Packers will have their hands full this week. Rodgers will need a quick release and have to rely on the quick pass to move the ball.
For Green Bay, this game will take on a feeling more similar to week one than week two. The Bengals feature a hard-nosed defense and will be at home, much like the 49ers in week one. Cincinnati has won the last two meetings against the Packers, the latest being early in the 2009 season at Lambeau Field. The Bengals were aided by great performances by receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson and running back and former Packer Cedric Benson. They have since been replaced by young standout A.J. Green and the combination of Benjarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovanni Bernard.
Those of you familiar with our site and team of writers know that I have just activated “Psycho Marques” by mentioning Bernard by name. While he is a Packers supporter first, I’m sure Mr. Eversoll wouldn’t mind seeing Bernard flash a bit of his skill set on Sunday, provided that it doesn’t adversely affect the outcome of the game.
Bernard will likely be a big part of the game plan. The Packers have had their issues in containing the screen pass and Bernard catches the ball extremely well out of the backfield. He scored his first two touchdowns on Monday. One on the ground and one via the pass. Green Bay has been very stout against the run in their first two games and against good running attacks. I would expect to see more of Cincinnati trying to mix in some quick passes and screens versus trying to run 20-30 times.
The Packers will be closely monitoring their starting running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy was forced out of this past week’s game with a concussion and will need to pass the league-mandated tests in order to suit up this week. In Lacy’s absence, James Starks filled in admirably. Starks had 132 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins and gave the Packers their first 100-yard rusher since 2010. If Lacy can’t go this week, Starks will get the majority of the carries, but will face a much tougher run defense in Cincinnati. He may also end up being more important in pass protection than he is carrying the ball.
I expect the Packers to come out throwing and using a lot of quick throws early on. Cincinnati’s pass rush is one of the best in the league and their defensive line can generate enough pass rush on its own, which will challenge Green Bay’s receivers to get open. Rodgers continues to be one of the best quarterbacks against added pressure so I don’t know how much we will see the Bengals blitz. Their best bet is to cover up and make Rodgers have to find his man while eluding the oncoming pressure.
On the defensive side, Green Bay could again be without safety Morgan Burnett, as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. While he practiced most of last week, the team seemed to decide to hold him out of Sunday’s game due to the damp conditions. This would be a big loss for a secondary being asked to contain Green, one of the game’s top receivers. I don’t need to remind the Packers faithful how successful some offenses have been at getting the ball repeatedly in the hands of its best playmaker. The Packers need to keep Sunday’s contest from turning into the “A.J. Green show”.
Chicago Bears (2-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2)
The Bears eeked out a win at Soldier Field and took hold of the lead in the NFC North. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler appears to be benefitting from an improved offensive line and an offensive-minded head coach. The Bears offense has been productive and the chemistry between Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall continues to dominate opposing defenses.
The Steelers dropped a tough road and divisional matchup against the Bengals. While Pittsburgh’s offense was able to move the ball in spots, they heavily favored the pass and had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the shotgun quite a bit. Typical Steeler football is establishing the run, and they weren’t able to do that.
The key for Chicago in this one is going to be their pass rush. The Bears secondary is opportunistic, as was Cincinnati’s. If the rush can get to Big Ben, he will likely throw one or two out there that can be picked off.
Defensively, the Steelers are aging but they still get after the ball. Safety Troy Polamalu was gunning across field to make tackles late in the fourth quarter. The effort is there, but the effectiveness has waned. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler has often struggled with pressure in his face and the Steelers have to find a way to get to him this week. Otherwise, he will find an open guy and move the ball up and down the field.
This will be Chicago’s first road game and it’s a big test. Pittsburgh is not an easy place to come away with a road win and against a less-familiar foe. A win will improve Chicago to 3-0 and keep them at least a game ahead of the rest of the NFC North while another loss would drop the Steelers to 0-3. They would be facing nearly insurmountable odds to get to another postseason. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had never coached a team that was more than one game below .500 before this week. Dropping another game would set a new low and offer up the challenge of rallying his team to turn things around.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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