NFC North: Third and one06

Third and one: Lions

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
12:55
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Detroit’s 26-0 loss at Green Bay, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. As we type this, at least, Detroit has one of the thinnest quarterback situations in the NFL. Starter Matthew Stafford is having an MRI of his knee re-examined by Dr. James Andrews. Backup Daunte Culpepper couldn’t finish Sunday’s game because of a hamstring injury. And No. 3 quarterback Drew Stanton only recently returned to practice after undergoing knee surgery. It’s possible Stafford will get the green light to resume practicing after the Lions’ upcoming bye week, but as of now the status of the position is pretty tenuous.
  2. It’s time to use the “flip pitch” play a little less liberally. It’s worked in several key situations this season, beginning with the Lions’ first touchdown of the year at New Orleans. But the Packers seemed to be expecting Culpepper to fake a draw handoff and then flip the ball to tailback Aaron Brown on 4th-and-1 in the first quarter Sunday. Brown never made it close to the line of scrimmage. Already trailing 14-0, the Lions weren’t really competitive for the rest of the game. I had no problem with the decision to go for the first down rather than kick a field goal, but the Lions ran a highly predictable play.
  3. Yes, it’s true that everyone gets sacks against Green Bay. But the silver lining of Sunday’s game might have been the 2.5-sack performance of linebacker Julian Peterson. The Lions acquired him for exactly that reason: To give them a consistent pass-rushing threat from the outside, either through the blitz or even as an occasional defensive end. It might not sound like much, but putting that kind of production on tape will be an important asset for the Lions as teams game plan against them. Put simply, the Peterson can be a player that opponents must account for. That’s progress.

And here is one question I’m still asking:
What’s the common thread among the slew of injuries the Lions have suffered since the start of training camp? Coach Jim Schwartz said after the game that the No. 1 goal of the bye week is to get “some players back on the field.” A half-dozen starters were either sidelined or limited Sunday, including Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. I’ve gotten a lot of mailbag questions about this, and I really don’t know if there is an answer. Sometimes injuries come in spurts, and sometimes they’re magnified by a lack of depth. With a below-average talent base already, the Lions can’t expect to compete with so many of their front-line players unavailable.

Third and one: Packers

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
12:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Green Bay’s 26-0 victory over Detroit, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. The Packers made at least two quality adjustments during their bye week: Inserting rookie Clay Matthews as a full-time starter at outside linebacker and allowing linebacker Aaron Kampman to rush the passer a dozen times from his familiar defensive end position. Matthews had been improving each week after recovering from a summer-long hamstring injury, and he made a huge impact Sunday. I was especially impressed with the way he destroyed Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew on the way to a sack of quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Meanwhile, it was obvious to everyone that Kampman wasn’t influencing games enough as a pure outside linebacker. He’s the team’s best havoc-wreaker and the Packers were smart to return him to his comfort zone, even if it was only on a part-time basis.
  2. We noted that most NFL teams won’t win often when they allow five sacks a game, as the Packers did Sunday (and are averaging this season). Well, here’s a note from the Elias Sports Bureau to flesh that all out: Sunday’s victory was the NFL’s largest margin of victory in a shutout over the past 18 years when the winning team gave up five or more sacks. The last time a similar scenario occurred was in 1991 when, coincidentally, Packers quarterback Don Majkowski was sacked six times in a 27-0 victory over Tampa Bay. Bottom line: It’s pretty rare to win by 26 points when you give up five sacks. At least one of them could be attributed to a missed assignment by right tackle Allen Barbre, who let defensive end Cliff Avril pass him untouched on the way to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
  3. If I had a viewing choice, I’m not sure I would have made it past the first quarter Sunday. The Packers already had the game comfortably in hand, but the sloppy play on both sides made this an eyesore. It wasn’t unexpected from the Lions, who quite frankly are not a good team. The Packers have much higher expectations, but their six first-quarter penalties were, if nothing else, a brutal coat of rust coming out of the bye. Most opponents will capitalize on those mistakes better than the Lions did.

And here’s one question I’m still asking:
Is this who Ryan Grant is? He needed 24 carries to reach 90 yards against a Lions defense that gave up 121 to Chicago tailback Matt Forte two weeks ago. We all know Grant had a great 10-game run in 2007, when he averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Since the start of last season, however, he has rushed for 1,550 yards on 403 rushes. That’s 3.8 yards per rush. His longest run over that stretch was a 57-yarder in the 2008 season-opener against Minnesota. When you’re speaking of sample size, Grant has been a 3.8-yard runner for a much longer period of time than he was a 5.1-yard runner. Just saying.

Third and one: Bears

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
11:15
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Chicago’s 21-14 loss at Atlanta, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. We might never see what linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa could have done in a full season with the Bears. Tinoisamoa re-injured his right knee Sunday night and his availability for the rest of the season could be in doubt, according to ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson. Normally you would just call for the next man up, but I was pretty impressed with what I saw Sunday night and thought Tinoisamoa could have been a difference-maker this year. Anyone who stands up Atlanta tailback Michael Turner the way Tinoisamoa did in the second quarter deserves serious credit. The Bears can’t be thrilled with their linebacker depth at this point. They now have to hope that Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) can return to the lineup quickly so that Nick Roach can move back to his more natural strongside position to replace Tinoisamoa. Although he wasn’t the first NFL middle linebacker to fall for it, Roach got turned around big-time on Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez’s touchdown reception.
  2. Quarterback Jay Cutler played much better against added pressure than he did against Atlanta’s base defense. According to video analysis performed by ESPN Stats & Information, Cutler completed 11 of 14 passes against the Falcons’ blitz for 147 yards and both of his touchdowns. That means both interceptions came against four pass-rushers; overall he completed 16 of 29 passes for 153 yards in those situations. Opposing defensive coordinators, take that paradox for what it’s worth. The best conclusion you can draw is that both interceptions were unforced errors, as they like to say in tennis.
  3. I think you got a pretty good explanation for why the Bears have struggled to get tight end Greg Olsen more involved. There are always multiple defenders around him, whether he’s running a 6-yard drag route or sprinting downfield through the seam. His 41-yard reception in the fourth-quarter was simply an exceptional catch in traffic. No one is going to give Olsen the usual defense against tight ends until one of the Bears’ receivers demands a double team. Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox have all produced this season, but there’s a big difference between production and requiring extra coverage. Until that point, Olsen is going to be minimized in the downfield game. If you take away his longest two receptions this season (41 and 29 yards), you find that Olsen is averaging 6.2 yards on 85 percent of his catches.

And here is one question I’m still asking:
Why isn’t Matt Forte getting more yardage when defenses are working harder to stop the pass? Chicago’s once-reliable tailback has rushed for 294 yards this season, 121 of which came two weeks ago against Detroit. That means Forte is average 43.2 yards per game against opponents who are not the Lions. With defenses focusing on Cutler, it’s hard to understand why Forte and the Bears aren’t more consistent on the ground. There is definitely an offensive line component to this problem, but Forte hasn’t gotten much yardage on his own, either. Back-to-back fumbles Sunday night suggest he’s starting to press a bit. Unfortunately, the Bears didn’t acquire an every-down alternative following the preseason loss of Kevin Jones.

Third and one: Vikings

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
10:40
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Minnesota’s 33-31 victory Sunday over Baltimore, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. In trying to convey the chance nature of this victory, I glossed over the career-changing performance of receiver Sidney Rice. His 58-yard reception in the fourth quarter not only set up the eventual game-winning field goal, but it also gave him the first 100-yard receiving game of his career. Rice has developed an indisputable connection with quarterback Brett Favre; on the 58-yard reception, he adjusted a 12-yard comeback route into a straight go route. Favre followed Rice’s thinking and was rewarded for giving him a chance to make the catch in traffic. With a 6-foot-4 frame and a near 50-inch vertical leap, Rice makes it extraordinarily difficult for cornerbacks to beat him to the ball. Once pigeon-holed as a red zone specialist, Rice has now emerged as an all-field threat.
  2. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has 12 touchdowns since the start of the 2008 season, second only to Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (13) over that span. But if Minnesota had its way, his 1-yard scoring reception Sunday would never have happened. The Vikings had the wrong personnel on the field for the formation, according to Favre, and coach Brad Childress tried to call a timeout. Fullback Naufahu Tahi, for one, had never been used in the play before. But Favre pushed on and ran the play anyway. “I knew by [Tahi’s] look that he had no clue,” Favre said. “He hadn’t run that play. You just have to be able to adapt sometimes. I thought we did a good job at it. … I feel real confident with our guys that we can do things like that.”
  3. Runs of 26 and 58 yards helped tailback Adrian Peterson to his first 100-yard game since opening weekend, an especially impressive statistic considering the opponent. Yes, the Ravens had allowed 127 yards to Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson a week before. But Peterson’s 143 yards Sunday were an 11-year high against a Ray Lewis defense, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Lewis has missed some games over his career, but the last time he played in a game in which an opposing runner had a better day was in 1998, when Chicago’s James Allen rushed for 163 yards.

And here’s one question I’m still asking:
What’s the prognosis for cornerback Antoine Winfield? The Vikings’ top cornerback left Sunday’s game in the first half and did not return. The injury was first reported to be a turf toe, but Winfield said afterward it was an injury “to the top of my foot.” He lobbied to return to the game, but the Vikings considered it significant enough to keep him on the sideline even with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco on his way to a 244-yard second half. The Ravens often targeted Winfield’s replacement, Karl Paymah, as the Vikings decided to keep Benny Sapp in the nickel position. Few teams have a suitable replacement for a No. 1 cornerback, but I think you got a pretty good picture of how important Winfield is to the Vikings’ pass defense after he departed.

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