Breakdown: NFC North

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
1:52
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
  • Atlanta 34, Detroit 21

We arrived in lovely Appleton, Wis., in time this afternoon to watch all of the Detroit Lions' opener at a local establishment -- Diet Cokes only.

The Lions were hoping to improve their run defense after ranking No. 23 in the NFL last season. More than likely, they'll finish Week 1 of 2008 ranked last.

If anything, the Lions' run defense looked worse than ever in an embarrassing 34-21 loss at Atlanta. Detroit gave up an astounding 318 yards on the ground, including 220 to tailback Michael Turner. Their linebackers got pushed around and, eventually, sent off the field; Ernie Sims and Paris Lenon both left with injuries at different points of the game.

Worse, Turner and backup Falcons tailback Jerious Norwood (93 yards) looked like they were running much harder than the Lions were hitting. Tackling in the Lions secondary was, shall we say, subpar.

Conventional wisdom suggested the Lions would sell out against the run, forcing rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to beat them. Instead, Turner ran for 117 yards in the first quarter alone and Ryan only had to attempt 13 passes.

An early 21-0 deficit, meanwhile, took the Lions out of their plan to re-focus the offense around their running game. Tailbacks Kevin Smith and Rudi Johnson weren't much of a factor, combining for 62 yards on 19 carries.

You don't want to put too much stock in the season opener, but this performance hardly reflected a team on the cusp. The Lions are trying to be a tougher team this season, and run defense is perhaps the best test of progress in that area. Based on Sunday's performance, you know where the Lions stand.

  • Chicago 29 , Indianapolis 13

Some naysayers questioned whether the Chicago Bears' defense could turn the switch when the regular season began after a pretty unimpressive preseason. The Bears showed they could in Sunday night's victory over Indianapolis, holding the Colts under 300 total yards and scoring nine points on its own.

Lance Briggs' fumble return for a touchdown and Adewale Ogunleye's safety harkened back to the best of the Bears' defense during the 2006 Super Bowl season. This is the way the Bears must win in 2008 as well -- combining big plays and strong leadership from its defense with competent play from the offense.

Kyle Orton and the Bears' offense did not commit a turnover, providing more than enough support for a defensive group that got its act together in a hurry.

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