Tuesday, October 13, 2009
How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
1. Detroit’s offensive line: We’ve singled out Lions tailback Kevin Smith several times for his minimal production, and Sunday he was limited to 53 yards on 20 carries. He’s now averaging 3.1 yards per rush this season. But after watching Sunday’s game, it’s hard to blame Smith for running into brick walls. He isn’t seeing much daylight. On Sunday, the Lions also allowed quarterback Daunte Culpepper to be sacked seven times. The Lions notably left their offensive line out of their offseason personnel overhaul, but it’s clear it also has its limitations. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus missed the game because of injury and was replaced by veteran Jon Jansen. But let’s be clear: No offense will get very far with a limited offensive line.
2. The Mark Tauscher move: It’s going to be difficult for Green Bay to emerge in a positive light from the decision to re-sign Tauscher. If he re-claims his starting job soon and plays well, the Packers will appear to have decided simply to bide their early-season time while waiting for him to recover from a knee injury rather than identity a long-term replacement. That decision contributed to an NFL-high 20 sacks over that span. If Tauscher demonstrates he either isn’t ready to play or can’t sustain a high level, you could come down on the Packers for not finding a better solution to their early-season problems. Consider it media semantics, but one way or the other, we’ll find something to criticize.
3. Detroit’s pass defense: There’s no way to single out one player for a group effort that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 73.3 percent of their passes for 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. The Lions have made some improvement against the run, but they are totally vulnerable to the pass. To this point, personnel shuffling has done no good. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon has been in and out of the lineup, and the Lions have also inserted rookie linebacker DeAndre Levy as a starter. But the big problem is they have no one who has established a consistent pass rush. Using 240-pound linebacker Julian Peterson as a defensive end hasn’t worked to this point.
1. Greg Jennings, Packers receiver: Jennings has always appeared to be a classy player with a far more laid-back personality than many top NFL receivers. So that’s why his words Monday should strike everyone as commendable and necessary. In a professional way, Jennings told reporters the Packers need to get him the ball more to ensure success for the long haul. He also didn’t shy away from suggesting alternative ways to prevent pass protection woes from scuttling the entire offense. You know it’s not Jennings’ nature to speak out. So when he makes a strong statement, you should take it to heart.
2. Sidney Rice, Minnesota receiver: People forget that when the Vikings drafted Rice in 2007, he was 20 years old. He didn’t turn 21 until five months after the draft. What you’re seeing now is the combination of a healthy, and now experienced, receiver who has developed exceptional ball skills despite mid-range speed that doesn’t get him separation from many defensive backs. Rice caught a season-long 47-yard pass Sunday at St. Louis and has already surpasses his production from last season. Most importantly, Rice seems to have earned the trust of quarterback Brett Favre and has convinced him to throw his way even though he might appear covered. That’s the true test of any pro receiver: Can he catch the ball in traffic? Rice has shown he can.
3. Minnesota’s special teams: We’ve never failed to point out the nine touchdowns the Vikings have allowed on special teams over the past 21 games. So it’s only fair to point out that this season, they are having a positive impact on field position. The kickoff return team has helped the Vikings start their average drive at the 31.8-yard line, third best in the NFL. And their kickoff coverage team is forcing opponents to start their average drive at the 24.4-yard line, the 10th-best mark in the league. Sunday in St. Louis, the Rams started six drives inside their 21-yard line.