NFC North: Free Head Exam 2011 Week 7

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
2:55
PM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 24-18 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Yes, I know. It's not who starts fast. In the NFL, oftentimes slow and steady wins the race. So it's worth noting that the Bears were three games behind the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions after Week 5. Two weeks later, they're within a game of the Lions (5-2) and are putting themselves into the conversation for postseason discussion. As of Monday afternoon, there are five teams with a better record than the Bears. They are one of three teams that are 4-3, which is the same mark the Bears had last season on the way to an 11-5 finish and the NFC North title. The Packers might not give up the top spot in this division, but the Bears are puttering along at a time when the Lions haven't yet answered questions about their 16-game endurance.
  2. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertThe Chicago Bears take their turn in the examination room after beating Tampa Bay.

  3. You'll hear plenty this week about tailback Matt Forte's 145-yard performance. It'll also be noted that Forte already has 672 rushing yards this season (second in the league behind the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson), and that he has already surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards for the season. But we also should take a moment to recognize that he has gotten some nice blocking this season. Take another look at his 32-yard touchdown run Sunday. You'll see textbook blocking, relative to their positions, from offensive lineman Chris Spencer, tight end Matt Spaeth, receiver Roy Williams (yes) and fullback Tyler Clutts. You don't average 96 yards per game on your own. For as much criticism as the Bears' offense has taken this season, it's worth nothing that it's doing some things really well.
  4. You wonder if the Bears' safety carousel will continue to turn after their bye week. Major Wright was deactivated for the game, presumably because of a hip injury, even though he had been listed as probable on the injury report. Veteran Chris Harris returned to the starting lineup as a result, but he appeared to get beat for a touchdown by Buccaneers receiver Dezmon Briscoe. Rookie Chris Conte had an interception and two passes defensed Sunday and will probably keep his starting job despite giving up a touchdown to tight end Kellen Winslow. Whether Harris or Wright starts alongside him Nov. 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles is anyone's guess.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Was Sunday about the law of averages for Williams, or is he growing more comfortable with his situation and gearing up to be a consistent contributor for a team that hopes to be in contention over the final two months of the season? I'm not sure yet. Williams caught his first touchdown of the season among his four catches and totaled a season-high 59 yards. A cynic would say that defenses are so unconcerned about him that they aren't paying much attention and will give him plenty of opportunities to make plays. Time will tell.

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
12:05
PM ET
After the Minnesota Vikings' 33-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Given the ratty state of the Vikings' offensive line, you could argue that tailback Adrian Peterson had one of the best games of his career Sunday and is producing one of the best seasons of his life. His 172 yard-yard effort Sunday was the fifth-highest total of his career and the most since he totaled 180 yards in Week 1 of the 2009 season. Sunday, however, the Vikings were using their backup center (Joe Berger) and had only part-time services of right guard Anthony Herrera, whose balky knee forced him to give way to rookie Brandon Fusco. In spite of everything, Peterson is on pace for the second-highest season rushing total of his career. Those are the kinds of accomplishments that get buried in a lost season.
  2. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertThe Minnesota Vikings take their turn in the examination room after losing to Green Bay.
  3. Here's another performance that can get lost in a 1-6 season: Defensive end Jared Allen has been in on at least one sack in all seven games this season. His 11.5 sacks in seven games surpasses the 11 sacks he had for the entirety of 2010, and he continued to punish the Packers in games when left tackle Chad Clifton doesn't play. You always expect the motors of elite players to continue running regardless of the circumstances, but we all know that doesn't always happen. Allen has set an example that some other Vikings players would be well-advised to follow.
  4. Coach Leslie Frazier has a program-setting decision to make on cornerback Chris Cook, who spent the weekend in Hennepin County jail after being arrested on domestic assault charges and missed Sunday's game. Cook's attorney told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that his client denies strangling his girlfriend. But Cook remained jailed Monday morning and a court appearance was canceled. There have been six player arrests for the Vikings in the past nine months. Obviously the issues are different in each case, and it's impossible to keep players out of trouble at all times. The Vikings would love to get Cook back on the field after watching Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers make mincemeat out of them Sunday. But Frazier also needs to make clear that off-field issues can and will impact a player's career, or at least his tenure with the Vikings, or run the risk of sending a tacit message of loose discipline.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
What made the Vikings think that veteran receiver Bernard Berrian was worthy of another chance in 2011, even if it was on a renegotiated contract at a reduced rate? Berrian had been invisible for two seasons since averaging 20.1 yards per catch in 2008. It was generally thought that he never connected with quarterback Brett Favre over the stretch, but maybe Favre was on to something. Berrian has now been deactivated twice for games this season, once as a disciplinary measure and on Sunday for reasons that Frazier wouldn't explain. Frazier said that Berrian's future will be discussed this week. If he is released, Berrian will go down as the worst veteran acquisition in an otherwise admirable time period for the Vikings.

Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
10:55
AM ET
After the Green Bay Packers' 33-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their win over Minnesota, the Packers visit the examination room.
    I mentioned this earlier on Twitter, but it bears repeating. Amid Tebowmania and everything else, I hope everyone realizes how out of his mind Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing. As he enters the Packers' bye week, Rodgers sits atop the NFL rankings in passer rating, QBR, completion percentage (71.5), yards per attempt (9.9) and touchdown passes (20). He's thrown three interceptions, two of which were tipped passes, and he's been incredibly consistent as the first player in NFL history to have a passer rating of at least 110 in each of his first seven starts to open a season. Like any team, the Packers have some flaws. But a near-perfect quarterback can compensate for many of them, and that's what Rodgers has done in 2011.
  2. I didn't notice this play live, and I probably wouldn't have gone back to look at it were it not for a mention in Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column. But Packers tight end Andrew Quarless made what has to be the best play of his career with 11 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Quarless lined up in a trips formation on the left side of the line, moved into the slot, flattened Vikings defensive Jared Allen in pass protection and then took a few steps past the line of scrimmage. As Rodgers bought time by scrambling to his right, and Quarless turned upfield and got open for what turned out to be a 21-yard gain. Quarless has been mostly invisible this season upon the return of starter Jermichael Finley, and I wouldn't have guessed he could be so physical or play that aggressively. But it was a stunning display of versatility.
  3. Sunday brought two revelations about the Packers' safety situation. One was that former starter Nick Collins, who suffered a serious neck injury in Week 2 and will miss the season, hasn't given up on playing again. He was in the locker room after the game and said: "Hopefully things work out and I'll be ready for next season. But at same time, if doctors tell me I can't play, it is what it is. We're very upbeat and we feel like we have a great chance of coming back." The other is that the broken hand of current starter Morgan Burnett, and the protective club he is wearing as a result, is absolutely hindering his play. You could see it on a number of occasions in run support, most notably when he couldn't hold on to Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson during a 54-yard run in the third quarter. Obviously, Burnett isn't the first safety to miss an open-field tackle on Peterson. But he was in position to make the play and got his arms in the right spot. He just physically couldn't hold on.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
While we were paying attention to silly peripheral things like the Packers' Super Bowl championship, Mason Crosby has developed into one of the most reliable place-kickers in the game. I'm not sure how we missed it, but Crosby hasn't missed a kick since hitting the left upright on an attempt in Week 13 of last season. Since then, he has converted 21 consecutive kicks, including four in Sunday's game. One of them, a 58-yarder in the third quarter, set a Packers franchise record. I heard some mild grumbling from you this summer when the Packers re-signed Crosby to a five-year contract, but I think you're starting to get the picture now.

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Monday, 9/8