Around the NFC North: Week 4
As is usually the case, we find ourselves looking back at the past three weeks and realizing how quickly the NFL season seems to fly by. After this week, a quarter of the 2013 season will be done.
With the Green Bay Packers on the early bye week and a divisional matchup between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, there are only two games to take a look at this week. The other features the Minnesota Vikings hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in London and Wembley Stadium.
This marks the second time in the last three seasons that a NFC North team has traveled to London. In 2011, the Bears defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in front of over 80,000 fans.
It is always worth noting that a team that his “hosting” a game in the UK is foregoing a game at their home stadium as well as dealing with a longer travel week. This remains one of the reasons that we are not likely to see the Packers appear in this game anytime soon.
Imagine giving up one of the eight Sunday experiences in Green Bay. It could happen in the future as the league pushes to grow their brand and urge more popular teams to appear at this venue, but for now, the Packers will be in Green Bay for all eight of their home games.
Let’s dive into this week’s matchups around the NFC North.
Chicago Bears (3-0) at Detroit Lions (2-1)
The Bears are looking to start off 4-0 for the first time in seven years and appear to be inspired by their new head coach Marc “Willy Wonka” Trestman. The Bears offense has been more productive and quarterback Jay Cutler looks to be benefiting from having an offensive-minded guy at the helm. Cutler has six touchdown passes to three interceptions on the season and his quarterback rating (94.2) is up above his career average (84.4).
Chicago barely got by the Bengals in week one and division-rival Vikings in week two before hitting the road and beating the Steelers this past week. Still, wins are what matter and Chicago leads the North with three.
Detroit bounced back with a win against the Washington Redskins last week after a tough loss to the Arizona Cardinals the week prior. The Lions can tie the Bears at 3-1 with a victory on Sunday and would actually be in first place by virtue of a tie-breaker over Chicago, at that point.
The Lions lost veteran receiver Nate Burleson for at least the next six weeks due to a broken arm suffered in a car crash earlier this week. This affects the Lions passing attack as Burleson was the #2 receiver behind Calvin Johnson. Ryan Broyles will assume Burleson’s role now and saw his first action of the season last week after missing most of last year with an ACL tear. Detroit is hoping that Broyles can help draw coverage away from Johnson.
The Bears learned that they will be without defensive tackle Henry Melton for the remainder of the season after Melton suffered an ACL tear. Chicago will need to replace that production up front and in the middle. Early indications are that the team will promote defensive end Cheta Ozougwu from the team’s practice squad after Melton is officially placed on injured-reserve. The Bears had worked out defensive linemen Landon Cohen and former Packer Daniel Muir, but neither were signed.
Both teams have versatile running backs. Chicago’s Matt Forte continues to be a key part of the Bears offense and against a weak Vikings secondary in week two, he had 10 catches for just over 70 yards. Detroit’s secondary is also less-than-stellar and look for the Bears to get the ball in Forte’s hands this week. Detroit will get Reggie Bush back after Bush missed this past week with a knee injury. Bush was key in Detroit’s week two win against the Vikings and garners more defensive attention than does Detroit’s other back, Joique Bell.
Chicago appears to be the more complete team but this is a road game and a divisional matchup so anything is possible. Detroit’s powerful defensive front, anchored by tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, will look to collapse Cutler’s pocket all day long. Chicago’s secondary has continued creating turnovers and are +6 on the season already. It’s noteworthy that Bears cornerback Charles Tillman is nursing a groin injury, but is expected to play. This could mean more opportunities for Johnson.
Both Cutler and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford have been known to take over games and if either team is struggling to run, there could be quite a few passing yards racked up.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) at Minnesota Vikings (0-3)
Barring a tie, one of these teams will get their first win this season with the other likely starting to look ahead to 2014. Winning games in the NFL is already tough enough and now both teams will have to travel all the way to the UK for this week’s chance.
Each of these teams has been their own worst enemy this season with turnovers and sloppy play. The Steelers racked up over 450 yards last week against the Bears, but also had four turnovers. Even at home, teams won’t win many games in giving up the rock that many times to a good team. The Steelers are the only teams left that has yet to register a takeaway, which puts more pressure on their offense to protect the ball.
The Vikings have turned the ball over at least three times in each of their games so far. That is also a bad recipe for getting on the winning track. Since week one, running back Adrian Peterson has averaged less than three yards per carry. If Peterson is able to run on the Steelers, and he should, the Vikings have a good chance to get one in the win column. Pittsburgh is giving up just over 115 yards/game on the ground.
In turn the Steelers are averaging just 51.7 yards/game rushing and their offense is predicated around the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This isn’t the typical Steelers formula that we are used to seeing with a ground-and-pound game plan. An injury to rookie back Le’Veon Bell has hampered Pittsburgh’s ability to run, but he will be active for this week’s game.
Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder is nursing a rib injury and has been ruled out for this contest. He will be replaced by backup Matt Cassel. If Cassel comes in and lights it up, will there be a quarterback controversy? Judging from the ringing endorsement that Cassel received from Vikings receiver Greg Jennings, there very well could be (insert eye roll).
Turnovers will likely decide this one and it’s anyone’s game with two teams who are 0-3 and playing in an unfamiliar venue.
Green Bay Packers (1-2) have a bye
The bye week comes at an ideal time for the Packers, as they have several key players nursing injuries. Safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Clay Matthews, tight end Jermichael Finley, running back Eddie Lacy, cornerback Casey Hayward, fullback John Kuhn and running back James Starks are all dinged up. There won’t be any official announcement from the team on the progress of any of these players until next week when the team resumes their regular practice schedule.
In addition to nursing injuries, the Packers are also likely taking time to evaluate the first three weeks and try to clean up some of the mistakes that have cost them in their two losses so far.
On Monday, the team released receiver/returner Jeremy Ross after his early fumble on a kick return led to a Cincinnati Bengals touchdown a play later. Green Bay won’t likely add a player to replace Ross until next week and there has been little speculation as to if or who they may add to their roster.
While there may not be a game this week, if you’re thinking about going to a future game, be sure to check here before you buy tickets anywhere else: Green Bay Packers tickets from Titletown
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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