Chicago Bears: Ryan Grant
How top-heavy was the 2013 draft in the NFC North? We welcomed more players in the first round (six) than in the second and third rounds combined (four), the result of two big trades.
With the 2013 affair basically in the books, let's take a closer look at its highs and lows. So much happened that we might not get to the relatively rare occurrence of two punters being drafted.
The Green Bay Packers have gone 43 games without a 100-yard rusher, the longest active streak in the NFL by more than twice. Their running backs have combined for 12 rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons, the fewest in the NFL, and their average of 3.8 yards per rush over that span is tied for last in the league.
After years of subordinating this segment of their roster, the Packers reacted aggressively in 2013. They drafted not one but two of the top running backs available. Alabama's Eddie Lacy came in the second round (No. 61 overall), and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin came in the fourth round (No. 125 overall).
The relative flurry came at a time when the rest of the league appeared to have devalued the position. It was the first time in the history of the modern draft that zero running backs were selected in the first round. Perhaps the timing was coincidence, but if general manager Ted Thompson intended to capitalize on depressed prices to load up, it was a brilliant thought.
Thompson and the Packers had been trying to patch together the position ever since Ryan Grant broke his ankle in Week 1 of the 2010 season. It was time to find a more permanent solution, and Lacy and Franklin give them the personnel infusion they needed.
Runner-up: Like the Packers, the Chicago Bears finally attacked an area of need. They used two of their first three selections in what was originally a five-pick draft on high-end linebackers who actually project as starters rather than special-teams contributors. Second-rounder Jonathan Bostic could be the Bears' middle linebacker as early as this season, and fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene was one of the best defensive playmakers in college football last season.
The Minnesota Vikings used four draft picks to move back into the first round and select Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, taking on risk in two forms.
First, Patterson is a boom-or-bust prospect who spent only one year playing at the Division I level. He has the physical tools to be an exceptional player but has more development ahead of him than most first-round picks. Here's how ESPN analyst Todd McShay put it before the draft: "He scares me coming out of Tennessee, but I see the talent. … Patterson, with the ball in his hands, is just freakish, and even though he disappears for 30-40 plays [per game], he'll show up with one or two big plays a game that just kind of blow your mind and leave you wanting more."
At the very least, Patterson will need to be guided through the early part of his career. The Vikings hope to start him off as a kickoff returner and work him into their offense slowly. Expecting him to jump into the starting lineup alongside Greg Jennings for a full 70 plays per game is probably unrealistic.
Second, the trade left the Vikings unable to fill one of their most pressing needs: middle linebacker. Giving up picks in the second and third rounds left them watching as more than a half-dozen middle linebackers were drafted. The Vikings gave up the opportunity to fill that job on a long-term basis by jumping to draft a receiver who generated plenty of divergent viewpoints during the pre-draft evaluation process.
Runner-up: The Detroit Lions used the No. 5 overall pick on a pass-rusher who had 4.5 sacks in his college career. BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has all the physical tools to be a dominant pass-rusher, but his learning curve is steep and his potential for immediate impact is at least worth questioning.
MOST SURPRISING MOVE
The Bears produced arguably the surprise of the draft by selecting Long at No. 20 overall, a time when even the most polished guards are rarely taken historically. But the Bears were blown away by Long's agility for his 6-foot-6 frame and were willing to overlook a one-season, four-start career at the Division I college level.
There is no doubt the Bears needed help on their offensive line, but you could have a spirited philosophical argument over the draft value of a raw, inexperienced guard. Even if the Bears are right about Long -- that his athleticism will make him a long-term starter -- it's fair to question whether they needed to take him in the first round. Did another team covet the draft's third-best guard enough to take him between picks 21 and 50, where the Bears were situated in the second round? One explanation: The Bears, with only five total picks in the draft at that point, thought it would be too difficult to trade up in the second round assuming Long got out of the first. I'm not going to say it was the wrong choice, but it sure was surprising.
FILE IT AWAY
The Lions bolstered their pass defense at the expense of some other positions of need. You can't have it all, and the Lions made some clear decisions.
On the plus side, they used three of their first four choices on Ansah, cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Devin Taylor. Ansah (6-foot-5 with 35 1/8-inch arms) and Taylor (6-7 with 36-inch arms) will provide incredible length and a new look to the Lions' outside pass rush. Slay, meanwhile, has elite speed (4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash).
That focus left the Lions less able to surround quarterback Matthew Stafford with additional weapons and protection. The Lions didn't draft an offensive tackle after the departure of both 2012 starters, and they didn't get around to selecting a receiver until grabbing Virginia Tech's Corey Fuller with the third pick of the sixth round (No. 171 overall).
(The Lions did draft guard Larry Warford in the third round.)
From a roster-balance perspective, it made sense for the Lions to focus on pass defense -- long a weakness -- rather than their passing offense. But the Lions still finished the draft with less depth at receiver and offensive tackle than they would have liked. Life is a trade-off, after all.
"I was on my way to do a physical in Chicago," Grant said. "Agreed to Washington. Told the driver to turn around and take me to the airport."
Read the entire story.
Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET
Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.
Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.
What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.
Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.
Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.
What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.
Green Bay Packers
Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.
Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.
What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.
Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.
What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.
1. Offensive line, Minnesota Vikings: I don't want to pick only on left guard Steve Hutchinson, who quite clearly isn't playing at the same level he did at the height of his career. The biggest problem is that Hutchinson remains the Vikings' best offensive lineman. Watching this group get manhandled Sunday by the Oakland Raiders suggested it will need a significant overhaul in the coming months. We've discussed the need to find a long-term replacement for departed left tackle Bryant McKinnie, but the reality is that no job should be safe. The Vikings have a pair of 2011 draft picks, center/guard Brandon Fusco and tackle DeMarcus Love, serving as backups at the moment. I'm not sure if either projects as a long-term starter, but it's clear that immediate action is necessary one way or the other.
3. The future of Chris Cook, Minnesota Vikings cornerback: Cook hasn't played since he was arrested Oct. 23 on a charge of felony strangulation following a domestic incident with his girlfriend. He is currently on what amounts to a paid suspension as he sorts through his issues, but you wonder whether his standing with the team will change at all after prosecutors added a second charge of third-degree assault. According to reports, the second charge resulted from news that the victim suffered a perforated eardrum during the incident and has experienced hearing loss. Cook has a court appearance scheduled for Tuesday.
1. Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers receiver: It was overshadowed by the performance of some teammates, but Driver had his most productive game of the season Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His four catches matched the season high he set in Week 1, and his 72 yards -- powered by a 35-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter -- were the most he has had in a regular-season game since Week 13 of 2010. Those figures are a reminder that Driver, 36, is no longer a primary option in the Packers' offense. But Sunday served notice that he can still make plays downfield when the opportunity presents itself.
2. Amateur medical practices in Chicago: Everyone has an opinion, medically based or otherwise, on how long a fractured right thumb should keep Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler out of action. Initial reports suggested he would miss the rest of the season and possibly be unavailable for the playoffs, but coach Lovie Smith appeared confident Monday that Cutler will return before the end of the regular season. But Smith wouldn't divulge enough details about Cutler's condition to give us a chance to verify his timetable. What we do know is that the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends a cast or splint for between two and six weeks after surgery. Depending on severity of the injury, the rule of thumb (sorry) is that it can take up to three months to regain full use of the hand.
3. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions quarterback: We noted Monday how Stafford reversed his early game struggles against the Carolina Panthers on the way to a five-touchdown performance. Let's allow the folks at Cold Hard Football Facts to provide a wild glimpse at the big picture. In his three-year career, Stafford has trailed by at least 17 points in 10 of 23 starts. He has led game-winning comebacks in four of them. That's a pretty impressive trend for any quarterback, let alone one who is four months away from his 24th birthday.
- Now the Bears' offense is really in a pickle. We've all been telling offensive coordinator Mike Martz to run the ball more. But in retrospect, do you blame him for limiting its exposure Sunday? A 14-0 second-quarter deficit can make it tough to be patient. But more importantly, the Bears couldn't run when they tried. Half of their 12 attempts lost yardage. As currently constituted, the Bears aren't going to be successful when they throw too often. But can you force balance? Negative runs are just about the same as a sack. Their offensive line looked overpowered by the Packers' huge defensive line. Over the past two weeks, at least, the Bears have been on their heels no matter which way they've turned.
- Quarterback Jay Cutler seemed close to bubbling over Sunday, noting that he doesn't audible and deferring play-calling questions because "I don't call the plays." He also left little doubt that he felt the Bears didn't give tailback Matt Forte enough opportunities. But Cutler deserves his fair share of blame for forcing passes downfield. I realize receivers Roy Williams and Johnny Knox both let him down Sunday with key drops, but Cutler threw two interceptions among the eight passes he threw more than 15 yards downfield. Both of those interceptions came on passes intended for Williams. He completed only two of those eight attempts. Cutler's gun-slinging mentality makes him especially vulnerable in an offense with limited alternatives. I'm not sure if it's in him to be more disciplined than he has been. Perhaps he needs more playmakers than most in order to succeed.
- Tight end Kellen Davis made a great individual play on his 32-yard touchdown reception, breaking three tackles on the way to the end zone. But as I watched Cutler struggle to find receivers downfield, I couldn't help but wonder about the decision to trade Greg Olsen and insert Davis as the starter. The touchdown was one of three catches Davis has made this season. Olsen is having a productive season with the Carolina Panthers, having caught 12 passes through three games, including a game-winning touchdown Sunday. I realize Martz doesn't use the tight end much, but Olsen would be the best pass-catcher on this team -- at any position -- if he were still with the Bears. Everything is relative, but it appears the Bears traded away a player who could be offering Cutler an important target right now if they were willing to use him effectively.
I was surprised at how well the Packers ran against the Bears, especially between the tackles. Tailback Ryan Grant didn't have much traction to the outside, but he gashed the Bears for 92 yards anyway, mostly on runs behind center or guard. The Packers were able to shield linebacker Brian Urlacher from making plays on many of those runs. The Bears finished 2010 with the NFL's second-best rush defense based on total yards allowed, but that has slipped to No. 18 over the first three games of the 2011 season with basically the same personnel.
What it means: The Green Bay Packers are now 3-0 and tied for the NFC North lead with the upstart Detroit Lions. In the process, the Packers have put some distance between them and the Chicago Bears, who fell to 1-2 amid another disjointed performance by their offense.
What I liked: The Packers once again didn’t try to force anything downfield against the Bears’ defense, which has historically limited their big plays. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected on three touchdown passes to tight end Jermichael Finley and finished with 297 yards passing, but his longest gain was 25 yards. There’s nothing wrong with that. Look at it this way: The Packers dinked and dunked their way to 27 points. Rodgers is now 6-2 against the Bears all-time, including postseason.
What I didn’t like: Maybe they didn’t think they could run against the Packers' defense, but the Bears didn’t generate enough of a pass-run balance for my liking. Quarterback Jay Cutler threw on 17 of their first 23 plays and Bears tailback Matt Forte finished with two net yards on nine carries. They obviously identified some matchups they liked, especially against new Packers safety Charlie Peprah. But the Bears will win very few, if any games, under those circumstances.
What I didn’t like II: The Packers can’t be happy about the way they finished this game. They held a 27-10 lead early in the fourth quarter but allowed Bears tight end Kellen Davis to rumble through their secondary for a 32-yard touchdown play midway through the quarter. Later, their punt coverage team was faked out by a smart Bears return that seemed to get Johnny Knox a touchdown with about a minute left. A holding penalty by the Bears’ Corey Graham nullified the play and prevented the Bears from pulling within a field goal.
GrantWatch: Packers tailback Ryan Grant had by far his best game of the season, finishing with 89 yards on 15 carries while James Starks struggled to five yards on 11 carries and also lost a fumble. Grant did leave the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit in the face, but he put some important production on tape regardless.
Injury report: Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) did not return after injuring his knee in the first quarter. Marshall Newhouse went the rest of the way. And we’ve already discussed Grant’s injury.
What’s next: The Bears will host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday. The Packers will host the Denver Broncos.
Here's something that might catch you by surprise: Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson is on an extraordinarily productive run dating back to Week 16 of last season.
As Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes, Nelson has caught 34 passes for 610 yards and five touchdowns over the Packers' past eight games, including the playoffs. Greg Jennings is the only receiver who has caught more passes for more yards over that span, but Nelson has him beat by a touchdown.
Consider this development another example of where the Packers' purported starting lineup doesn't necessarily correlate to playing time or production. Already, backup tailback James Starks is getting substantially more playing time than starter Ryan Grant. And by the numbers, at least, Nelson is the Packers' No. 2 receiver next to Jennings.
Nelson isn't getting more playing time than other receivers; according to Dunne, he was on the field for 33 of 58 plays last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. But he is capitalizing on the opportunities he does get, and opposing defenses would be well advised to catch on.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers are hoping punter Tim Masthay finds a rhythm soon, writes Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The Packers are upset about a roughing-the-passer call against linebacker Desmond Bishop in last Sunday's game, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Chicago Bears might start Craig Steltz and Brandon Meriweather at safety Sunday against the Packers, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake believes his group gets enough separation to merit throws, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- It appears receiver Roy Williams (groin) is on track to play Sunday, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
- Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas isn't a big fan of playing at the Metrodome, writes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
- Sunday will be receiver Nate Burleson's first return to the Metrodome since he departed the Minnesota Vikings after the 2005 season, notes the Detroit Free Press.
- The Lions are preparing to deal with the return of Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson still has a big salary cap number under his new contract, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- The city of Minneapolis is claiming about $30 million in proceeds if the Metrodome is sold, according to the Star Tribune.
- The Vikings' pass defense hasn't been the same since safety Darren Sharper left after the 2007 season, writes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Read the entire story.
That's not entirely true, judging from the statistics. Interestingly, Green Bay's rushing attack ranks 14th in the NFL (111.5 yards per game), while the passing attack ranks No. 16.
Now be honest here, you thought those elements of Green Bay's offense ranked just the opposite, didn't you?
The Bears, however, aren't taking the Packers' rushing attack lightly.
"We still want to stop the running game," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We don't want to play the pass and get gashed with the run. So we'll do what we have to do for the running game, but we have to get to [Packers quarterback Aaron] Rodgers [in the passing game]."
That's probably the best plan of attack. While Green Bay's ground game isn't exactly overwhelming, it's been respectable enough to set up the aerial attack. Even without the 45 yards put up by Ryan Grant, who was lost for the season, the Packers would still rank eight spots ahead of the Bears in the rushing rankings at No. 22.
"They know how to run the football. They really understand how to run the football," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said.
Grant's replacement, Brandon Jackson, averages 3.2 yards per carry through two games. John Kuhn, who usually plays fullback, produced career highs in attempts (9) and rushing yards (36) in the Green Bay's win last week over the Buffalo Bills.
"I'm fully aware of what the numbers are," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But if you don't run the ball effectively -- on paper -- it affects half your passing game, because as we game plan for teams, you start with your run game. Then you go through your [play] action passing game, then your drop-back game.
"It's no different going [against] the team that we're getting ready to play with Chicago. You have to have the ability to run the football because they do a very good job the way their defense is built against dropback passing. I'm not looking to run the ball just to set up to pass. When we run it, we want to run it very well."
That won't be easy against Chicago's top-ranked rush defense. The Bears limit opponents to a meager 1.4 yards per attempt and 28 yards per game. Still, the defense won't rely on the reputation it's developed over the first two weeks or the absence of Grant for it to stop the Packers.
"You have to look at it this way: the first two teams haven't had success running the ball. They don't have Ryan Grant, and that's a fact," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "The things they're going to try to do running the ball, [if] it becomes ineffective at the beginning of the game, they may choose to air it out. We're prepared for their trickiest runs, their trickiest passes, their receivers finding windows. You always prepare for what they're going to throw at you."
It doesn't matter what it is.
The Packers running back has posted a 100-yard game against the Bears in each of the past three seasons. In the past five meetings, the Bears have allowed Grant to rush for a combined 504 yards and five touchdowns (and one touchdown reception).
Even if players are reluctant to admit it, the Bears catch a break with Grant out for the year because of a right ankle injury.
"It comes down to us, that’s my focus," Bears defensive end Israel Idonije said of Grant's absence. "The plays we’ve given up, it’s us. We’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, second-guessing. Regardless of who they have back there, we want to play well.
"We have worked on the keys and the things to help guys recognize different schemes in different situations that have given us problems. We’re very confident in how we’ll handle the things they’ll throw at us."
The Bears have dominated opponents on the ground, allowing a league-low 28 yards rushing per game in the first two weeks of the season. Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn are definitely serviceable replacements, but not having to face Grant will definitely be a bonus for the Bears on Monday night.
Nobody wants to hear about the positives on Sunday -- with the exception of maybe Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox -- but after re-watching the game, you can't ignore the fact the defense did a decent job.
Of course, the 62-yard run by Ryan Grant was a killer, and it's something that cannot be overlooked, but after the first two Green Bay series (which resulted in 10 points), the defense was solid.
Looking at the numbers, the Bears held Green Bay below their season averages in points scored, total yards and passing yards. Aaron Rodgersactually threw for fewer yards (180) on Sunday, than he did in the season opener at Lambeau Field (184).
The defense also recovered a pair of fumbles (Danieal Manning and Anthony Adams), which evened out the turnover ratio for the afternoon -- the Packers were plus-18 in that department heading into the matchup.
Take into account the defense had to overcome Lovie Smith's silly decision to use Josh Bullocks as a third safety (Zack Bowman has been a better run stopper than Bullocks all season, so why pull Bowman off the field?), and the overall predictability of the scheme (Hey, it's third down. I wonder if the Bears will be in man coverage?), you'll see the defense did enough to win.
This one was on the offense.
CHICAGO -- Why does the defense always start slowly?
The Chicago Bears are now 3-7 in games the opposing team scores first -- 22-25 overall in the Lovie Smith era -- as Ryan Grant ran for a 62-yard touchdown on Green Bay's first offensive play from scrimmage.
"Somebody didn't do their job," defensive end Alex Brown said. "One guy not doing their job can make the defense look bad."
It looked like Hunter Hillenmeyer, Lance Briggs and Kevin Payne each had a shot to take down Grant. Extra safety Josh Bullocks also appeared to be running somewhere on the play, just not toward the ball carrier.
"I think the (Packers) lineman got up to the second level quick and cut off two people," defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. "He got a two-for-one, like he blocked two guys. He (Grant) just had a big gap, and we didn't have guys on the other side pursuing, and Grant just busted it open."
Grant finished with 137 rushing yards and two touchdowns after gashing the Bears for 145 yards in Green Bay's win at Lambeau Field in 2008.