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Friday, October 30, 2009
Final Word: NFC North



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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

 
 AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid
 Jared Allen had 4.5 of Minnesota's 8 sacks in this season's first Packers-Vikings matchup.
After the teams’ Oct. 5 matchup, there was a general impression that Green Bay erred by using too many standard pressure packages and not enough blitzes against Minnesota. Quarterback Brett Favre wasn’t sacked and produced a season-high 135.3 passer rating in the game, leading everyone to assume the Packers will elevate their blitz totals Sunday at Lambeau Field. But when you look closely at that first game, you get a better picture of why the Packers limited their extra pressure. Favre completed all nine of his attempts on plays when the Packers brought five or more pass-rushers, according to video analysis by ESPN Stats & Information. He completed 15 of 23 passes against four or fewer pass-rushers. So while the Packers must find a way to get more pressure on Favre, they’ll have to be wary that he gashed them when they did blitz in the first game.

The Packers likely will have turned over 40 percent of their offensive line for this game. It’s looking like rookie T.J. Lang will fill in at left tackle and veteran Scott Wells will continue playing center for Jason Spitz (back). Veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher could also get some playing time. Will that be enough to stem the tide of a Vikings pass rush that sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times in the teams’ first matchup? I’m not sure it will be enough. The Packers will also have to address a scheme that too often left Jared Allen in a single matchup. Based on the way Allen played against them last time (4.5 sacks), the Packers need to double-team and/or chip him way more often. In the end, the Packers have to make another defensive lineman beat them.

The Bears are hoping to get healthy in a number of areas against Cleveland, including their red zone defense. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bears have allowed 11 touchdowns on 13 red zone drives over the past three games -- the worst mark in the NFL over that span. It’s one of the most tangible byproducts of the larger disorganization and scheme problems the Bears have encountered over that period. Luckily for them, however, the Browns have the NFL’s worst touchdown percentage in the red zone this season, having scored four in 15 red zone drives. You never want to risk the outcome of a regular-season game, but Sunday will be as good of a time as any for the Bears to try some alternatives to what they’ve been using in the red zone.

Two weeks ago, we suggested Chicago’s offseason attempts to improve its passing defense would be tested at Atlanta. Case closed: The Bears were unable to sack Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and have now gone consecutive games without a sack after accumulating 14 in their first four games. Suffice it to say, they better get some traction Sunday. Cleveland quarterbacks have been sacked 18 times this season, tied for the eighth-most in the NFL. If defensive end Adewale Ogunleye is going to continue his contract push, he’ll need to make some noise against Browns right tackle John St. Clair, his former teammate in Chicago.

Is this the week for Detroit tailback Kevin Smith to break through? It’s not a coincidence that Smith’s sole 100-yard game this season came in the Lions’ only victory. But when you put aside that 101-yard effort against Washington, however, you find Smith has averaged 41.4 yards in the Lions’ other five games. St. Louis enters this contest with the NFL’s 27th-ranked rushing defense, having allowed an average of 135.9 yards per game. Meanwhile, no NFL team has given up more than the 11 rushing touchdowns allowed by the Rams' defense. If Smith can get untracked Sunday, it’s easy to imagine the Lions picking up their second victory of the season.