NFC North: Third and one10

Third and one: Packers

November, 16, 2009
11/16/09
1:10
PM ET
After Green Bay’s 17-7 victory over Dallas, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. I really liked the Packers’ game plan on both sides of the ball. More important, of course, was the execution. Holding a slim 3-0 lead at halftime, the Packers had an almost 50-50 run-pass split in the second half. That’s pretty big for a Mike McCarthy offense. The end result is the Packers held possession for nearly 36 minutes and played the kind of traditional NFC North game we haven’t seen in a while -- dominated by an aggressive defense and an offense that didn’t commit a turnover. I know the Packers have one of the best big-play passing games in the NFL, but their mantra for the rest of the season should be: “Whatever it takes.” Sunday, that meant keeping things tight. In fact, they had only two plays longer than 14 yards.
  2. There’s a much better chance that rookie T.J. Lang will stick at right tackle than at left tackle. Lang had a decent day Sunday and helped the Packers “limit” Dallas to four sacks. (Everything is relative for the Packers’ pass protection this season.) Way back in the spring, there were some people who thought Lang had a good chance to beat out Allen Barbre for the starting job. Who knows how the beginning of the season might have changed, if at all, had that happened. But it’s been clear for some time that McCarthy was looking for a way, and a place, to get Lang into the starting lineup full-time.
  3. No one is giving any thought to rookie Brad Jones replacing Aaron Kampman on more than a part-time basis. Are they? Jones is much more suited to playing the position than Kampman and had seven tackles in his debut. No one is really sure how long Kampman (concussion) will be out, but let’s face it: The Packers really need to tweak their scheme to make best use of his skills. I’m not saying anything. I’m just saying.

And here is one question I’m still asking:
Anyone else see Charles Woodson whooping it up after his sack/forced fumble of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo? Woodson obviously didn’t know that rookie linebacker Clay Matthews was still chasing a live ball at the time. All’s well that ends well, and overall Woodson had a season-changing performance Sunday. I actually thought it was a revealing bit of catharsis for Woodson given the Packers’ struggles at various times this season.

Third and one: Lions

November, 16, 2009
11/16/09
11:30
AM ET
After Detroit’s 27-10 loss at Minnesota, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. No need to pile on here. The Lions’ pass defense is horrid, a fact more than illustrated in every statistic you can find. So I’ll go counterclockwise and point out one bright spot, at least Sunday: Cornerback William James displayed some exceptionally tight coverage and played a role in breaking up four passes, including one that would have gone for a touchdown to Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian. That figure is especially significant considering quarterback Brett Favre had only nine incompletions among his 29 attempts. The Lions are the fourth team James has played for in nine years, so I don’t think he can be considered a long-term solution. But Sunday, his play was noticed -- and we can’t say that about many other Lions players.
  2. I wasn’t a big fan of coach Jim Schwartz’s approach on the 4th-and-1 situation on the Vikings’ 48-yard line in the third quarter. The Lions trailed 17-10 and had some offensive momentum. Schwartz left his offense on field, but they didn’t run a play before quarterback Matthew Stafford called a timeout. It’s possible the Lions ran out of time, but it sure looked like Stafford was trying to draw the Vikings' defensive line offsides. Absent that penalty, Detroit punted. I understand where Schwartz was coming from. The Vikings had been exceptionally aggressive up front and certainly had candidates to jump the snap. But based on how the game was going at the time, I thought the Lions had a decent chance to convert. Regardless, I didn’t like wasting a timeout on that gambit in the second half of a one-score game.
  3. For me, none of the Lions’ free-agent acquisitions have been more disappointing that receiver Bryant Johnson. I had him with two drops Sunday, which would bring him to at least seven drops on the season, based on video review from ESPN’s Stats & Information. His failure to catch Stafford’s stunning pass into the end zone late in the second quarter cost the Lions four points.

And here is one question I’m still asking:
Who knew a tooth ache could be so, uh, impactful? The Lions sure didn’t when they decided to include safety Louis Delmas among their 45 active players Sunday. Delmas is a rookie and probably wasn’t comfortable telling his coaches that an infected tooth might keep him from playing. The Lions took their cues from Delmas. I don’t think this made the difference in the game, but the miscommunication left the Lions’ already overmatched pass defense undermanned as well.

Third and one: Vikings

November, 16, 2009
11/16/09
11:00
AM ET
After Minnesota’s 27-10 victory over Detroit, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. Vikings coach Brad Childress was so upset about a third-quarter roughing call on defensive end Ray Edwards that he called Mike Pereira, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, immediately after the game. And I mean immediately. The two had already spoken by the time Childress arrived for his news conference, no more than 15 minutes after the game. It was a tough call to accept if you’re a Vikings coach, player or fan. Edwards was fully airborne, with little ability to control his impact with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. And it’s questionable, at best, that Edwards hit Stafford’s helmet. Regardless, I think Childress’ reaction provides some interesting insight into both his game-day intensity and, frankly, obsession, with officiating. Let’s just say he and Pereira are well-acquainted by phone.
  2. Edwards overpowered Lions right tackles Gosder Cherilus and Jon Jansen throughout the game and probably had his best performance as a pro. His unofficial stat line included five tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. That doesn’t include the sack and forced fumble he lost on the penalty described in the point above. I haven’t gone back and watched every play again, but I think it was pretty evident the Lions decided they weren’t going to allow defensive end Jared Allen to beat them and schemed their blocking accordingly. Allen was quiet, making it all the more important for Edwards to put that type of performance on tape. Future opponents will know there is a consequence for sliding all of your attention toward Allen.
  3. Let’s give a tip of the cap to Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, for making receiver Sidney Rice a semi-controversial second-round draft pick in 2007. The Vikings needed immediate receiver help at the time, and Spielman chose South Carolina’s Rice -- a 20-year-old project -- over the more experienced and well-known Dwayne Jarrett of USC. I’d say the decision worked out pretty well. Rice is on pace for a 78-catch, 1,400-yard season. In three years with Carolina, Jarrett has 26 receptions for 277 yards.

And here is one question I’m still asking:
Why did the Vikings hand the ball to backup fullback Jeff Dugan on a fourth-and-1 attempt in the second quarter? Actually, I’m cheating a little bit. I’m not asking that question anymore because I think I know the answer. Sunday, I suggested that Dugan has been pretty efficient in short-yardage plays throughout his career. Monday, I found the numbers to back it up. Prior to Sunday’s play, Dugan had converted seven of his eight career carries into first downs. On the play, Lions defensive tackle Grady Jackson crashed into the backfield and stopped Dugan. Jackson probably would have wrapped up tailback Adrian Peterson as well.

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