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.

7

December

Around the NFC North in Week 14

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 14

For the first time this season, there are two divisional matchups in the NFC North.  The Chicago Bears travel to Minnesota to round out their season series against the Vikings.  Both of those teams are coming off of tough losses last week and cannot afford another in this game.

The Detroit Lions come to Lambeau Field where they haven’t logged a victory in over 20 years to take on the Green Bay Packers in the Sunday night football matchup.  Detroit suffered a gut-wrenching and last-second defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.  The Packers were the only victorious team in the North this past week.  The win helped them reclaim sole possession of first place in the divsion.

Here’s a sneak peak at each matchup and some storylines heading into the games.

Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

The Bears are starting to feel the effects of their hard-fought season.  They learned that they will be without long-time veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher for at least the next three weeks due to a hamstring injury.  While Urlacher has been hampered by some bumps and bruises this season, there is no question the Bears defense is better with him on the field.

Chicago’s starting cornerback Tim Jennings was also injured in last week’s game vs. the Seattle Seahawks when he collided with another player and hurt his shoulder.  As of Tuesday, it was still not known how serious the injury was and more tests were expected later in the week to determine if there is any structural damage.  Any such news would mean Jennings will miss some time which would be a huge blow to the Bears’ secondary.  Jennings has been the team’s top defender this season and leads the team with eight interceptions.

The Vikings are also awaiting some news on the health of one of their star players, wide receiver Percy Harvin.  Harvin has missed the team’s last four games with an ankle injury and has battled health issues since coming into the league as a rookie in 2009.

Minnesota and Chicago are both in need of a win to make a strong run at the postseason.  The Bears and Packers have the same record at 8-4 but Green Bay holds the tie-breaker, having beaten Chicago head-to-head earlier this season.  The Vikings dropped to .500 and are trying to stay alive in the Wild Card race with an outside chance at a division win.

1

December

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

Jordy Nelson scores against the Minnesota Vikings

The Packers are hoping to see this familiar scene on Sunday versus the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field and face the Green Bay Packers for just the first time this season.  The two teams will square off again in week 17 in Minnesota.  Both teams are coming off of a big loss and are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive.

The Packers were handed their worst loss in years at the hands of the New York football Giants while the Vikings were soundly defeated by the first-place Chicago Bears.  Both teams will likely be fired up and looking to get back on track.  At least they should be in a divisional game this late in the season.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will manifest themselves this Sunday.

Vikings Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line

In the number one slot is the matchup most critical to Green Bay’s success this week.  As is likely to be the case for the rest of this season, the Packers have to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers and start winning their matchups up front.

Minnesota features Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who will square up on Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Last season, Allen had three total sacks on Rodgers in the two games and that was when the Green Bay offensive line was playing better than they are now.  Allen is athletic and can get after the ball so Rodgers and the offense need to be mindful of where he is at all times.

My guess is that Green Bay is going to need to provide some extra help on the blind side with either a chip block by the back and release for check down or a straight up double team.

On the right side is Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.  You may recall an incident last season when, after a play, Robison gave TJ Lang a foot shove a la Ndamukong Suh (couldn’t resist the reference) right to the mid section.  Whatever Lang needs to do to find his motivation this week, he needs to do it in a big way.  True, he’s filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga and is out of position.  But he still has to find a way to neutralize the rush.  Rodgers rolls out right more often than he does left and this matchup will be key.

28

November

Around the NFC North in Week 13

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 13

With just five weeks remaining in the 2012 NFL season, we take a look around the NFC North at the matchups and storylines.

In week 13, a bit of Luck visits the Detroit Lions in the form of the Indianapolis Colts while the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears tangle for the third time in as many straight seasons.  The Green Bay Packers come home to host their neighbors to the west, the Minnesota Vikings for the first time in 2012.

This divisional race is starting to take shape with the Bears in first place and the Packers breathing down their necks, a close second.  The Vikings are still alive, to the surprise of many, while the Detroit Lions have made their road to a repeat playoff appearance very difficult.

Here’s the breakdown:

Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Detroit Lions (4-7)

The surprising Indianapolis Colts come into Detroit to face the struggling Lions.  The Colts find themselves in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race.  While many knew Andrew Luck would eventually turn into a solid NFL quarterback, few would have foreseen the success that this team has had so far in 2012.

With that said, let’s also consider that only one of Indianapolis’ wins have come against a team that would currently be in this year’s playoffs (Packers in week 5).  But they are taking steps in the right direction after having won only two games last season.  At least they’re beating the teams that are struggling (Detroit falls into this category) or just plain bad.

While the Lions took the Houston Texans to overtime last week, they were unable to get the elusive Thanksgiving Day win and fell to 4-7.

Detroit’s biggest advantage in this game is that it’s at home.  While much has been made of Detroit’s offensive output this season, Indianapolis isn’t far behind.  The Lions rank 2nd in total yards while the Colts are 5th.  I expect this game to be a shootout.  An indoor game featuring two top offenses and two good quarterbacks.

Each team has had their issues on defense that have prevented them from winning some of their close games.  Both teams also have negative give/take ratios heading into this one. Detroit is at (-7) while Indianapolis is at (-14).

23

November

Around the NFC North in Week 12

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 12

Well, I dropped the ball my friends.  My apologies to all for not getting this post up sooner and in light of today’s matchup between the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans.  I am feverishly writing this on Turkey Day and I won’t take a single bite until this is up for your reading pleasure.  With that, I want to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving weekend!

This week brings a full slate of NFC North football starting with the Thanksgiving day matchup.  The Chicago Bears square off against the Minnesota Vikings for the first time this season and the Packers round off the weekend with the Sunday Night game at the New York football Giants.

Let’s look at the matchups a bit more closely and see what’s to come.

Houston Texans (10-1) at Detroit Lions (4-7)

Well, Houston pulled it out in another overtime thriller.  I could have tried to pass myself off as a prophet and claim that I knew the Lions would take the 9-1 Texans to the brink, but all it takes is a glance at my record in the prediction posts.  It’s clear that I don’t own a crystal ball.  Or at least an accurate one.  So on we go. . .

Minnesota Vikings (6-4) at Chicago Bears (7-3)

The big question in this game for the Bears is once again the health status of starting quarterback Jay Cutler.  Cutler has been cleared to practice in a limited capacity but still has not been cleared by an independent neurologist to resume full play.

Jason Campbell would start at quarterback if Cutler can’t play.  Campbell has been barely decent in relief duty and when asked whether Cutler would be able to play this week, Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Tice was quoted as saying “God, I hope so”.  Not a whole lot more needs to be said there.  The Bears themselves know their best chance to win is with Cutler playing.

Minnesota’s tough defensive unit would theoretically pose a bigger problem to Campbell than Cutler.  Chicago’s offensive line struggles continue and there have even been some rumblings that Chicago is less-than-thrilled with the play of 2nd year tackle and 2011 first round pick Gabe Carimi.  This could become a big problem if the Vikings pass rush wins the battle up front and forces Campbell to make quick decisions and throws.

11

September

Meet the Packers Newest Running Back: Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb

Could we see Packers KR/WR Randall Cobb on the reverse in 2012?

Despite losing to the 49ers last weekend, several things jumped out at me about the Packers; their offense can be as powerful as it was last year but look like they are going to need some time to get “tuned up”, the defense isn’t as bad as it was last year, but it’s still the weakness of the team, and the Packers might have finally figured out their problems at running back.  Their solution: second year man Randall Cobb.

The Packers have taken a page from the Minnesota Vikings and have positioned Cobb in a very similar manner as Percy Harvin, another player who perhaps doesn’t have the traditional skill set of a wide receiver but makes up for it in diversity of ability.

During week 7 of the 2010 season, the Vikings and Harvin fooled the Packers with a deceptively simple formation, with a twist:

 

The Vikings start in a 311 formation (3 WR, 1TE, 1RB) on 1st and 10 with Randy Moss at the bottom of the screen split wide, Harvin in the slot next to Moss and Bernard Berrian at the top of the screen split wide.  Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is inline outside the right tackle while fullback/tight end Jeff Dugan lines up offset on the strong set (much like where a fullback would be in the I-formation).  The Packers, seeing 4 receivers and a fullback in a position to block naturally suspect the pass and counter with their nickel package, with Tramon Williams lining up against Moss and Sam Shields lining up against Berrian.  Charles Woodson lines up in the slot and naturally is covering Harvin, who again is also in the slot.

 

Now here’s where the trickery comes in, right before the snap Favre motions Harvin from the slot to Farve’s right and then proceeds to execute a draw play.  The Packers defensive linemen and linebackers abandon their run gap assignments as they play the pass and are completely caught off guard by the draw. Harvin stutters at the line, which only causes more confusion with the Packers pass rush as they don’t immediately see that its a run play.

 

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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