Friday, September 25, 2009
NFC North: Final Word
By Kevin Seifert
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
I’m ready to see what Aaron Kampman can do as a linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. Yes, I know Kampman is leading the Packers in tackles with an unofficial total of 18. And there have been no complaints about his coverage to this point. But for me, the biggest concern in changing Kampman’s position was the risk of marginalizing the Packers’ best pass rusher -- the rarest of NFL commodities. It’s a net loss for the Packers if Kampman goes from being a 10-sack defensive end to an average linebacker in terms of pass rush. He should get his opportunities Sunday against St. Louis, where starting right tackle Jason Smith is sidelined. Kampman likely will face backup tackle Adam Goldberg, an old NFC North foe.
The Packers are fortunate to be playing St. Louis as they triage their offensive line. The Rams have managed only one sack this season -- or, looked at another way, nine less than the Packers have given up. Let’s face it: Sliding Daryn Colledge to left tackle is an emergency measure, not an improvement from injured starter Chad Clifton. And who can tell the ramifications of moving center Jason Spitz to left guard and restoring Scott Wells as the starting center? The Packers pledged to maintain position integrity this year, but already they have no choice.
Minnesota coach Brad Childress joked about the “clamoring” for more downfield passes from quarterback Brett Favre, who is averaging a paltry 5.5 yards per attempt this season. I suppose it’s hard to argue with their short-range passing attack from a personnel standpoint. They have four exceptional open-field runners in their passing tree: Receiver Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, along with tailbacks Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. In fact, the Vikings have accumulated 70.3 percent of their passing yards after the catch, an NFL high. But until Minnesota demonstrates it can go over the top, smart defensive teams will crowd the line of scrimmage to stop both the passing game and Peterson. This is a crucial dynamic for Sunday’s game against San Francisco.
Something has to give in Detroit. The Lions have allowed a league-high 72 points this season. Washington will arrive at Ford Field with fewer points (26) than every NFL team except St. Louis. The Redskins couldn’t get into the end zone in a 9-7 victory over the Rams last week, and from that perspective alone, there’s reason to believe they could help the Lions end their 19-game losing streak. Nothing like having your own weakness mitigated by a corresponding shortcoming from your opponent. It will be incumbent on quarterback Matthew Stafford to avoid the kind of miscues that would give the Redskins favorable field position.
Here’s an interesting contrast as Chicago attempts to win in Seattle for the first time since 1976. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown eight passes of at least 20 yards this season, tying him for the fourth-most in the NFL. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have clamped down on downfield passing; they have the league’s second-best pass defense and have allowed only one pass of 20 or more yards. Seattle also has seven sacks and hasn’t given up a passing touchdown. So you would think this will be one of the games the Bears get off the bus running. San Francisco tailback Frank Gore gashed the Seahawks for 207 yards last week.