Tuesday, October 6, 2009
How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
1. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay tight end: Finley enjoyed a breakout game on a national stage Monday night, displaying the kind of downfield playmaking that had so many people excited this summer. He finished the evening with six catches for 128 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter and also a 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter. The touchdown play displayed all of his skills: He ran past Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield, juked safety Tyrell Johnson and dragged cornerback Cedric Griffin for the final 5 yards. This might have been the week where Finley passed veteran Donald Lee, who dropped a critical fourth-down pass in the end zone.
2. Jared Allen, Minnesota defensive end: Brett Favre got all of the attention, but Allen might have been the best player on the field Monday night. His motor ran non-stop despite a sinus infection that had him speaking in a cracked voice after the game. His 4.5-sack night, which included a safety, brought his four-game sack total to six. It’s still not clear why the Packers thought they could check him with mostly single-blocking schemes. But if there was any doubt, Allen showed what he will do when opponents try to cheat on him. Consider this statistic when evaluating the Vikings’ decision to acquire him last season: He has 20.5 sacks over the first 20 regular-season games in Minnesota.
3. Matt Forte, Chicago tailback: The Bears’ running game had been a point of concern for fans and media over the past few weeks -- right up until Forte dashed 61 yards on his first carry Sunday against Detroit. Later, Forte had a 37-yard touchdown run and finished with 121 yards on 12 carries. There remains room for improvement; he managed 23 yards on his other 10 carries. But the two long runs each led to touchdowns for the Bears, and that translates into a productive day for any running back.
1. Dom Capers, Green Bay defensive coordinator: Capers got plenty of recognition when his defense shot out of the gates on opening weekend, intercepting Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler four times. His zone-blitzing scheme seemed the perfect tonic for the problems that plagued the Packers last season. But it was hard to explain why Capers called such a passive game Monday night. He seemed to ignore the blitzes in favor of a run-stopping package against tailback Adrian Peterson. That’s an understandable approach in theory, but in reality the Packers overcompensated. Peterson managed only 55 yards on 25 carries, but Favre was rarely hurried and hit only once. The result? Favre picked the Packers apart.
2. Adrian Peterson’s grip: There aren’t too many more ways to say this: Peterson has got to find a way to protect the ball better, whether he’s being gang-tackled by 10 players or tripped up by one. His strength admittedly worked against him Monday night, when the Packers’ inability to bring him down on a second-quarter run ultimately gave linebacker Clay Matthews time to rip the ball away and return it 42 yards for a touchdown. But the play gave Peterson 15 fumbles since the start of the 2007 season, the highest total for a running back over that span. Unfortunately for him, Peterson is doing nothing to discourage future opponents from ripping, grabbing and punching the ball more frequently.
3. Detroit’s special teams: The Lions gave up four returns of 24 or more yards, including a 102-yard kickoff return to the Bears’ Johnny Knox. Some of that can be credited to the typically superior Bears blocking schemes. But over the course of the game, the Bears’ average drive started at the Lions’ 46-yard line. That’s right: Six of their 13 possessions started on the Lions’ side of the 50-yard line. Detroit’s defense isn’t nearly good enough to handle that type of short field on a consistent basis. Things were just as bad in the flip scenario: The Lions’ average drive started at their own 18-yard line.