Tuesday, September 20, 2011
NFC North Stock Watch
By Kevin Seifert
1. Twitter sanity: A cynic might suggest sanity is rare in social media, no matter what the topic. But I thought things got particularly silly Monday afternoon after the Green Bay Packers announced Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins (neck) will miss the remainder of the season. Two of the more rampant pleas/suggestions were to 1) Move cornerback Charles Woodson to Collins' spot and 2) Sign veteran Darren Sharper. While Woodson might one day finish his career at safety, to me it's a ludicrous idea to move him now. Cornerback is a far more important position than safety and Woodson still plays it well, even if he's not among the top two or three cover men in the game anymore. Sharper, meanwhile, is 36 and didn't seem himself with the New Orleans Saints last season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee. Would general manager Ted Thompson sign a veteran off the street, even one with Packers ties, to replace an injured starter? Didn't we learn the answer to that question in 2010?
2. Minnesota Vikings defense: Most of the preseason concern around the Vikings centered on the offense, which was undergoing a scheme change and a quarterback transition on a short timetable. While the offense has had its difficulties in the first two weeks, the more alarming trend has been a defense that has collapsed in the second half of both games; the Vikings have given up a total of 41 points after halftime. It's true that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams was serving a suspension over that period, but the Vikings haven't had any answers for halftime adjustments and their coverage in the secondary has been vulnerable at best. This is a veteran-laden group that should have more savvy than it has shown.
3. Chicago Bears offensive structure: I thought we all agreed last year that the Bears were best suited as, at the very least, a balanced offensive team. Personnel questions on the offensive line, as well as the single-blocking required of linemen in coordinator Mike Martz's scheme, all but demanded a steady diet of running plays. We also know that Martz occasionally veers from what he knows is best, as he did Sunday at the Superdome. He called for a pass on 52 of the Bears' 63 plays in a 30-13 loss to the Saints. So in this case, I blame coach Lovie Smith at least as much as Martz. Smith needs to be a stronger in-game ballast to Martz's pass-happy instincts.
This 1-yard touchdown reception by Calvin Johnson put Sunday's game out of reach.
1. Aggressiveness in Detroit: The Lions have demonstrated swagger and style along with significant substance en route to their 2-0 start. Two plays in particular stood out in Sunday's 48-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The first was quarterback Matthew Stafford's decision to fire downfield on a third-and-24 play in the second quarter, hitting rookie receiver Titus Young for 43 yards to ultimately set up a field goal. The second came in the third quarter as the Lions faced a fourth-and-goal at the Chiefs' 1-yard line. The Lions were holding a comfortable 20-3 lead late in the third quarter, but coach Jim Schwartz elected to put the game further out of reach. Turning down an easy field goal, Schwartz left Stafford on the field to throw a touchdown pass to receiver Calvin Johnson. Some have interpreted that decision as a desire to run up the score. I saw it as Schwartz teaching his team how to put opponents away.
2. James Starks, Packers running back: Many people get hung up on who starts NFL games. But starts don't always equate to playing time and production. By the latter measures, Starks has become the Packers' unquestioned No. 1 running back even though Ryan Grant has been on the field for the first play in each of their first two games. As Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com points out, Starks played more than twice as many snaps in the Packers' 30-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It has been obvious for some time that the Packers want his size and power on the field as often as possible. To date, Starks has 142 rushing yards on 21 carries. Grant has 65 yards on 15 carries. The best news: For the first time in a many years, the Packers have a legitimate 1-2 punch in the backfield.
3. Percy Harvin fan club: After tailback Adrian Peterson, Harvin is the Vikings' most dynamic playmaker and their best chance for an easy touchdown. So I fully understand and endorse the incredulity expressed by Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, who tracked Harvin's snaps in the Vikings' Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Harvin was on the field for less than half (30 of 65) of the Vikings' offensive plays, according to Pelissero. Included in that group were only three of 14 plays in the red zone. I'm sure the Vikings have their reasons, but I would love to hear them. I thought the Vikings were limiting Harvin's turns as a kickoff returner to maximize his turns on offense. Clearly, that hasn't been the case. At this point, how can the Vikings afford to keep Harvin off the field?