NFC North Spin cycle: Week Two

Pro Football Weekly
NFC North Spin cycle: Week Two
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NFC North Spin cycle: Week Two

It's all-square in the NFC North after two games. For the Packers, this is wonderful news. For the Bears? Not so much. Here's a team-by-team look at the North clubs through two weeks:

BEARS

What we learned: We know the Bears’ offense is more talented than ever before at the skill positions, but its Week Two performance at Lambeau Field proved it is not so talented that it can simply flip a switch and go. It needs a good game plan to compete, and coordinator Mike Tice did not seem to have one vs. the Packers. QB Jay Cutler unraveled behind a porous offensive line, throwing four picks as Green Bay sacked him seven times and hit him 12 times. This offense is still a work in progress, and Tice is still figuring out how to put his O-linemen in position to succeed against elite pass rushers like OLB Clay Matthews (3½ sacks).

What’s in store next: Coming off a Thursday-night loss, the Bears have been given plenty of time to prepare for Jeff Fisher’s Rams, who are also 1-1 after topping the Redskins in Week Two. St. Louis narrowly lost to Detroit in Week One, so it has been competitive in each of the first two games. It’s still a game the Bears need to, and should, win, but it becomes a tougher task if RB Matt Forté (ankle) can’t play. Lovie Smith said Monday that Forté does not have a high ankle sprain, refuting reports to the contrary, but the all-purpose back's status for the game will be one of the week’s biggest story lines.

What the heck? All we heard all offseason and in the first week and a half of the regular season was that Tice would not put players in position to fail at any position. We experienced some cognitive dissonance while watching the Packers exploit mismatches while the Bears failed to find one. Perhaps it will be chalked up as one bad game, but the fact that the Bears seemed so unprepared for what Green Bay did defensively has to be concerning for the team. Tice joked last week that he was not very smart and that he compensates for that by working extremely hard and being organized. It was refreshing candor, but he still has much to prove as a first-time offensive coordinator.

LIONS

What we learned: The Lions gave a strong 49ers club a good battle, but Detroit never led in a 27-19 defeat, and San Francisco never really gave the impression that it was in any great trouble throughout. The Lions tried to stay balanced on offense with mixed results, gaining just 82 yards on 26 carries. The return of Mikel Leshoure in Week Three will give the Lions another option in the ground game, which won't hurt. The passing game was hit-and-miss. WR Calvin Johnson (8-94 in 12 targets) showed up as he always does, but no other wideout or tight end had more than 18 yards receiving. QB Matthew Stafford's accuracy was a little off at times, too. The defense, which was missing both starting cornerbacks and FS Louis Delmas, surrendered 349 yards (5.7 yards per play) and three drives of 10 plays or more in the second half. 

What’s in store next: The Lions draw a struggling Titans club in Nashville in Week Three, but nothing is a gimme for Detroit if the secondary remains banged up. Drayton Florence, who got the start in Week Two at left cornerback, suffered a significant right hand injury on Sunday, head coach Jim Schwartz said. CBs Bill Bentley (concussion) and Chris Houston (ankle) missed Week Two. Delmas (knee) remains on the mend. The Titans have the talent to give the Lions some problems. A sharp start from Detroit is imperative.

What the heck? The Lions have a strong pass-catching corps, but it wasn't apparent in Week Three. The 49ers have a strong defense, so it won't be a surprising if this were an aberration. However, WR Titus Young (one catch apiece in his first two games) has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start. Many expected a breakout season from the second-year pro. The Lions' offense will be more formidable if Young develops into a consistent vertical threat.

PACKERS

What we learned: Dom Capers’ defense definitely still has a pulse. With relentless ROLB Clay Matthews picking up where he left off in Week One  — his six sacks in the first two games matches his entire 2012 total — and blanket pass coverage spearheaded by CB Tramon Williams, who had two of the Packers’ four interceptions, the Packers pummeled the Bears 23-10 in an old-style, “Black n’ Blue” brawl that nobody saw coming. While Green Bay’s defense rebounded with a passion, the offense remained a bit out of sorts (321 total yards), although new RB Cedric Benson (20-81 rushing) gave the ground game a welcome boost after a weak effort (9-18) in Week One.

What’s in store next: Benefiting from a 10-day layoff, the Packers head to the West Coast to take on the Seahawks and their notoriously noisy fans in their second prime-time contest in the first three weeks of the season. The Monday-night lights figure to focus on Matthews, who will be taking on Pete Carroll, his former coach at USC, for the first time at the pro level. The Seahawks evened their record at 1-1 with a surprisingly thorough 27-7 whipping of the Cowboys in their home opener. Former University of Wisconsin star QB Russell Wilson made strides (112.7 passer rating) in his first pro victory after a shaky Week One. Meanwhile, RB Marshawn Lynch ran for 122 yards and a three-yard TD.

What the heck? With everybody paying much more attention to the Packers’ ups and downs on offense and defense, Green Bay’s unsung special teams might have turned on the switch that ignites another special season. Until Tom Crabtree’s TD catch from P Tim Masthay on a perfectly executed fake field goal totally caught the Bears with their pants down, the Packers were in an undeniable funk. Rather quietly, Shawn Slocum’s crew has evolved into one of the league’s most reliable units, with Masthay, whose high bombs held Devin Hester in check, and PK Mason Crosby (who made field goals of 48, 35 and 54 yards) performing at consistently high levels.

VIKINGS

What we learned: Some good, some bad. Through two games, there has been a similar script in that QB Christian Ponder has shown an ability to rally the team but the defense has given up long, crucial drives late in the contests. It happened Sunday when there were only 31 seconds on the clock, and the defense allowed rookie QB Andrew Luck to string together three big plays to set up the game-winning field goal. Credit the Vikings for tying the game after being down 14 points, but the Vikings should have been more competitive against a team lacking its best defensive players, a starting wideout and, by the end of the game, three offensive linemen.

What’s in store next: The Vikings must develop something downfield or they are going to grind players like WR Percy Harvin and RB Adrian Peterson down into the ground. Harvin was the main ingredient Sunday against the Colts and was magnificent with 12 catches (on 13 mostly short targets) for 104 yards and two rushes for 13 more yards. But he frequently suffered cramps and was hit upon catching the ball several times. Defensively, the team must come up with big plays at key times. New coordinator Alan Williams is mixing things up, and it’s clear he needs more help. But they have to get the scheme in line with the talent, and quickly, with the 49ers coming to town next week.

What the heck? Eleven penalties marred the loss to the Colts, costing the Vikings 105 yards, eliminating several plays offensively and extending drives defensively. Back-to-back offensive-line penalties turned a 2nd-and-2 deep in Colts territory into a 2nd-and-17 and stalled the opening drive. A Christian Ballard encroachment and a Fred Evans offside each were gifts on separate Colts scoring drives. Andrew Sendejo put the Colts’ offense back on the field on an awful roughing-the-punter foul, and Jared Allen later gifted 15 more free yards with a late hit on Luck, a possession that ended with a Colts field goal and a 20-6 Indy lead. Thirty-five yards worth of penalties on the ensuing possession probably took away a scoring chance, moving them from near-midfield back into their own territory. It was undisciplined football on the road, which won’t win you games.
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