NFC North: Three answers 12

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

After the Lions' 38-20 loss to Tampa Bay, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

1. Receiver Calvin Johnson came up with two more "oh-my-gosh" catches, including a 15-yard touchdown in the first quarter. To see him reach over a defensive back and catch the ball over his head without leaving his feet is something to behold. Johnson and quarterback Daunte Culpepper have connected on a number of those kinds of catches, which provides some hope that they could have a future together. One thing Culpepper has always been willing to do is put the ball up for his receivers -- open or otherwise -- to make a play on. More often than not, Johnson can.

2. Culpepper will remain the starter this week in part because of a concussion suffered by backup Drew Stanton. The Lions might have to activate Drew Henson from the practice squad just to have a healthy backup for their Thanksgiving Day game against Tennessee. Those who were disappointed with Culpepper's eight-completion, two-interception performance against the Buccaneers need to understand the impossible position he's put himself in. Right about now, he's entering the fourth week of his personal training camp with a new team.

3. The Lions had a 10-0 lead on Carolina and a 17-0 lead over Tampa Bay and lost both games. Sunday, the Bucs outscored them 38-3 the rest of the way. That's an incredible swing in an NFL-level game, and suggests the Lions aren't coping with the most basic adjustments by opponents. It's as if their game plan is to stick with their game plan for 60 minutes, regardless of the inevitable counter moves that opponents come up with.

And here is one question I'm still asking:

Will the annual Thanksgiving Day game be blacked out in Detroit? The Lions have had three consecutive blackouts, and as of Monday morning there was no official world if Thursday's game is sold out. Consider just another link in a long chain of embarrassments this season.
Posted by's Kevin Seifert

After the Bears' 27-3 victory at St. Louis, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

1. Linebacker Lance Briggs apparently asked a group of reporters Sunday if it looked like the defense "wanted it" Sunday against the Rams. It was a reference to an interview from earlier in the week, when Briggs said the Bears' defense will improve when it wants it enough. This was a timely week for Briggs to bring that dynamic into play; the Rams' offensive line is injury-depleted and couldn't have handled much of anyone Sunday. But to their credit, the Bears didn't let up: Five sacks and four interceptions made for their best performance in a long time.

2. This is neither here nor there, but I've been impressed with how many times I've seen diminutive Garrett Wolfe show up on special teams. Wolfe is listed as 5-7 and 186 pounds, but he's managing to be on the active roster every week primarily because he is willing and able to participate on coverage teams. His latest example was chasing down St. Louis' Derek Stanley at the end of a 75-yard kickoff return. Wolfe prevented a touchdown, and ultimately the Rams came up empty-handed on the ensuing drive.

3. Both of tailback Matt Forte's touchdowns Sunday came on inside trap plays. Left guard Josh Beekman made an especially good block on the first. It's a perfect playcall for a north-south runner like Forte.

And here is one question I'm still asking:

Is anyone going to emerge from the Bears' receiving position, which has produced 16 catches in the past three games? Everyone assumed that tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark would be the team's primary receivers, but when things were going well earlier this season, the Bears were getting weekly contributions from Rashied Davis, Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker. Davis and Lloyd combined for two receptions Sunday, and Booker didn't play because of a knee injury.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

After the Vikings' 30-12 victory at Jacksonville, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

1. Another 1.5 sacks Sunday gives defensive tackle Kevin Williams 8.5 sacks in 11 games. And by the looks of it, he has at least one more game left this season. Barring a change of timetable, it looks as if the NFL won't rule on his appeal of a four-game suspension until next week at the earliest. That means both he and teammate Pat Williams should be able to play in Sunday night's huge matchup against Chicago. There is no doubt the impact that Jared Allen has had on Kevin Williams' production in the pass rush.

2. Quarterback Gus Frerotte needs to curtail his pocket activity if he wants to make it through the season. He has been taking a beating lately, and at least in some cases it's been because he has moved outside the pocket in hopes of finding an open receiver. It's an admirable and courageous attempt to buy more time, but ultimately Frerotte is too valuable to lose down the stretch. Frerotte has been far from perfect, but it's pretty clear the Vikings don't want to put their playoff hopes in the hands of backup Tarvaris Jackson. Or at least, they shouldn't.

3. The Vikings, at least temporarily, halted their run with Maurice Hicks as a kickoff returner and employed rookie Darius Reynaud there on Sunday. Reynaud put on a show during the preseason to earn a spot on the practice squad, and he has the potential to make a difference in a tight division race. That difference, however, could go either way: He could break a big one or make a rookie mistake. The Vikings refuse to use second-year player Aundrae Allison as their primary kickoff returner, so Reynaud is their best option at this point.

And here is one question I'm still asking:

Why is Bernard Berrian returning punts? Yes, we know the logic. A player can get hurt doing his full-time job just as easily as he can on special teams. We don't really buy into the "increased exposure argument." But here's what doesn't make sense to us: Is this really the most effective way to deal with Berrian's offensive slowdown? Berrian has four catches in the past three games. What the Vikings should be doing is making adjustments to get him open more in the passing game. Instead, they're looking for alternative ways to get him the ball -- punt returns and reverses, namely. Berrian is a good open-field runner, but this is like taking a sports car off-road. It can handle the workload, but that's not what it does best.