Tuesday, October 4, 2011
NFC North Stock Watch
By Kevin Seifert
1. Bernard Berrian, Minnesota Vikings receiver: Berrian took to Twitter on Sunday to note that he has been "open" for the past four years. I don't really care that one of his antagonists was a Minnesota state representative, one who happens to be a co-author of owner Zygi Wilf's stadium financing bill. No matter who he was speaking to, Berrian was wrong to imply that getting open means he has been doing his job. There are multiple reasons why he has been so unproductive in recent years, and they include some factors (like quarterback accuracy) that are beyond Berrian's control. I'll have more on this topic later in the week, but for now understand that Vikings quarterbacks have targeted him on 67 passes over the past 20 games. Berrian has caught 30 of them. Berrian would be well-advised to evaluate what he does, or doesn't do, to fight for the ball before drawing attention to his production.
2. Insanity in Chicago: We've hammered Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz pretty well in recent weeks for his play calling. So we should note that the Bears came to their senses in several ways last Sunday. First, they swapped receivers Roy Williams and Johnny Knox, returning Knox to his starting role. While Knox has his own issues to work through, Williams needed to be held accountable for his lack of productivity. Second, Martz called only 19 passes compared to 30 running plays. The reality is the Bears aren't in position to generate a ton of scoring on their own. Martz smartly and safely capitalized on the boost he got from the Bears' defense (one touchdown) and special teams (one touchdown, another set up and a blocked field goal).
3. Remi Ayodele, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle: The Vikings’ new nose tackle has started four games and doesn’t have a single tackle. Nose tackles don’t typically pile up tackles, and Ayodele’s top job is to occupy multiple blockers. But you would think a nose tackle would fall on a running back at some point during a four-game stretch. Ayodele doesn’t play in the nickel, and according to Pro Football Focus, he has been on the field for only 76 of the Vikings' 259 defensive snaps. That in itself is an indictment of his contribution so far. But still ….
Gunther Cunningham has adapted his defensive game plan, blitzing less and allowing his back seven to drop back and make plays.
1. Gunther Cunningham, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator: I have no idea how long Cunningham is planning to coach. He's 65 and has been coaching for 42 years. But it's nice to see him having success as his career inevitably moves into its twilight. Lost in the publicity of the Lions' offensive explosion has been a defense that Cunningham has smartly tweaked to fit his personnel. When he arrived in 2009, Cunningham estimated he would blitz on 40 percent of his defensive snaps. Now armed with one of the NFL's best defensive lines, Cunningham almost never blitzes and instead allows his back seven to drop into coverage and make plays. All three of the Lions' interceptions Sunday of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo came against a standard four-man rush. Overall, Cunningham blitzed on 10.9 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. Good coaches never get old. They adapt.
2. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers receiver: In his past 10 games, dating back to last season and including playoffs, Nelson has caught 42 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns. He has effectively emerged as the Packers' No. 2 receiver, regardless of who starts, and absolutely earned the three-year contract extension he signed over the weekend. The Packers' top draft pick in 2008, Nelson is yet another example of a homegrown talent who worked his way through the Packers' in-house minor leagues to become a top contributor.
3. Matt Forte, Bears tailback: There are three players in Bears history to surpass 200 rushing yards in a game. One is Gale Sayers. One is Walter Payton. The other is Forte, who finished with 205 yards Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Through four games, Forte has been the Bears' best player. He is obviously their rushing leader, but he also has more than twice as many receptions as his next-closest teammate. Overall, Forte has touched the ball on 37.7 percent of the Bears’ snaps and has accounted for more than half of their total yards. Rarely do you see a player in a contract year make a better case for himself.