Friday, September 16, 2011
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:
Pressuring Cutler: We know that the New Orleans Saints defense has sent extra pass-rushers more often than any other NFL team since the start of 2010 season. We also know that the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler has been sacked on a higher rate of his drop backs (10.9) than any other quarterback in the NFL over that stretch. What we don't know is how effective the Saints' blitz will be Sunday at the Superdome. As we've discussed, the Bears have one of the best screen plays in the league. And in Week 1 at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers torched the Saints' blitz for 232 yards and two touchdowns on 22 plays. The Bears, meanwhile, were effective against the Atlanta Falcons' blitz in Week 1, completing eight of 12 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. One thing is for sure: We'll find out how much progress the Bears' pass protection has truly made.
Brian Urlacher and the Bears' defense will face a stiff challenge in trying to stop Drew Brees.
Defending Brees: The Saints drafted Mark Ingram and acquired Darren Sproles to give themselves a more balanced offense, but I'm guessing they'll need to take to the air to beat the Bears. We've discussed the likelihood of an inspired game from linebacker Brian Urlacher, but responsibility for stopping quarterback Drew Brees will start with defensive end Julius Peppers. After his two-sack performance against the Falcons, Peppers figures to get heavy attention from the Saints' blocking scheme. That will give defensive tackle Henry Melton an opportunity for another disruptive game from the middle. I don't like the Bears chances if Brees has time to find open receivers. Peppers, Melton and/or another pass-rusher must have a big game. For what it's worth, every ESPN expert, human and digital, picked the Saints in this game.
Defending Cam: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is hardly an unknown, but few probably thought the Green Bay Packers would be preparing to play a 400-yard passer in Week 2. Newton earned those yards last week against the Arizona Cardinals, throwing 13 passes at least 15 yards downfield. The Panthers benefited from a number of blown coverages from the Cardinals' defense, something you normally wouldn't expect from the Packers. But cornerback Tramon Williams' shoulder injury at least gives the Panthers an opening to attack. Even if Williams plays, the Panthers would be well-advised to test him early. I'm guessing the Packers will have more answers than the Cardinals did, but the Packers face a bigger challenge than you might have thought even a week ago.
Lions streaking: Would you believe the Detroit Lions' five-game regular-season winning streak, dating back to last season, is tied for the second-longest among NFL teams? No matter what you think about parity in the NFL, the Lions should make that streak six games against the Kansas City Chiefs. That's what playoff-caliber teams do: Win the games they're supposed to, especially at home, and grab a few on the road as well. Indeed, every NFL expert picked the Lions to win this game. In case you're wondering, the Lions' last six-game winning streak came 16 years ago in 1995, when they won seven consecutive games. But who's counting?
Home advantage: Since 1982, the Minnesota Vikings have won two-thirds of the games they've played at the Metrodome. Even in last year's 6-10 debacle, they won four of the six games played there before the roof collapsed. Regardless of what you think of it as a facility, the Metrodome has traditionally served as a rallying point and an occasion to reverse karma for the franchise. I don't want to say that any Week 2 game is a must-win. But if the Vikings plan to compete for a playoff spot this season, this is the kind of game -- especially against an NFC opponent -- they'll need. For what it's worth, new quarterback Donovan McNabb has won both starts at the Metrodome while with the Philadelphia Eagles, completing 65.7 percent of his passes and surpassing 300 yards in both efforts.