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Friday, October 2, 2009
NFC North: Final Word

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about this week’s games:

Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI
Forget Brett Favre, the Packers should really be worried about Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
With so much attention on the Brett Favre drama, it should be pointed out that Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson has punished Green Bay for most of his career. He could be primed for another big night against a Packers defense that has given up 300 rushing yards in its past two games. Peterson has run for at least 100 yards in three of his four career games against the Packers, including 192 last season at the Metrodome. The only exception came in 2007, when cornerback Al Harris’ low but legal tackle knocked him out of the game after 11 carries. Peterson returned the favor by drilling Harris with a forearm in the teams’ next meeting and seems fully engaged in the emotion of this rivalry.

Looking for a technical matchup to track Monday night at the Metrodome? ESPN Stats & Information suggests you follow how well Green Bay’s defense stands up to Minnesota’s two-tight end formation. The Vikings have used the alignment (which includes two receivers and one running back) more than all but four NFL teams this season. It has led to an average of 6.4 yards per play, be it a run or pass. That’s the third-best mark in the NFL. The Packers, on the other hand, have held teams to 4.3 yards per play against two-tight end sets. As much as anything, that’s a tribute to the transition of outside linebacker Aaron Kampman, along with the play of Brady Poppinga and rookie Clay Matthews.

Monday night will be a referendum on the Packers’ decision to stick with left tackle Chad Clifton for one more season. Clifton had surgery on both knees and shoulders this offseason, raising the question of how much he has left at age 33. The Packers didn’t craft much of a contingency plan should Clifton break down, and he’s already missed one game because of an ankle injury. He’s likely to miss this matchup as well, which would again force the Packers to move left guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle -- putting him in a difficult matchup against Vikings pass rush rusher Jared Allen. Clifton has had some success against Allen in the past, but I don’t like his chances on an injured ankle. And I definitely don’t like the Colledge matchup if there isn’t a lot of help involved. Colledge looked serviceable last week against St. Louis but you have to consider the quality of opponent.

Chicago would be smart to use Sunday’s game against Detroit to get its running game in order. The Lions have improved significantly against the run, ranking No. 16 among NFL teams, but it’s likely they will be short-handed on the defensive line. Tackle Sammie Lee Hill (ankle) and end Dewayne White (hamstring) both missed practice this week, while end Cliff Avril (hamstring) isn’t a certainty after missing the past two games. As a result, the Lions signed free agent Chuck Darby for emergency depth this week. We’ve discussed it before: Good running games are about quantity as much as quality. The Bears rank in the bottom third of the league in rushing attempts (76) this season. They need to elevate that number Sunday against the Lions.

Detroit has led at halftime in each of its past two games, but ESPN Stats & Information suggests the Lions will have a tough time holding any lead they might get at Soldier Field. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler already has generated two fourth-quarter comebacks this season, compiling a combined 114.3 passer rating in that span. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks have torched the Lions defense in the final stanza this season. The Lions have given up 249 passing yards and three touchdowns during their trio of fourth quarters, good for a 126.6 passer rating. Look at the bright side, though. This analysis alone is a sign of progress for the Lions. By the end of last season, no one was breaking down their chances for holding a fourth-quarter lead.