NFC North: Third and one09

Third and one: Lions

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
2:43
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Detroit’s 32-20 loss at Seattle, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. Some of coach Jim Schwartz’s lineup changes are taking on a Belichickian quality. Schwartz got his NFL start under Bill Belichick in Cleveland. And like his mentor, Schwartz isn’t afraid to match starting lineups with an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. On Sunday, that meant deactivating nose tackle Grady Jackson and jumbling his starting lineup. Schwartz started three defensive ends -- Turk McBride, Cliff Avril and Dewayne White -- and linebacker Julian Peterson as his four defensive lineman in a nickel arrangement. (At least, that’s what the NFL’s official gamebook reported.) That smaller, quicker group helped limit Seattle tailback Julius Jones to 36 yards on 16 carries. Unfortunately, the Lions couldn’t do much to stop quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who completed 39 of his 51 attempts.
  2. I’m continually amazed by the revolving door not only in the Lions’ starting lineup, but on their roster overall. Three of their starters Sunday -- McBride, nickelback Kevin Hobbs and safety Ko Simpson -- joined the team after Sept. 1. I don’t know that any of them have futures with the team, but it’s clear that the Lions will continue to give real-time tryouts as they try to upgrade their talent following the Matt Millen era.
  3. Losing a 17-0 first-quarter lead was only the latest chapter in a season’s worth of missed opportunities. “Sustaining” should be among the mantras of their offseason. I don’t think the Lions are consciously relaxing after taking leads. If anything, it represents an understandably shallow pool of options in Schwartz’s first season. NFL games are chess matches, and the Lions don’t have enough countermoves yet. Sunday, they accomplished their goal of stopping the Seahawks’ running game but couldn’t do much to limit Hasselbeck.
And here is one question I’m still asking:
It’s clear quarterback Matthew Stafford’s right knee isn’t fully healed from an Oct. 4 injury. But the question is this: Is Stafford healthy enough to play effectively? I don’t see him struggling to move or putting himself in an otherwise compromising situation. So I don’t think the Lions are risking further injury by playing him. But some of the ducks he threw Sunday are indicative of a quarterback who doesn’t feel totally confident while stepping into a throw or has lost some leg strength or upset his mechanics while recovering.

Third and one: Packers

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
2:06
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Green Bay’s 38-28 loss at Tampa Bay, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. Disappointing seasons naturally lead to questions about the current leadership structure, so I’m sure a Packers fan or two might be wondering about the future of general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy. It is, of course, way too early to make any predictions. At 4-4, the Packers could still go either way with their season. Ultimately, however, I’ll hold tight with what we discussed in March. McCarthy certainly has responsibility for how the team plays on a weekly basis, but I think it’s fair to hold Thompson accountable for the fate of this season. As we discussed, Thompson stood pat from a personnel perspective after a 6-10 season. Free agency isn’t a cure-all, but to intentionally dismiss any avenue for improving after a losing season is a risky path for any NFL team-builder.
  2. The Packers are headed for another offensive line shakeup after new right tackle Mark Tauscher sprained his knee Sunday. Tauscher has only a “slight” chance of playing this week, coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. His likely replacement isn’t clear -- Allen Barbre? T.J. Lang? -- but it’s now time to start wondering if the Packers will ever get their pass protection issues solved. They have given up 37 sacks through eight games, putting them on pace for 74 over the course of the season. In case you’re wondering, the NFL record for most sacks absorbed by a quarterback in a 16-game season is 76, by Houston’s David Carr in 2002.
  3. McCarthy said Monday that he believes new special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum has done a “good job” in his first season. But considering the rampant breakdowns over the past two weeks, it’s only natural for Slocum to face some scrutiny. In the NFL, you rarely see an interior lineman go unblocked in punt protection, but that’s exactly what happened Sunday to the Bucs’ Geno Hayes. McCarthy said the play resulted from a “mental error” and media reports suggested that upback John Kuhn missed his assignment. The only reason the Packers’ special teams haven’t received more scrutiny is that their offensive line and defensive scheme have caused greater concerns.

And here’s one question I’m still asking:
Is it possible the Packers are poorly conditioned? When your opponent outscores you 21-0 over the final 11:34 of the game, you at least have to wonder. The Packers set up a new personnel rotation to help rest players in the Florida heat, and McCarthy said Sunday and Monday that he might have worked his team too hard in practice during the week. The gametime temperature at Raymond James Stadium was 82 degrees, but no team with playoff aspirations -- and especially one that has the lowest average age of any NFL roster -- should run out of gas in those conditions.

Third and one: Bears

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
1:02
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Chicago’s 41-21 loss to Arizona, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. I’ll go into more depth on this Tuesday, but for now I think the Bears’ biggest problem on defense is they don’t have a big-time playmaker. At least, they don’t have one who is consistently making the type of game-changing plays -- sacks, interceptions, touchdowns -- that alter the course of games. That was always the hallmark of their mid-2000’s defenses. Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has that ability, but he’s been invisible in the Bears’ recent blowout losses. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris has fallen off the deep end. Cornerback Charles Tillman has returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown and has forced two fumbles, but his impact hasn’t been nearly enough to compensate for his slumping teammates.
  2. The Bears continue to have depth issues in their offensive backfield. Adrian Peterson is back from a knee injury, but it looks like Garrett Wolfe will miss at least a few weeks because of a lacerated kidney. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports Wolfe will be hospitalized for at least one more day after suffering the injury in Sunday’s game. I’m fully aware that former Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson is now available, but I don’t see him as a fit in Chicago. There’s no reason for the Bears to take that risk when they aren’t willing to use a second running back. Matt Forte is the only tailback that gets on the field.
  3. There will have to be a tremendous turnaround for Chicago to bring back Harris next season. What’s the upside? Harris no longer makes a big-play impact. He has clashed with the team on his practice schedule, leading to a paid one-week sabbatical. And more than a few teammates were upset with his ejection from Sunday’s game. If nothing else, Harris left the Bears’ defensive line one man short of its usual rotation. Players are used to compensating for injured teammates. But his ejection left his teammates disappointed and perhaps suspicious as well. Defensive end Alex Brown, for one, angrily refused to talk about a player he has defended throughout the year.
And here is one question I’m still asking:
Why does Jay Cutler spend so much time jawing with opponents and officials? I realize Cutler is combative, competitive and ornery. Those personality traits have no doubt played a role in his football success. They feed his aggression and playmaking ability. But I don’t see anything good coming from the verbal volleys. On Sunday, it eventually cost the Bears 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. More importantly, it sets a chaotic tone for the rest of the offense. If the general is off complaining to referees and taunting opposing players or -- in the case of Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan -- coaches, there is no one left to lead and organize the troops.

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