Wednesday, September 22, 2010
How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch
By Kevin Seifert
1. Minnesota Vikings' scoring power: The Vikings averaged 29.4 points per game last season but have a total of 19 points through two games in 2010. Only the Buffalo Bills have scored less over that span. The Vikings are moving the ball, but their failure to finish drives and their five turnovers are an obvious symptom of an offense out of sync. We'll find out Wednesday if they're able to acquire receiver Vincent Jackson, but he isn't the solution to all of their issues. The Vikings are still experimenting with their pass-run ratio, but in a passing league, it will ultimately fall to quarterback Brett Favre to find a way to get the ball into the end zone.
2. Going for it on fourth down: Minnesota coach Brad Childress' team was 1-for-4 on fourth down Sunday, twice falling short inside the Miami Dolphins' 27-yard line. The Detroit Lions were 0-2 on fourth down in their 35-32 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, including one somewhat-controversial call from coach Jim Schwartz that eschewed a fourth-quarter field goal attempt. Both coaches were trying to jump-start their offenses, and of all the decisions, the only one I could question was trying to convert a fourth-and-2 at the end of the Vikings' opening drive. A 43-yard field goal attempt from Ryan Longwell wouldn't have been all bad, especially considering the 2 yards necessary to convert.
3. The blitz: The Chicago Bears were one of the NFL's most frequent blitzers last season but have brought those numbers down dramatically, and with good success, in 2010. (According to ESPN Status & Information, the Bears blitzed 30 percent of the time in Week 1 and 17.6 percent of the time in Week 2.) The Bears' front is more than holding its own against the run, having allowed an NFL-low 42 rushing yards. And although they have only two sacks in two games, the Bears have made up for it with six takeaways and are excelling with an extra man or two devoted to coverage. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo finished with 374 passing yards last Sunday, but overall the Bears have allowed only one touchdown pass this season. If you can compile those types of numbers without relying on the blitz, more power to you.
Jay Cutler's 121.2 passer rating is the best in the NFL this season.
1. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears quarterback: He maintained composure against the Cowboys' frenetic blitzing defense and essentially played a mistake-free game in the Bears' 27-20 victory. Mixed in were two beautifully thrown passes to receiver Johnny Knox (59 yards) and receiver Devin Hester (9 yards for a touchdown) that only a handful of quarterbacks could make. Through two games, Cutler is the NFL's highest-rated quarterback (121.2) and is on a personal hot streak that has seen him throw 13 touchdown passes against two interceptions over his past four games, dating back to last season.
2. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions tailback: Many of you were upset that Best was in the "falling" category last week, but Stock Watch offers week-to-week fluidity. Best managed 36 all-purpose yards Sept. 12 at Soldier Field but produced 232 last Sunday against the Eagles. There should be no question about his potential for explosiveness, especially the way he weaved through the Eagles' defense on a 75-yard screen play. It will be interesting to see how defenses react. Will they devote more attention to Best? Or will they still focus on receiver Calvin Johnson? Either way, someone will have a favorable look to make big plays.
3. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers linebacker: It's impossible to overlook Matthews this week after he became the first player in Packers history to record three sacks in consecutive games. It doesn't matter how they come, whether it is beating a double team or going unblocked against a busted protection call. Six sacks as we enter Week 3 is a precedent-setting accomplishment. After the game, reporters joked Matthews is on pace for 48 sacks this season. Matthews laughed but made clear he knows what the NFL record is: 22.5 by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants. Only 17 more to go to set a record.