NFC North: Free Head Exam 8
November, 1, 2010
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
After the Detroit Lions' 37-23 victory Sunday over the Washington Redskins, here are three issues that merit further examination:
- We've all celebrated Calvin Johnson for his freakish physical attributes, but I thought Sunday was arguably the toughest performance I've seen from him. On his 13-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, Johnson dragged cornerback DeAngelo Hall some seven yards to get the ball over the goal line. And as we all know, Johnson was playing with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Johnson is pretty quiet off the field and not what you might consider an alpha leader. But when your superstar produces a three-touchdown game while playing injured, it sends a key message to the rest of the team: Winning is important, and it takes superior effort. How couldn't that rub off on other players?
- We've discussed the Lions' need to learn how to win. I think Johnson's performance played a huge rule Sunday, but you also must have the kind of sequences that Stafford and cornerback Alphonso Smith produced in the fourth quarter. First, with his team trailing 25-20, Smith snatched an interception away from Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong at the Redskins' 37-yard line with 4 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the game. Seven plays later, Stafford faced a fourth-and-1 at the Redskins' 10-yard line. Obviously, they had to go for it, and Stafford calmly threw a touch pass to Johnson in the end zone for the go-ahead score. That's how teams win in the NFL. In a one-score game, they get a defensive play to gain possession and then with the game on the line, their quarterback executes with a perfect combination of calm and aggression.
- I'm not sure what else we can add to the performance of rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, already leading candidate for the NFL's defensive Rookie of the Year award and now on a short list for the NFC's Pro Bowl roster. So let's note that on the day he racked up another two sacks, the Lions also got two sacks apiece from defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. Faced with a fierce pass rush, the Redskins managed 275 total yards and 13 first downs. For the most part, it was a textbook example of how a dominant defensive line can cover for personnel deficiencies in other areas. It should also be noted, of course, that Smith has clearly upgraded the talent at cornerback, and this was also the second start of the season for middle linebacker DeAndre Levy.
Kevin SeifertFollowing their win against the Redskins, the Lions take their turn in the examination room.
Why has receiver Nate Burleson been careless with the ball? For the second time this season, Burleson lost a fumble at the end of a reception. Sunday, it came when Redskins cornerback Phillip Buchanon poked the ball free after a 25-yard catch-and-run. Burleson lost five fumbles in his first seven NFL seasons, but now has lost two in five games this season. He has always been an excellent open-field runner, but Burleson must be more mindful of ball security.
November, 1, 2010
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
After the Green Bay Packers' 9-0 victory Sunday at the New York Jets, here are three issues that merit further examination:
- Unaesthetic as it might have been, you could make an argument that Sunday's victory was the most impressive of the Mike McCarthy era. You know all of the individual challenges. They had substitute starters at left defensive end, two linebacker positions and at strong safety. They were facing the NFL's second-best rushing offense, and overall one of its best teams. Weather conditions were tough, with winds at kickoff up to 22 miles per hour. And you know how they responded: A turnover-free, if unexplosive, offense. A defense that forced three turnovers. And even McCarthy made a nice call to challenge the spot of the Jets' first-quarter fake punt. Who cares what the final score looked like? You put it all together and have a pure team victory. Speaking Monday, McCarthy called the victory "significant." I can't disagree.
- Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed only 15 of his 34 passes for a career-low 44.1 completion percentage. I'm sure Rodgers wouldn't make excuses for those numbers, but it should be noted that the wind wreaked havoc on both quarterbacks. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 11 of Rodgers' 19 incompletions were overthrown. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had nine overthrows. ESPN also credited Packers receivers with four drops, including what would have been a long touchdown by James Jones.
- Sunday marked a coming of age for punter Tim Masthay, who dropped five punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged a net of 41.5 overall. Jets returners called for three fair catches and didn't net any return yardage. In a defensive struggle on the road, I don't think you can underestimate the value of field position. The Jets started five of their drives inside the 20 yard line and only two of their possessions started on the plus side of their 30. The Packers trounced the Jets in the field-position battle, and Masthay played the biggest role in that. Monday, McCarthy called it "the finest punting performance" he has ever been involved in.
Kevin SeifertFollowing their win against the Jets, the Packers take their turn in the examination room.
I'm not sure how much consternation we should apply to the performance of the Packers offense. It's a fact that it managed only 237 yards and 13 first downs. McCarthy was critical from a fundamental standpoint, saying "we felt we just weren't very sharp" and that "we need to get back to playing football the right way." But don't we also have to give the Jets some credit for being an excellent defense? I agree that the Packers will need to play better on offense this season, but you almost want to give them a pass Sunday considering the circumstances. And it should be noted that their biggest play of the game, a 30-yard pass to receiver Greg Jennings, set up one of their field goals.