NFC North: 2013 Week 6 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 6

October, 14, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 19-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
AP Photo/Gail BurtonRunning back Eddie Lacy helped power the Packers to a win in Baltimore on Sunday.
Playing tough: What elements make up a physical team? Start with a strong running game. Add a defensive front that manhandles offensive linemen. Then do it on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions. If the Packers were soft in the past -- something they have been accused of in recent years -- no one could say that after watching Sunday’s win over the Ravens. The offensive linemen opened holes for Eddie Lacy (120 yards on 23 carries) and when the holes weren’t huge, Lacy barreled his way to extra yards. On defense, the Packers came up with a goal-line stop, sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times and allowed just 47 yards rushing. “If you’ve been to any of our training camp practices, you shouldn’t be surprised in seeing how we played,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “The way we played against San Francisco and Cincinnati was overshadowed by the fact that those were losses. We played very tough in those games as well. This one, I think a lot more people will pay attention to because we won, but we played equally as tough in this game as we have in the past four.”

Linebackers shine: In the absence of Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, defensive coordinator Dom Capers turned A.J. Hawk loose as a pass-rusher. Hawk came flat free several times on blitzes and recorded three sacks. He was credited with 10 tackles, including five for losses. He took over for Jones as the dime linebacker and defensive signal-caller. Meanwhile, Jamari Lattimore held up well in his first NFL start, playing Jones’ spot in the base and nickel packages. He made three tackles, including two for losses. Nick Perry, despite missing part of the game because of an ankle injury, had five pressures in just 21 pass-rush attempts, according to ProFootballFocus. His strip-sack of Flacco late in the second quarter was a huge momentum play before halftime. Mike Neal couldn’t match his production from the previous week against Detroit, when he had six tackles and a sack. “I thought we were really rolling there in the beginning with Nick and Mike, and A.J., I think probably played one of his best games,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Jamari was making plays. We had excellent push inside. It was just really a combination of everybody.”

Special-teams gaffe: You wouldn’t expect veteran fullback John Kuhn to make the kind of mistake he did after Ryan Taylor blocked a Ravens punt in the second quarter. Kuhn tried to field the blocked punt after it had crossed the line of scrimmage, which made it a live ball. The Ravens recovered and got a fresh set of downs. “Heck, no one knows more about special teams than John Kuhn,” McCarthy said. Kuhn said he knew the rule but was trying to make a play. The Ravens didn’t score, though, because the Packers came up with a stop on fourth-and-goal at the 1. “It really came back to bite us,” Kuhn said. “But our defense stood up for me and had my back, and nobody was more appreciative of that goal-line stand than myself. I kind of leave here with a little bit of a reprieve because we won the game, but that’s a detrimental mistake that I can’t make.”

Punt returner found: The Packers have may found themselves a permanent punt returner. Rookie Micah Hyde averaged 13.6 yards on five attempts, including returns of 20 and 23 yards. The Packers came into the game averaging 7.1 yards per punt return. The job had been split by Jeremy Ross, Randall Cobb and Hyde. It likely will be turned over to Hyde on a full-time basis. “We’ll evaluate it,” McCarty said. “I’m pleased with what Micah did. But he’s definitely the front-runner.”

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

[+] EnlargeLeslie Frazier & Ron Rivera
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsVikings coach Leslie Frazier talks with Panthers coach Ron Rivera prior to their game Sunday.
1. Hapless on third downs: The Vikings' defense has the second-worst third-down conversion rate in the league, and what happened on Sunday didn't help that statistic. Minnesota allowed Carolina to convert seven of its 12 third downs, raising opponents' third-down success rate to 49.3 percent this year. And for good measure, the Panthers converted a pair of fourth downs, throwing a touchdown to Steve Smith on a first-quarter fourth-and-2.

2. Newton in no hurry: Minnesota sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton just once on Sunday, as the previously erratic quarterback hit 20 of his 26 passes. For the season, the Vikings have just nine sacks, which ranks 29th in the league, and represents a stark change for a team that relies on its front four to generate consistent pressure. "It really came down to making plays, and putting people in the position to make plays," defensive end Jared Allen said. "And we aren't doing that right now."

3. QB carousel spins again? Coach Leslie Frazier said he would re-evaluate the Vikings' quarterback situation after this game, and would decide this week whether Matt Cassel will get another shot to start. The guess from here (and most corners), though, is that Josh Freeman gets the nod next Monday in New York. With an extra day to prepare, the Vikings can likely get Freeman ready, and at 1-4, their biggest priority might revolve around figuring out if they have a quarterback on their roster who can be the answer for the next few years.

4. Frazier's future: The Vikings' head coach came into 2013 in need of a successful year after the team decided to pick up his 2014 option and not offer him a contract extension, following a playoff berth in 2012. But the Vikings have started 1-4, played undisciplined football and had last-minute lapses on defense that led to decisive touchdowns in two of their first three losses. After Sunday's game, Allen said, "Guys have got to be accountable and do their job. That's not just players. That's coaches." And linebacker Chad Greenway compared the start of this season to that of the Vikings' 3-13 2011 season. Frazier has been handed a roster with some glaring holes, but most NFL teams have their warts. If the Vikings' final record even approaches their 2011 mark, it seems likely they'll be looking for a new coach.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 31-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Joseph Fauria still needs to grow: The rookie from UCLA had one of the best games ever for a Lions tight end on Sunday, catching three touchdown passes -- the most by any Lions tight end since the AFL-NFL merger. He’s a fantastic red zone threat who creates mismatches against any cornerback or safety he goes up against in the end zone. He also showed a little bit of the ability to stretch the field in single coverage against the Browns.

But the thing for Fauria is consistency. He has an insane amount of skill and could turn into Detroit’s next great tight end, but he still needs to find a way to become more involved in the Lions' offense outside of red zone plays. He knows this and discussed it last week before his breakout game. What Sunday should do is give him more opportunities in games to show he has made that adjustment. Another bonus with Fauria: He has yet to drop a pass this season.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Levy
Zumapress/Icon SMILinebacker DeAndre Levy has been all over the field for the Lions this season.
Calvin Johnson’s health: He left the locker room Sunday with a giant wrap on his right leg, and that should be expected considering he still isn’t 100 percent. But eventually teams will take a chance that Johnson isn’t able to really be the deep threat he is when healthy and sneak up more. At that point, until he is healthy, Detroit needs to figure out one of two options: either have Johnson go deep anyway and see what happens or work him as the main underneath receiver and send someone else deep who could break down defenses. The problem is, the Lions don’t have a lot of those guys.

Levy having a special season: After intercepting two passes and leading Detroit in tackles, LB DeAndre Levy deemed his performance “OK, other than the two picks, I don’t think I played too well.” That Levy is that critical of himself is part of why he has been having a monster season for Detroit. He has now intercepted four passes this season and been the Lions’ main screen killer. He is having a Pro Bowl-level year and, along with fellow linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Ashlee Palmer, has allowed both the defensive line and secondary to be able to focus on their specific jobs.

Drops are an issue: Once again, Detroit’s pass-catchers are struggling to hold on to the ball. The Lions dropped 9.3 percent of Matthew Stafford’s passes on Sunday and continue to lead the league in this statistic, dropping 8.5 percent of Stafford’s attempts. Among qualifying pass-catchers, Reggie Bush is fourth in the NFL, dropping 17.2 percent of the attempts Stafford throws to him. This is where the Lions miss Nate Burleson, who has 19 receptions and only one drop.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 6

October, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 27-21 win over the New York Giants:

Run defense: It’s still a significant issue, and it’s unlikely to get resolved anytime soon given the injury-ravaged state of the defensive line. Injuries to linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams further deplete the front seven. New York’s Brandon Jacobs became the third running back to gash the Bears for 100 yards or more, and the Giants averaged 4.7 yards per rush, which put them in manageable situations on third downs. That’s part of the reason New York converted 64 percent of third downs.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the win against the Giants.
Jay Cutler's growth: Cutler came 38 yards short of throwing for 300 yards in three consecutive games for the first time in his career, and the first time in franchise history. But the quarterback broke his own career best, with two scoring strikes, to give him a touchdown pass in 12 straight games.

It’s not all about passing for Cutler, though. The quarterback’s decision-making is markedly better than in the past, and he’s scorching opponents with sneaky athleticism when the situation calls for it. Cutler has generated a passer rating of 100 or better in two straight games, and he’s now 27-2 (including the postseason) when his passer rating is 100 or better.

Third-down conversions: On the flip side of Cutler’s improved play is the fact the Bears struggled with consistency on third down against a horrid Giants defense. Make no mistake about it: a 45 percent conversion rate for the game is winning football. But the Bears moved the chains on 2-of-3 third-down attempts in the first half. Then, nursing a 24-14 lead to start the second half, they converted just 3-of-8.

Injuries: Let’s face it, the Bears lack the cap space to try to fix the injury situation by adding or making trades for players. So they’ve got to work with what they’ve got, which won’t be an easy feat and might require some creativity on the part of the coaching staff. In addition to the injuries to Anderson and Williams, the Bears played without cornerback Charles Tillman (groin and knee) and nose tackle Stephen Paea (turf toe). It’s likely all but Williams (who will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle) will be available for next Sunday’s game against the Redskins. But all the replacement players such as defensive tackles Landon Cohen and David Bass and linebacker Jonathan Bostic need to step up, as do struggling starters such as Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin.

Bears coach Marc Trestman said he speaks every day with general manager Phil Emery about potential additions, but the truth is there’s not much they can do.

“We talk every day at some point in time about where we are, where we're going, how we're going, in terms of improving our football team,” Trestman said. “So that's always a part of really the daily process. We meet twice a week. I stick my head in the door, he does, once a day just to check in and see what we can do to help each other do their jobs.”