11

September

Should We Support Clay Matthews’ Late Hit?

I think everyone agrees Clay Matthews made a bone headed decision by trying to take down Colin Kaepernick on 3rd down; but deep down, especially after the miserable loss to the 49ers in the playoffs last year, we all cheered.  Admit it, you were happy when Colin Kaepernick hit the turf (I’ll admit it).  I’ll even wager some Packers fans kept cheering as Matthews and the rest of the defense got in the ensuing brawl.

This in my mind was a sort of collective validation for Packers fans, who were sick and tired of listening to the allegations of the Packers being a “soft” team and were looking for some example to show everyone otherwise.  On Green and Gold Today, surprisingly multiple callers chimed in that they had no problem with late hit and wouldn’t mind seeing Matthews do the same again.

To me this is a very dangerous slippery slope; it’s one thing to play aggressive and at the edge of the rules, it’s another thing to break them.  You simply have to look east to see what happens when a team takes it’s aggressiveness too far.

The Detroit Lions to become the first ever team in NFL history to go 0-16 after 7 years of catastrophically poor management by general manager Matt Millen.  Obviously with such a dumpster fire there was a clean sweep within the organization and the Lions ownership sought to bring in a new mentality to the team.  Starting with head coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions sought to be “tougher”, a team that wouldn’t be a push over and get back to being a relevant organization.  Sounds like a good plan, but ultimately I think it’s backfired; in the past couple seasons the Lions have been a far better team than their record suggests, which is directly due to their “toughness” literally losing them games.

Since Schwartz’s hiring, the Lions have perennially been one of the most penalized teams in the NFL and are now famous for their lack of control and abundance of head scratching personal fouls.  Ndamukong Suh has been voted as the dirtiest player in the NFL after multiple questionable hits and some very stupid mistakes including the EDS stomp, the Matt Schaub’s stomp and just last week the John Sullivan low block that apparently will cost him $100,000.

15

March

Around the NFC North: Making Fun of the Bears, Lions and Vikings

NFC North DivisionIt’s free agency time in the NFL, also known as the the perfect opportunity for Packers fans to take a nap for two weeks.

Sure, it’s been mildly entertaining trying to figure out if the Packers did, or did not, sign Steven Jackson. And it’s been somewhat amusing following Greg Jennings and his mysterious tweets as he navigates the free agency waters, possibly back to the Packers.

But none of those things bring as much joy to my heart as mocking and ridiculing the Packers NFC North opponents for their offseason signings, roster cuts and trades.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings traded Percy Harvin to Seattle for a first round draft pick and a couple other draft picks. They also cut veteran defensive back Antoine Winfield and resigned right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Isn’t it cute how Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is trying to act like Ted Thompson? Suddenly the Vikings are all about the draft and getting younger.

Let’s see how long Spielman is able to stick with this philosophy. Remember that the Vikings quarterback is Christian Ponder and owner Zygi Wilf has a new stadium opening in a couple years that he’ll want filled to capacity with drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids.

What if Ponder continues to stink and the Vikings take a step backward? Is Wilf patient enough to give Spielman enough of a leash and allow this draft and develop philosphy to take shape?

I doubt it.

You know what’s going to be awesome? Watching the Vikings spend the first-rounder they got for Harvin on the next Troy Williamson.

UPDATE: The Vikings signed Matt Cassel after I wrote this, so you know what else is going to be awesome? Hearing those drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids chanting Cassel’s name after Ponder goes 7-for-16 for 49 yards with two interceptions in the first half of Minnesota’s season opener.

Chicago Bears
The Bears signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The futures of Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonje remain up in the air.

Pro Football Focus ranked Bushrod 24th among left tackles who started at least 10 games at the position in 2012. Bushrod got a pass blocking rating of     -3.5. For comparison, the Packers Marshall Newhouse got a 5.2.

19

December

Around the NFC North in Week 16

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 16

With just two games left in the 2012 regular season, there is a full slate in the NFC North this week.  Each game carries its own significance as far as the playoff race is concerned as at least one team in each matchup is fighting for better playoff seeding and some are fighting to just get in, period.

Let’s take a look at the implications in each matchup.

Atlanta Falcons (12-2) at Detroit Lions (4-10)

The only reason this game is listed first is because it is the lone Saturday game and takes place before all others.  Beyond that, it all comes down to a very complete Falcons team coming into Detroit to face arguably the most disappointing team in the NFL this season.

Last weekend, Detroit was manhandled by the Arizona Cardinals 38-10.  Arizona had previously lost their last nine straight games.  The Lions have succeeded in one thing this season:  finding many ways to lose a game.  While they won’t be appearing in the postseason this year, they will have plenty of time during the offseason to figure out why.

The biggest question in Detroit right now is who will still be with the team in 2013?  Head coach Jim Schwartz will surely be the topic of those conversations during the winter.

While Atlanta has wrapped up the NFC South and currently has the best record in the NFC, they have yet to secure the first or second seed in the postseason.  They have their eyes set on being the top seed and therefore also securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Falcons can do so by winning their last two games, regardless of what any of the other contenders do.

However, a loss by Atlanta would begin to open a door for both the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, who currently hold the second and third seeds, respectively.

While the Lions have pride to play for and certainly fit the bill of a team that could be pesky during these last two weeks, I don’t expect that pride to get them anywhere near Atlanta’s level this week.  Detroit’s best chance of success this week will probably be the 50% odds they have in winning the opening coin toss.

13

December

Around the NFC North in Week 15

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 15

It’s already the NFL’s week 15 and let’s cut to the chase in the NFC North.  This is a week that most Packers fans had circled on the schedule as soon as it came out.  Is there a more intense week in the Packers universe than “Bears week”?

The Green Bay Packers travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in this highly-anticipated game that will be the marquis matchup not just in the NFC North, but in the NFL.

The Packers can clinch their second straight North division title with a win.  The Bears would re-enter the divisional race as a strong contender should they emerge victorious.  The early line this week favors Green Bay by three.

The Minnesota Vikings will travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams.  This ends up being an interesting game because neither of these teams wants to go away quietly this year.

The week is rounded off by the Detroit Lions visiting the Arizona Cardinals in the “futility bowl”.  Nothing more than pride is on the line in that contest.

Let’s dive into the matchups and the storylines alike.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)

Because of the major playoff implications, I’m leading off with this matchup and will go more in depth with this game.

This game has changed shape immensely in the past month.  What was being billed as possibly one of the biggest game on the NFL schedule this season has turned into somewhat of a last stand for the Bears.

After starting the season 7-1, the Bears have lost four of their last five games including two in a row since the return of quarterback Jay Cutler.  After suffering a concussion during a loss to the Houtson Texans, Cutler was forced to miss a key game against the San Francisco 49ers.  The 9ers beat the Bears handily for a second straight loss.  They beat the Vikings but then suffered a tough overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks and followed that up with this past week’s loss in the rematch with Minnesota on the road.

Chicago will be without defensive playmakers Brian Urlacher who may end up on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and cornerback Tim Jennings who leads the NFL in interceptions with eight.  Jennings dislocated his shoulder late in the loss to the Seattle and is currently doubtful for this week’s game.

29

May

NFC North: Jim Schwartz’s Seat Should Be Heating Up

Lions coach Jim Schwartz

Schwartz's antics should be raising some eyebrows in the Motor CIty

If you took a poll of 100 NFL fans and asked them which of the four head coaches in the NFC North was on the hottest seat entering the 2012 season, a majority very likely would choose Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith who survived a mediocre season which was followed by a major shakeup in the Bears’ front office.

In this case, the majority would be wrong. Or at least they should be.

As of late I would argue that Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has caught Smith and perhaps even passed him as the NFC North coach in the most hot water.

To many, this seems like a preposterous line of thought. Schwartz has been a key player in turning the Lions from an 0-16 laughing stock to a team that just qualified for the playoffs for the first time in forever. He has one of the league’s best quarterback/receiver tandems in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and has a formidable defense to boot. Firing Schwartz seems utterly insane.

If you only looked at the on field product, it would be. Throw in events off the field, and things become a little more sketchy. With Lions defensive end Nick Fairley recently being arrested for the second time in nearly two months on top of Ndamukong Suh’s temptation to get stomping mad plus Schwartz’s handshake skills and the happy story of the Lions’ turnaround quickly takes a detour down a dark path.

In the name of fairness to Schwartz, I am not laying the poor decisions made by Fairley and others at the feet of the head coach. The poor choices were made by the players and the players alone.

However, Schwartz’s growing reputation around the league as a class A jerk is surely minimizing the amount of sympathy points he is getting from his peers.

To think Schwartz is being given the short end of the stick is too nearsighted. Take a look at Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals. That team became a punchline around the league thanks to what seemed like a Bengal being arrested every single day. The Bengals were more notable for off the field debauchery than they were for on the field success.

1

December

Around the NFC North: Bears Hanging in, Lions’ Attitude, Vikings Irrelevent

Caleb Hanie takes over for Jay Cutler in Chicago.

For a while, it looked like the NFC North might send the Packers, Bears and Lions to the playoffs. There’s a chance that still could happen, but it’s a longshot. With the Packers cruising, the Bears and Lions have some work to do if they want to grab a wild card slot.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are holding down the bottom of the division while trying to get a new stadium.

It’s time for a trip around the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

Remaining schedule: Chiefs, at Broncos, Seahawks, at Packers, at Vikings.

Biggest issue: Making adjustments. Jay Cutler is out for at least the rest of the regular season, leaving Caleb Hanie to try and lead the Bears to the playoffs.

Analysis: The challenge the Bears face is actually twofold: Is Hanie capable of taking the Bears to the playoffs and is offensive coordinator Mike Martz capable of adjusting his gameplan to maximize Hanie’s strengths and mask his weaknesses?

Hanie was bad last Sunday against the Raiders, but Martz’s gameplan was worse. You know how Mike McCarthy refuses to adjust his gameplan when an offensive lineman goes down, even if the backup lineman is struggling? Martz is the same way, only he is refusing to adjust to a backup quarterback. There’s a big difference between a backup offensive lineman and a backup quarterback.

The Bears have Matt Forte, a great defense and dangerous special teams. They’re more than capable of making the playoffs if Martz does a better job adjusting his offense to the reality of having a backup quarterback instead of Cutler.

Prediction: 10-6. Even if Martz keeps his head buried in the sand, the soft schedule and the aforementioned defense, special teams and Forte result in another playoff berth for the Bears.

Detroit Lions

Remaining schedule: at Saints, Vikings, at Raiders, Chargers, at Packers.

Biggest issue: Attitude. It’s not often you want a football team to relax a little bit, but head coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions need to chill out.

Analysis: When the Lions were rolling early this season, their swagger and bravado appeared to represent a new era of toughness in Motown. No longer were the Lions the doormat of the NFL.

26

November

Green Bay Packers Show Value of Teamwork in Statement Win

Going into the Thanksgiving showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions on Thursday, my prediction for a Lions upset victory was admittedly tenuous. I knew the Packers had more skill, more talent, and more depth; nevertheless, I was wary about Detroit’s ability to stun opponents with their comeback play. Green Bay has consistently been unable to drive the dagger deep into most of their opponents, and I thought that would come back to bite them against an emotionally-driven team in such a hostile environment.

Boy was I wrong.

Part of the concern for most fans and even beat writers was the list of match-up problems playing against the Packers. The Lion’s infamous front four would be squaring off against an offensive line that had been giving up some pressure in recent games. And Matthew Stafford with his corps of receivers (led by Calvin “Megatron” Johnson) was more than capable of putting up yards against a Packers secondary who found most of their success in turnovers rather than consistent stops.

At face value, it seemed like such a perfect recipe for Green Bay’s first potential loss of the season. The Detroit Lions apparently had the fire and wild energy to disrupt the cool focus of Aaron Rodgers and his teammates.

Fortunately, there was one thing we seemed to be glossing over. One thing that can turn match-up problems into mostly non-issues. One thing that can mean the difference between a hard-fought victory and a heart-breaking loss.

And that thing is teamwork.

Now, I’m not talking about just the players, because this level of teamwork extends all the way up to the coaches and even the front office.

In reality, the Detroit Lions showed that they are largely the antithesis of what the Green Bay Packers have become. What used to be the Minnesota Vikings’ role as the characteristic foil of the Packers has now been bequeathed to the Lions. They have become the “yin” to Green Bay’s “yang.”

For starters, the injuries sustained by both sides on Thursday were handled in bright contrast.

When the Packers lost both of their inside linebackers (and the ability to communicate to the defense by radio), back-up players D.J. Smith and Robert Francois made their presence known with some big plays. Smith landed a number of big tackles, while Francois snatched a game-changing interception out of the air. It’s also hard to ignore the efforts of Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brandon Saine on the offensive side of the ball.