NFC North: Third and one15

Third and one: Lions

December, 21, 2009
12/21/09
12:46
PM ET
After Detroit’s 31-24 loss to Arizona, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. For Detroit, the silver lining of Week 15 was that both Tampa Bay and Cleveland won. As John Niyo of the Detroit News points out, that leaves the Lions tied with the Buccaneers for the No. 2 overall pick in this still-unsettled 2010 draft order. As we’ve discussed, the NFL breaks such ties in reverse order of strength of schedule. At this point, the Lions have a big edge in that category and thus would have the second pick if the season ended today. With St. Louis possibly looking for a quarterback at No. 1 overall, the Lions would have a decent chance at landing Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at No. 2. Stay tuned.
  2. I’ve never been one to jump on the Drew Stanton bandwagon, but I think we’ve seen enough of Daunte Culpepper this season. Stanton didn’t play perfectly in the second half Sunday, but he inserted a missing element of energy into the Lions’ offense. He’s a bit unorthodox and undisciplined, but I would like to see what he might do over the final two games. It’s possible that starter Matthew Stafford (shoulder) will be ready to play this week, but if not, there’s no reason not to start Stanton. The Lions have given Culpepper an adequate amount of time to show off his arm to opposing scouts.
  3. I continue to love just about everything when it comes to rookie safety Louis Delmas, especially now that he’s gone a game without being called for an unnecessary roughness penalty. His 100-yard return of a Kurt Warner interception is the kind of game-changing big play I can rarely remember seeing from the Lions in this decade. And I liked his postgame “interview” with reporters just as much. Delmas was apparently livid with the loss and in no mood to discuss his touchdown. As far as I’m concerned, that’s awesome. It means Delmas hasn’t been “Lionized.” He hasn’t been sucked into the culture of losing.
And here is one question I’m still asking:

Why did the Lions hand the ball to fullback Jerome Felton on fourth-and-1 at the Cardinals’ 8-yard line with 9 minutes, 41 seconds left to play? I was all for the decision to go for a first down rather than kick a field goal, and I realize the Lions are trying to find out if Felton can be their “big back.” But didn’t Maurice Morris have the hotter hand? Maybe the Lions thought Felton would have a better chance of moving the pile 1 yard on his own. But he went to the ground on first contact. Morris had a better chance of bouncing the play. But look at the bright side: It’s not often we’re debating significant in-game decisions for the Lions.

Third and one: Vikings

December, 21, 2009
12/21/09
12:10
PM ET
After Minnesota’s 26-7 loss at Carolina, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. As much as I want to dismiss the possibility that coach Brad Childress actually wanted to bench quarterback Brett Favre for performance reasons, I just can’t. During his four years in Minnesota, Childress has displayed an unpredictable touch with the position. In 2006, he pulled starter Brad Johnson from two games after throwing interceptions before finally benching him for the season. He alternated between Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte over the next three years before signing Favre. Childress has allowed Favre more leeway than any of those five quarterbacks combined. But all I’m saying is that Childress has surprised us before with the way he has handled quarterbacks. We should know more Monday afternoon.
  2. I, for one, noticed that backup tailback Chester Taylor got a carry on the Vikings’ first series. That’s been a relative rarity this season, and I wonder if it isn’t related to Adrian Peterson’s five-game “slump.” Peterson has averaged 3.18 yards per carry over that stretch, and Taylor has always been productive in a limited role. Taylor only got one more carry the rest of the way, and I’m not sure if using him more is the answer. But I do think it’s clear the Vikings need to do something to shake up their tendencies and habits.
  3. I’m guessing the Vikings would be happy if they never face Carolina receiver Steve Smith again. In his past four games against them, Smith has caught 29 passes for 509 yards and three touchdowns. It didn’t matter who defended him Sunday night. Not even Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield could slow down Smith, who had nine catches for 157 yards in this particular outing. On a side note, the Panthers did a pretty good job of rolling quarterback Matt Moore away from defensive end Jared Allen, which gave him enough time to target Smith on 14 of his 33 passes. That’s how you find ways to get the ball to your best receiver.
And here is one question I’m still asking:

What is truth and what is fiction when it comes to the condition of receiver Percy Harvin? Less than 24 hours after telling NBC that he was still suffering from the effects of migraines -- and that he had an appointment at the Mayo Clinic to have two bulging discs in his neck examined -- Harvin was active and played against the Panthers. Would the Vikings really play someone with symptoms as seemingly significant as those? Or did Harvin not fully represent his condition to NBC? It’s time for everyone to come clean in this increasingly cluttered landscape. Harvin also told NBC that he missed the Vikings’ rookie minicamps and the NFL’s rookie symposium because of migraines. In May, the Vikings attributed the former absence to a virus exacerbated by air travel. Let’s get these stories straight.

Third and one: Packers

December, 21, 2009
12/21/09
11:43
AM ET
After Green Bay’s 37-36 loss at Pittsburgh, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. A change in holders is always a warning sign when it comes to kickers, and Sunday it made little difference that the Packers switched from Matt Flynn to Jeremy Kapinos. Placekicker Mason Crosby was wide on a 34-yard attempt, his fifth miss in his past 11 attempts. In a league where an 80 percent conversion rate is considered low, Crosby is at 72.7. But I still think the Packers would be tempting fate to change kickers this week. The idea of bringing in someone off the street to kick at Lambeau Field, and then perhaps the playoffs, seems just as risky as trying to make it work with Crosby.
  2. Had the Packers won Sunday, I would have considered it a seminal game in the career of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. After completing only 13 of his first 35 passes, Rodgers finished the game with 13 consecutive completions in leading the Packers back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Rodgers said afterwards that he considered himself past the point of having to prove he could lead a fourth-quarter comeback, but actions always speak louder than words. His aggressive but collected approach as the game progressed was perfect.
  3. With a half-day to reflect, I’m still really surprised that defensive coordinator Dom Capers backed into a dime defense on the Steelers’ final drive rather than aggressively rush quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. I don’t doubt that defensive backs provide the best matchup for receivers, as went Capers’ post-game reasoning. But when two of those defensive backs (Jarrett Bush and Josh Bell) are relatively new to their jobs, and when Roethlisberger has been so effective when he's had time in the pocket, I just don’t like the matchup. There was no chance for a player like Bell to stay with a receiver like Mike Wallace when a quarterback like Roethlisberger is taking the snap. The only way to defend that final play is to get to Roethlisberger.
And here is one question I’m still asking:

Why didn’t the Packers run the ball more in the first half? Rodgers explained that everyone liked their receivers’ matchups against Pittsburgh’s pass defense, and that the decision to throw on 29 of their first 35 plays was planned. But there are certain risks a team takes when planning a pass-happy approach for an outdoor road game. You saw some of those Sunday when the Steelers’ pass rush blew up the Packers’ early attempts to throw. Running the ball at an aggressive pass rush is one of the best ways to stunt it, but the Packers kept throwing. I don’t deny the matchup situation. But with the Packers, you always have to take pass protection into account.

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