Friday, November 2, 2012
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:
Heading to bye: The Green Bay Packers are hoping to squeeze out one more victory to enter their bye week 6-3 and emerge, presumably, with a much healthier team. The Arizona Cardinals are reeling, having lost four straight after a 4-0 start, and their franchise hasn't won in the state of Wisconsin since 1949. (They are 0-7 at Green Bay over that span.) I will be most interested to see if the Packers try to get tailback James Starks more involved in anticipation of using him regularly in the second half of the season. Alex Green hasn't been explosive or productive in three starts after Cedric Benson's foot injury, and Starks has been biding his time on the sideline. I understand the Packers' hesitance in trusting Starks based on his injury history, but at some point, production -- or lack thereof -- should take top priority.
Aaron Rodgers has proved this season that blitzing defenses don't faze him.
Blitzing Rodgers: The Cardinals have been a heavy blitz team this season. In three games they have sent at least one extra rusher on more than half of their defensive snaps, most recently Monday against the San Francisco 49ers. Will they dare blitz Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has torched the blitz on the relatively few snaps he's seen it this season? He has completed 70 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns in 89 drop-backs. The 49ers also had their way with the Cardinals blitz, as quarterback Alex Smith completed seven of eight passes against it.
Stopping the run: There has been so much discussion about the turnovers generated by the Chicago Bears, and the resulting touchdowns, that few people realize the Bears have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL this season. Part of that can be attributed to opponents rushing a league-low 145 times against them, but they are also averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, the eighth-lowest total against a defense. We'll find out how stout the Bears are when they travel to face the Tennessee Titans and running back Chris Johnson, who has more rushing yards over the past five weeks, 550, than any other NFL running back. Over that stretch, Johnson is averaging three yards before contact on each carry. That indicates the Titans' offensive line is generating some nice holes for him.
Catching up: Sunday's game at the Jacksonville Jaguars is one the Detroit Lions can't afford to lose if they intend to get back in the playoff race. The Jaguars (1-6) have lost each of their past three home games by at least 17 points, and their defense has an NFL-low seven sacks -- including none in the first quarter. That should give the Lions a good chance to grab an early lead, beat their season-long trend of slow starts and allow them to direct their defense's attention squarely at rushing quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Although he threw well last week against the Packers, Gabbert has a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder and might not hold up well to a barrage of early hits. He has been sacked 17 times this season, the 12th-highest total among NFL quarterbacks.
Tough to tackle: Sunday's game at CenturyLink Field will feature the NFL's two most powerful tailbacks, at least this season. The Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson has gained 404 yards after contact, and the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch has 303. Those are the top two figures in the NFL. That's not a good sign for the Vikings defense, which has struggled to tackle opposing running backs the past two weeks. On the other hand, Peterson is the Vikings' best chance to take and maintain control of a game in a tough environment. The Seahawks are 3-0 at home and 1-4 on the road, and their pass rush might overwhelm quarterback Christian Ponder if the Vikings fall behind.
(Statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.)