29

June

Around the NFC North: Lions in Jail, Vikings Trade Requests, Bears Roaring Quietly

Percy Harvin

Vikings WR/KR has requested a trade.

We know what the Packers have been up to, but it’s been a while since we checked in on the other teams in the division. Let’s take a trip around the NFC North.

Detroit Lions
The Lions will give the Packers all they can handle in the NFC North as long as they stay out of prison. Running back Mikel Leshoure, defensive lineman Nick Fairley, tackle Johnny Culbreath and corner Aaron Berry have had run-ins with the law this offseason. Everybody is clamoring for Lions’ management to take a stand against this stuff, but really, most of it will be forgotten if Detroit plays up to its potential and contends for a division title. Winning makes the fact that your team is filled with morons a secondary story.

 

Minnesota Vikings
Percy Harvin reportedly requested a trade. There’s no way the Vikings will trade him unless they’re able to get 100 percent return on his value (unlikely). If Peterson remains hurt, Harvin is the Vikings best player on offense, and it’s not even really close. Harvin is due to make $915,000 this year, about half of what Jerome Simpson, the troubled and not-very-good WR signed by the Vikings this offseason, is set to make. Harvin is underpaid, and I don’t blame him for being mad, but I think he’d make more money if he just shut up and continued producing. He gained no additional leverage by requesting a trade, in my opinion. Harvin showed up at minicamp a day after requesting the trade, so who knows where his mind is at this point.

 

Chicago Bears
Matt Forte still hasn’t been signed to a long-term deal and could hold out once training camp starts. Other than that, the Bears are quietly getting healthy and going about their business. With Jay Cutler healthy, Brandon Marshall on the team, and Mike Martz gone, this offense should do more than enough to keep up with the Packers and Lions high-powered attacks. The offensive line remains shaky, but I think the sack and pressure numbers will get better with Martz gone.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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29

March

Around the NFC North: Offseason Moves and Views on the Vikings, Bears and Lions

Vikings stadium

An artists's rendering of the proposed new Vikings stadium. Yes, it's another crappy dome.

What have the teams in the NFC North not named the Green Bay Packers been up to this offseason? Read on and find out.

Minnesota Vikings

Players Released: G Steve Hutchinson, G Anthony Herrera, CB Cedric Griffin, NT Remi Ayodele, TE Jim Kleinsasser (retired)

Free Agents Signed: TE John Carlson, FB Jerome Felton, RB Lex Hilliard, OL Geoff Schwartz, CB Zack Bowman

Re-Signings: DT Fred Evans, QB Sage Rosenfels, DL Letroy Guion, WR Devin Aromashodu

Holes on Roster: CB, S, LT, LG and WR

The Vikings ditched the Triangle of Authority and named Rick Spielman sole general manager not long after their 2011 season (mercifully) ended. Naturally, many Vikings fans expected Spielman to start signing free agents as soon as possible, anything to erase the memories of a 3-13 season that saw the Vikings take several steps backward while the Packers, Lions and Bears got better.

Those marquee free-agent signings never came. Instead, Spielman appears to be doing his best Ted Thompson impersonation by signing no-name free agents and talking about building through the draft. The one exception was signing TE John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million deal.

The Vikings are in a weird spot. They have a young QB that may or may not be a long-term solution. Their best offensive player tore his ACL at the end of last season. Their coach has no personality and is unproven. And their defense keeps getting older.

They’re not only rebuilding, they’re in the infant stages of rebuilding.

On top of all that, owner Zygi Wilf is in the fight of his life trying to get taxpayer funding to build a new stadium. I suppose there is a chance that 2012 may be the last season the Packers play the Vikings, the Minnesota Vikings, anyway. If had to take an educated guess, though, I’d say that Wilf eventually gets his stadium and the Vikings will blow their horns in Minnesota for many years to come.

But a new stadium might be the only good news for Vikings fans in the near future. This team is rebuilding, and it’s going to take a while before they contend in the NFC North again.

Chicago Bears

Players Released: DT Anthony Adams, OL Frank Omiyale, RB Marion Barber (retired)

Free Agents Signed: KR-PR Eric Weems, RB Michael Bush, OB Jason Campbell, LB Blake Costanzo, QB Josh McCown,

3

January

Big Changes Coming in 2012 for Packers’ Rivals to the South

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz resigned on Tuesday.

There may not be drastic personnel changes for the Chicago Bears in 2012, but two of the more recognizable faces in the team’s organization won’t be around next season.

On Tuesday, the Bears announced that both general manager Jerry Angelo and offensive coordinator Mike Martz will not be back with the team in 2012. Shane Day is also out as the team’s quarterbacks coach.

Head coach Lovie Smith will be retained for next season, however.

Angelo had just finished his 11th season as Bears’ GM, one that saw Chicago start 7-3 but nosedive to an 8-8 finish after both quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte were lost to season-ending injuries. Angelo did little to remedy the Bears’ situation at quarterback after Cutler went down, instead trusting in Caleb Hanie to get the Bears back into the playoffs for the second-straight year.

Hanie lost all four games he started and was later replaced by Josh McCown, who hadn’t started an NFL game since 2007. The Bears scored 21 or fewer points in each of their final six games of 2011.

Angelo’s failure to lock up Forte over the long term may have also factored into his firing. Forte, a free agent this summer, was unable to come to terms with Angelo over a new contract. The dispute turned public after Forte declined an offer during the 2011 preseason in the range of $13-14 million guaranteed and the entire matter was a lasting issue into the regular season.

News trickled out later that Martz, the Bears offensive coordinator over the last two seasons, had resigned from his position because of philosophical differences with the organization. Day, the Bears quarterback coach who was hired the same day as Martz, is also walking away.

Previously the mastermind behind the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, Martz often took criticism in Chicago for his handling of Cutler and the offense. Under Martz, the Bears offense never ranked higher than 17th in points scored or 22nd in total yards during the two years.

The Bears will begin the hunt to find replacements for each, but former Colts GM Bill Polian has been rumored for Angelo’s position and offensive line coach Mike Tice could be promoted to coordinator.

25

December

Packers vs. Bears Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Jermichael Finley caught three touchdowns back in Week 3.

The Green Bay Packers (13-1) and Chicago Bears (7-7) face off in Week 16 of the NFL season Sunday.

The basics 

When: 7:20 CST, Sunday, December 25, 2011.

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.

TV: NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Also streaming online at NBCSports.com and NFL.com.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; Westwood One, NFL Sunday Drive.

Series: Bears lead, 85-92-6 (Packers won last regular season game, 27-17, on Sept. 25, 2011 at Soldier Field.)

Five things to watch

1. Banged up offensive line
Matching up against the Bears’ defensive line is a task in itself, but doing so with a makeshift offensive line only compounds the difficultly. The Packers will be without Bryan Bulaga (sprained knee cap) on Sunday, and other injuries to Chad Clifton and Derek Sherrod have forced the Packers to shift T.J. Lang to right tackle and replace him with Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard.
Understandably, the Packers shifting offensive line had its share of problems against Kansas City. How they handle a Bears defensive line that has 28 total sacks, including 10 from Julius Peppers and seven from Henry Melton, will be a focal point on Sunday. Another rough performance could make scoring points a struggle.

2. Not Cut-ting it

While the Packers are dealing with injuries on both lines, the Bears sustained a knockout blow when both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte went down with long-term injuries in consecutive weeks. Cutler has proven to be irreplaceable with the quarterbacks currently on the Bears roster. Caleb Hanie, who nearly brought the Bears back in the NFC Championship game against the Packers, threw nine interceptions in four starts with a 41.8 passer rating. The Bears lost all four games and have all but eliminated themselves from the playoff picture.

Now, Lovie Smith is turning to Josh McCown, a nine-year NFL veteran who hasn’t started a game since 2007. For the Bears to have a chance at beating the Packers at Lambeau Field, McCown needs to play a lot better than he did the last time he was there. In ’07, McCown was just 7-of-15 for 115 yards and two interceptions for the Raiders in a 38-7 Packers win.

3. Bouncing back

1

November

Week 9 Packers Stock Report: NFC North Edition

Through eight weeks, Matt Forte might be the runner-up to Aaron Rodgers for NFC North MVP.

While the Green Bay Packers were enjoying their bye week, some potential challengers for the top seed in the NFC struggled on Sunday. The Saints laid an egg against the Rams. The Giants had to rally to beat the Dolphins, and the Cowboys got destroyed by the Eagles.

Meanwhile, the Lions overcame the power of Tebow to improve to 6-2 and the 49ers took care of business aginst the Browns to improve to 6-1.

In other news, the Vikings got a little bit of good fortune to win their second game and the Bears joined the Packers in taking the week off.

Even though the Packes didn’t play, their stock went up. If you watched any football at all this weekend, you’d be hard pressed to find a team that could beat the Packers right now. But instead of spending another stock report praising all that is right in Cheeseland, lets devote some attention to other stocks throughout the NFC North.

Which players in the NFC North are on the rise and could give the Packers some fits down the stretch? Which players are playing at a steady level and which have dropped off a cliff?

Rising

Matt Forte
Bears RB
A new contract might not be in his immediate future, but that hasn’t stopped Forte from carrying the Bears’ offense. In addition to 672 rushing yards and 5.4 yards-per-carry, Forte also has 38 catches for 419 yards. To put those receiving numbers in perspective, the only Packers player with more receptions is Greg Jennings (42). The only Packers receivers with more yards through the air are Jennings (677) and Jordy Nelson (465).

I know the Packers offense doesn’t rely solely on one or two players, but those comparisons are still eye-opening.

Calvin Johnson
Lioms WR
Speaking of eye-opening, Calvin Johnson has left many DBs wide-eyed this season. Johnson is averaging six catches for 101 yards and over one TD per game. More importantly, he makes defenders and coaching staffs feel helpless when trying to stop him.

How do you stop a guy that’s bigger than some TEs, runs faster than a lot of WRs and jumps higher than a lot of NBA players? Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Dom Capers better figure something out.

26

September

Packers vs. Bears: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 27-17 Win In Chicago

Photo: Getty images.

Packers vs. Bears: Aaron Rodgers found Jermichael Finley three times for touchdowns and the defense held the Bears to four yards rushing as the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears, 27-17, Sunday at Solider Field in Chicago.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Big man in the red zone

Jermichael Finley sounded confident that he was going to make a major impact on this game, and he backed it up on the field. The Bears didn’t have an answer for him in the intermediate passing game and they certainly couldn’t handle him in the red zone. Rodgers found him three times inside the 20 for back-breaking scores.

On the first, Finley put a fantastic outside-in move on Bears safety Brandon Meriweather, who trailed Finley by a few yards by the time Rodgers found him in the back of the end zone. His second touchdown came when Rodgers rolled right to avoid pressure, and Finley broke off his route perfectly to give Rodgers an area to throw him the football. Finally, on a third-and-9 play in the fourth quarter, Finley exposed a misplaced Cover-2 look where backup safety Craig Steltz was far too slow rotating over. That left 88 wide open in the back corner of the end zone for an easy pitch and catch. All three were fairly routine plays for both Rodgers and Finley, but the fact that the Bears were helpless to stop them is an encouraging sign. If Finley is on the field for 16 games, there is no way he doesn’t score 10 or more touchdowns. He’s just too much inside the 20.

2. Grounding the run

With the way the Bears have struggled to protect Jay Cutler, you’d think the Bears would have wanted to establish the run early and often on Sunday. I definitely thought so, and I figured Matt Forte, who has looked so good through two weeks, would find room running the football against the Packers if he got the opportunities. That couldn’t have been further from what happened. The Packers were dead set on containing Forte and it showed, as the Bears running back Forte had  just two yards on nine carries. Five of those carries went for zero or negative yards. Forte did catch seven passes for 80 yards, but a majority of that came in garbage time with the Bears struggling to stay in the game.

25

September

Packers vs. Bears Preview: 5 Things to Watch

The Green Bay Packers (2-0) and Chicago Bears (1-1) face off in Week 3 of the NFL season.

The basics

When: 3:15 CDT, Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL

TV: FOX, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman with the call, Pam Oliver on the sidelines

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network

Series: Bears lead, 92-84-6. Packers won last regular season game, 10-3, in January 2010 at Lambeau Field. Bears hold 20-19 record at Solider Field.

Five things to watch

1. Containing Forte

In six career games against the Packers, Bears running back Matt Forte has only averaged a little over 20 touches per game. The Bears will need to go over that number on Sunday to win. Forte is the focal point of the Bears offense, but too many times the Bears have went away from him.  Mike Martz isn’t making that same mistake to start this season. After asking for a new contract before the season, Forte has looked like one of the more complete backs in the game through two weeks. He’s averaging 4.5 yards on 26 attempts, but Forte is doing his real damage as a receiver, where he’s caught a team-high 15 passes for 204 yards.  If the first two weeks are any indication, the Packers might have trouble containing him in that role. Of the 851 yards the Packers have allowed to opposing quarterbacks, running backs are responsible for 235 of those. With the kind of film the Packers’ defense have put out early this season, you’d have to think Martz spent this week looking for ways to get Forte the ball in space.

2. Missing a playmaker

For all the nicks and bruises Packers safety Nick Collins has endured over the years, he’s played in 95 of the 98 regular season games the team has played since 2005. After suffering a neck injury in the second half against the Panthers, Collins will now miss the Packers final 14 games. I think most are underestimating how big of injury this could potentially be. Yes, Charlie Peprah played over 900 snaps for the Packers last season. Yes, Morgan Burnett looks like he could be a playmaker. But you simply can’t replace a two-time All-Pro who has 18 picks over the past three seasons with a journey man backup or a guy who really is in his first year at the professional level after an ACL injury. Making matters worse is the fact that the Packers now have undrafted free agent M.D. Jennings, who was expected to be nothing more than a practice squad guy, as the primary backup to both Peprah and Burnett. What was a position of strength for the Packers now appears to be a place opposing offenses could go to attack.