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Friday, October 14, 2011
Final Word: NFC North

By Kevin Seifert

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 6:

Stopping Gore: The San Francisco 49ers are 18-7 when running back Frank Gore surpasses 100 yards. That will put the Detroit Lions' rush defense in the spotlight Sunday at Ford Field after a year spent discussing their offensive firepower. Lions opponents are averaging 4.8 yards per carry, tied for the eighth-highest mark in the NFL. But defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, for one, isn't worried. Suh, who made a key fourth-down stop Monday night against the Chicago Bears, had this to say in his blog on the Lions' website: "The 49ers are a very conservative offense. They don't take very many risks and that's something that I think is good for us when we shut down what they want to do, which is their run game, and force them into long-yardage situations, get them behind the eight ball and having them have to come back because our offense is putting points on the board and putting points on their defense. That puts them in situations that they don't want to be in. I think that's something great for us to have, it's just a matter of us going out and executing and putting them in those tough situations."

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson could be in for a big day against a Bears defense that's allowing 135.8 rushing yards per game this season.
Peterson's chance: Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson had one of the best games of his life at Soldier Field in 2007, rushing for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Peterson probably won't eclipse the 200-yard mark Sunday night against the Chicago Bears, but he has a chance for a big game nonetheless. The Bears are uncharacteristically allowing 135.8 rushing yards per game this season, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL, and a league-high 5.7 yards per carry. Peterson hasn't hit 100 yards in his past three outings against the Bears, but he appears more determined than ever to carry the Vikings' offense. The Bears have swapped out both of their starting safeties, presumably hoping that Major Wright and Chris Conte can provide better open-field tackling if Peterson breaks into the secondary. The Vikings' pass offense isn't good enough to necessitate wholesale lineup changes. But Wright, for one, didn't generate much confidence in his tackling ability during the preseason.

Slim pickins: We've spent plenty of time discussing the Bears' presumed advantage at Soldier Field, and nowhere is it more apparent than in their recent games against the Vikings. The Bears have won nine of their last 10 home games against them, including a 2002 matchup in Champaign, Ill. The only Vikings victory over that period came in 2007, a 34-31 game that required that 224-yard rushing effort from Peterson as well as a 54-yard field goal from place-kicker Ryan Longwell as time expired. I suppose there are a number of possible explanations, but here's the simplest: The Vikings, who have played at least half their games indoors and on artificial turf since 1982, don't make a good adjustment to painted dirt/torn-up grass.

Field day: ESPN's analytics team better warm up its Total Quarterback Rating computers. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is gearing up to face a St. Louis Rams team that has already lost its top three cornerbacks for the season. Two Packers castoffs, Al Harris and Josh Gordy, could be among the Rams' top three cornerbacks in Sunday's game. The Rams have tried to make up for their personnel deficiencies by blitzing defensive backs on an NFL-high 27.5 percent of opponents drop backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Good luck with that strategy against Rodgers, who is completing a league-high 80 percent of his passes against blitzes from defensive backs this season. His QBR on those plays is 96.0, also an NFL best. Sometimes the NFL offers surprises just when you think one team has another completely out-classed, but I don't know that Sunday at Lambeau Field will be one of those times.

Matthews breakout? Everyone has a right to their own opinion about the one-sack season of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. But I think we'll be able to cast a more critical eye if Matthews doesn't make an impact Sunday against the Rams' hapless pass protection. Quarterback Sam Bradford has been sacked 18 times, tied for the NFL high even though the Rams have played only four games. And when under duress, based on the definition of ESPN Stats & Information, Bradford has completed only four of 35 passes. A lot goes into getting a sack, but porous pass protection is a pretty good start.