NFC North: Free Head Exam 2011 Week 3

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
5:30
PM ET
After the Minnesota Vikings' 26-23 loss Sunday to the Detroit Lions, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss to the Detroit Lions, the Vikings take a seat in the examination room.

  1. Leslie Frazier mostly played it by the game-management book as the Vikings' interim coach last season, but this season there have been a number of instances in which his decisions and explanations don't add up. In Week 2, he didn't use a timeout during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' final possession, saying afterwards that he was confident his defense would make a stop or generate a turnover. Sunday, Frazier tried to put the game away with a fourth-down play at the Lions' 17-yard line in the fourth quarter. But he approved a run to backup Toby Gerhart, who was lined up at fullback, instead of involving Adrian Peterson. Most running backs would have struggled in that spot given the way the Lions' defensive line pushed back, but Peterson would have had the best chance. Frazier said he thought the play would work, but ultimately he allowed offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to get too cute. Frazier did acknowledge the Vikings erred in giving Peterson only five carries in the second half, which might have been the more egregious game-management error. How could you forget about Adrian Peterson?
  2. I realize cornerback Chris Cook was the defender on Calvin Johnson's 32-yard touchdown reception, but from what I saw, Cook had quite an encouraging day overall. Most notably, he knocked down a late pass that could have gone for a touchdown. Cook looked aggressive and confident, and it was reminiscent of his rookie training camp in 2010. There's no shame in getting beat by Johnson, and Cook had a few victorious moments of his own.
  3. The Vikings had free agent left tackle Max Starks in for a visit Monday, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. It's not uncommon for teams to take a look at available veterans in the event an emergency replacement is needed, and there is no indication that a signing is imminent. But the decision also reminds us that the Vikings are playing with a left tackle (Charlie Johnson) who is best suited to be a utility backup. I know we have a long way to go, but I feel relatively confident that the Vikings will enter the offseason with left tackle as perhaps their top personnel need.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Frazier has made clear he has no plans to replace quarterback Donovan McNabb, but curiously acknowledged Monday that coaches will look for mechanical issues that might be causing McNabb to short-hop passes to receivers. Said Frazier: "Whether it be his drop or whether it be his footwork, whatever we need to do to help him improve some of those balls that aren't quite on target. But that's not the only reason we are falling short. That's one of the reasons, but there are some other things we need to work on as a team." A 34-year-old quarterback isn't supposed to need mechanical adjustments midway through the season. It's yet another reason to question what the Vikings are accomplishing by committing to McNabb while rookie Christian Ponder sits on the bench.

Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
3:00
PM ET
After the Green Bay Packers' 27-17 victory Sunday against the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their win against the Bears, the Packers take their turn in the examination room.

  1. Handed an array of explosive skill players, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made clear he will throw where the coverage dictates and won't force passes to anyone he doesn't consider open. Rodgers has stayed true to his word and makes no apologies for targeting tight end Jermichael Finley on only 17 passes through three games. What's amazing is how efficient the pair have been when the opportunity arises. Of those 17 throws, 15 have been completed -- including seven of eight on Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers and Finley have the highest completion percentage (85.3) of any quarterback-tight end combination with at least 30 attempts since the start of 2010. I know it's tempting to say Rodgers should throw more often to Finley if they have such success. But their success is based on Rodgers throwing his way only under the appropriate circumstances.
  2. As we discussed Sunday night, a number of Packers players were awed by the trick punt return the Bears nearly pulled off at the end of the game. I didn't get the sense that Packers coach Mike McCarthy shared that view. "Frankly," McCarthy said. "It was poor awareness by our coverage unit." I had a mixed reaction. The Bears' design was brilliant, the timing was perfect and it's hard to imagine that anyone on the Packers' coverage team had ever seen something like it. On the other hand, you would hope that at least one or two cover men would have wondered why almost every Bears blocker was moving away from the sideline where the punt was supposed to go. Someone, anyone, could have looked to see if punter Tim Masthay had mis-hit the ball, which he hadn't, before following the Bears blockers.
  3. Rookie Randall Cobb drew a few gasps Sunday by fielding all five punts kicked his way, including a few in heavy traffic that could have led to a turnover. Personally, I like his fearlessness and think the Packers should value a player who wants every last yard he can get. I know he's already fumbled a kickoff this season, and I'm sure the Packers will talk to him about the appropriate time for making a fair catch. But in general, I would prefer aggression over caution from returners, providing they have reasonable ball security skills.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Many have assumed that veteran Charlie Peprah would move seamlessly into the spot formerly held by Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. But the Bears absolutely targeted Peprah for much of Sunday's game, and I think it's fair to say he wasn't always up to the task. One sequence that stood out in particular: Back-to-back passes of 17 yards to receiver Sam Hurd and 24 yards to receiver Johnny Knox. Peprah also missed a few more tackles than you would like to see from your free safety, at least when the Packers weren't in their one-safety scheme that brought Peprah to the sidelines. "I wouldn't give it a winning grade personally," Peprah said. "But at the same time, that's why you have 10 other guys out there playing with you." Peprah showed us last season that he can play at a relatively high level. But it didn't appear Sunday was one of those days.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
2:15
PM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 27-17 loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Now the Bears' offense is really in a pickle. We've all been telling offensive coordinator Mike Martz to run the ball more. But in retrospect, do you blame him for limiting its exposure Sunday? A 14-0 second-quarter deficit can make it tough to be patient. But more importantly, the Bears couldn't run when they tried. Half of their 12 attempts lost yardage. As currently constituted, the Bears aren't going to be successful when they throw too often. But can you force balance? Negative runs are just about the same as a sack. Their offensive line looked overpowered by the Packers' huge defensive line. Over the past two weeks, at least, the Bears have been on their heels no matter which way they've turned.
  2. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertThe Chicago Bears take their turn in the examination room after losing to the Green Bay Packerss.

  3. Quarterback Jay Cutler seemed close to bubbling over Sunday, noting that he doesn't audible and deferring play-calling questions because "I don't call the plays." He also left little doubt that he felt the Bears didn't give tailback Matt Forte enough opportunities. But Cutler deserves his fair share of blame for forcing passes downfield. I realize receivers Roy Williams and Johnny Knox both let him down Sunday with key drops, but Cutler threw two interceptions among the eight passes he threw more than 15 yards downfield. Both of those interceptions came on passes intended for Williams. He completed only two of those eight attempts. Cutler's gun-slinging mentality makes him especially vulnerable in an offense with limited alternatives. I'm not sure if it's in him to be more disciplined than he has been. Perhaps he needs more playmakers than most in order to succeed.
  4. Tight end Kellen Davis made a great individual play on his 32-yard touchdown reception, breaking three tackles on the way to the end zone. But as I watched Cutler struggle to find receivers downfield, I couldn't help but wonder about the decision to trade Greg Olsen and insert Davis as the starter. The touchdown was one of three catches Davis has made this season. Olsen is having a productive season with the Carolina Panthers, having caught 12 passes through three games, including a game-winning touchdown Sunday. I realize Martz doesn't use the tight end much, but Olsen would be the best pass-catcher on this team -- at any position -- if he were still with the Bears. Everything is relative, but it appears the Bears traded away a player who could be offering Cutler an important target right now if they were willing to use him effectively.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
I was surprised at how well the Packers ran against the Bears, especially between the tackles. Tailback Ryan Grant didn't have much traction to the outside, but he gashed the Bears for 92 yards anyway, mostly on runs behind center or guard. The Packers were able to shield linebacker Brian Urlacher from making plays on many of those runs. The Bears finished 2010 with the NFL's second-best rush defense based on total yards allowed, but that has slipped to No. 18 over the first three games of the 2011 season with basically the same personnel.

SPONSORED HEADLINES