Tuesday, September 13, 2011
NFC North Stock Watch
By Kevin Seifert
1. Minnesota Vikings' scoring potential: Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb managed 39 yards passing in a Week 1 that featured 300-plus-yard games from the other three NFC North quarterbacks. Overall, the NFL set a single-week record by combining for 7,482 passing yards, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. We have a passing division within a passing league, but the Vikings appear most equipped to move the ball as a power running team. Let's assume they get more efficient and proficient within that structure. Will they be able to score enough points, and quickly enough, to keep up in division games? The Green Bay Packers scored 35 offensive points last Thursday against the New Orleans Saints. The Detroit Lions' offense scored 27 and the Chicago Bears' offense put up 23. The Vikings' offense? It managed 10 points, the lone touchdown set up by a 46-yard run from tailback Adrian Peterson. Philosophically, the Vikings are swimming upstream.
2. Consternation about the kickoff rule: NFC North teams returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns in Week 1, matching their total of the entire 2010 season. Packers rookie Randall Cobb had a 108-yard return Thursday night, and the Vikings' Percy Harvin scored on a 103-yard return Sunday. I'll have more on the blog later Tuesday, but suffice it to say, we have seen no evidence yet that the new kickoff rule will wipe out the potential for an exciting return.
3. Charles Woodson's bank balance: It would be surprising if the NFL doesn't fine the Packers' cornerback for punching Saints tight end Donald Thomas last Thursday. Officials penalized Woodson 15 yards for the play but passed on the option to eject him from the game. I know things get heated during a game, and even the most mild-mannered gentlemen, as Woodson has developed into, can lose their temper. But I'm sure I don't have to remind Woodson that he is the role model for most young players on the Packers' roster. He needs to keep his cool if for no other reason than to ensure the rest of the Packers do as well.
Julius Peppers (90) was in Matt Ryan's face on numerous occasions on Sunday.
1. Julius Peppers, Bears defensive end: There has been plenty of talk about the surprising debut of defensive tackle Henry Melton, who had two sacks and seven quarterback hits Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. But let's not forget that Peppers also had two sacks and forced a fumble that linebacker Brian Urlacher returned for a touchdown. Peppers is the top priority of any opposing offense, and that's part of the reason he finished 2010 with a relatively low eight sacks. But Sunday was not only a reminder of what he can do for himself, but also what he can do for other players. Nothing against Melton, but I don't think he finishes with such gaudy numbers if Peppers isn't on the field.
2. The temper of Jim Schwartz, Lions coach: Schwartz appeared to be seething after Sunday's 27-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and I don't think it was just for effect when the television cameras lit up. If you have a copy of Sunday's game, go back and watch Schwartz going berserk on right tackle Gosder Cherilus after his late-game penalty stopped the clock and gave the Buccaneers extra time to mount a potential game-tying drive. I've heard Schwartz chastise players for "stupid" mistakes during training-camp practices on several occasions. He obviously places a big emphasis on players keeping their mental wits about them in pressure situations, and that's part of why he was so upset Sunday. But in the end, Schwartz was handed a coach's dream: A victory with plenty of humbling material to present players afterward.
3. Good citizenry in Green Bay: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 312 yards in last Thursday's game, but none of his receivers had a 100-yard game. And from what I could tell, no one was close to upset about it. Receiver Greg Jennings led the way with 89 yards on seven catches. Tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught three passes for 53 yards, said: "In this offense, we know that we have to make the most of every opportunity you get with the ball in your hands. When that happens, you better do something with it, because you don't know when you'll get it again." Sounds like a good policy to me.