Tuesday, November 8, 2011
NFC North Stock Watch
By Kevin Seifert
1. Communication in the Green Bay Packers' secondary: It's true that Packers defensive backs made three of the most critical plays in Sunday's victory over the San Diego Chargers. Safety Charlie Peprah and cornerback Tramon Williams each returned interceptions for touchdowns, and Peprah added a second interception to clinch the game with 14 seconds remaining. But anyone who has watched the Packers' pass defense has seen a number of blown coverages in recent weeks, be it on Michael Jenkins' 72-yard reception for the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7 or Vincent Jackson's 38-yard play Sunday for the Chargers. With each instance, we learn more about the value of injured safety Nick Collins, who has made most of the positioning calls for the Packers in recent seasons.
2. Clarity in the Detroit Lions' backfield: On several occasions, the Lions have downplayed their modest running game totals by noting how explosive they've been via the air. It's a fair point, and it's not worth obsessing over their running game as we move into the second half of the season. With that said, Monday's return of tailback Kevin Smith makes you wonder exactly what is in store for the backfield moving forward. Was it a sign that starter Jahvid Best's return is far from guaranteed? Is Smith just extra insurance for the people ahead of him, a list that includes Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams? Or are the Lions like the rest of us -- unsure where this is all headed -- and making sure they are fortified for each contingency?
3. High-mindedness in Minnesota: Sure, it sounded like a tough plan in theory for the Minnesota Vikings to release cornerback Chris Cook. He has been charged with a particularly infuriating crime, felony strangulation of his girlfriend, and the Vikings would have gotten a public relations boost in some areas had they cut their losses. But let's get real for a moment. Rare is the NFL team that will justify releasing a 24-year-old cornerback who was making substantial progress this season because of an untried legal issue. Cook's next court date isn't until Nov. 22. In the meantime, the Vikings have given Cook a paid vacation to get himself straight. I can't blame them.
Brian Urlacher made plays all over the field Monday night, collecting 10 tackles.
1. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears linebacker: There were plenty of heroes in the effort to limit Philadelphia Eagles stars Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson in Monday night's victory. Linebacker Lance Briggs, for one, played an inspired game. But Urlacher seemed to be running all over the field all night, collecting 10 solo tackles and tipping two passes. Vick managed 33 rushing yards and McCoy only 71 -- of which 33 came on one play. What you saw Monday night was a 33-year-old Urlacher playing the way he did when he was 23. An impressive effort, not to mention a lot of 33's.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers quarterback: Rodgers could be a staple in this feature, but we try to save him for special occasions. In this case, Rodgers capped his MVP first half with a number of accomplishments worth noting. First, his 64-yard pass Sunday to receiver Jordy Nelson was one of the best throws I've seen him make. Rolling to his right, Rodgers didn't have time to set his feet and simply flung the ball about 55 yards in the air. Second, that pass helped elevate Rodgers' completion percentage on throws of 20 or more yards downfield to 65.2 percent this season. That's a better completion percentage than all but three NFL quarterbacks have on all of their throws. Amazing.
3. Earl Bennett, Bears receiver: How much different did the Bears' offense look with Bennett back after a near two-month absence? He caught all five of the passes quarterback Jay Cutler threw him Monday night, totaling 95 yards and what amounted to the game-winning touchdown. It's long been established that Cutler loves throwing to him, but Monday you saw why: Bennett is tough, sure-handed and reliable in clutch situations. Other than tailback Matt Forte, you really couldn't say that about any other Bears skill position player this season.