Friday, November 25, 2011
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:
Caleb Hanie (12) gets the start Sunday for injured Jay Cutler.
Mobility: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler seems to surprise observers with his mobility. Those who know backup Caleb Hanie, who will start Sunday in Cutler's place at the Oakland Raiders, will not be caught unaware by his ability to move outside the pocket. At Colorado State and in Bears preseason games, Hanie has been a wide-open player who has a live arm but is more than willing to take off downfield if he sees an opportunity. He averaged about seven rushing attempts per game as a three-year starter in college and has had 17 carries in parts of 13 preseason games with the Bears. Mike Martz quarterbacks are typically pocket passers, but for better or worse, that's not the case with Hanie.
The Gray Hole: The Raiders like to call one of the end zones in their home stadium, now known as O.co Coliseum, "The Black Hole." But for reasons that aren't entirely clear, this season they have been a better team on the road. They are 2-3 at home and have won four of their five road games. Whether it's a fluke or a trend, it's worth noting. This season, the Bears are 2-2 on the road with victories over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Getting to Palmer: New Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer threw three interceptions in each of his first two starts this season but has combined for only one more over his last two starts. The Bears have made their defensive living this season on turnovers and, in particular, interceptions. (They entered this week ranked second in the NFL with 15 interceptions.) There has been a fair amount of talk about leaning more heavily on tailback Matt Forte in Cutler's absence, but he was already producing more than 40 percent of the Bears' total offense even with Cutler in the game. It's more reasonable to expect elevated play from their defense than Forte.
Peterson factor: How central has tailback Adrian Peterson been to the Minnesota Vikings' offense? Through 10 games, the Vikings' second-leading rusher has been receiver Percy Harvin, who has 28 carries via reverses and occasional backfield appearances. True No. 2 tailback Toby Gerhart has 24 carries. If Peterson's high-ankle sprain keeps him out of Sunday's game at the Atlanta Falcons, the Vikings will have a dramatically different offense. In this case, we're probably being kind. Their offense will be missing its only consistent playmaker and one who has the second-most carries (180) in the NFL this season.
Jenkins' revenge: The Falcons didn't want to re-sign receiver Michael Jenkins, and the Vikings quickly scooped him up in free agency in part because of his familiarity with the offense of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who had been the Falcons' quarterbacks coach. Jenkins has pretty much played as advertised: He's been reliable when the ball is thrown this way, catching 36 of the 49 passes he's been targeted on, but he hasn't been much of a playmaker after the catch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jenkins is averaging only 2.9 additional yards after each catch.