NFL Nation: Lions-Falcons

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

APPLETON, Wis. - This town got off to a rousing start Monday morning. We're headquartered in Appleton, about 30 miles away from Green Bay and the home of most visiting teams for Packers games.

So it was pretty easy to connect the dots of intention when a truck cruised down College Ave., slowed down considerably in front of the Minnesota Vikings' hotel, and started laying on the horn like there was no tomorrow. Not sure what time the Vikings' wakeup call was Monday morning, but we're doubt anyone slept past 7 a.m. CT. Gametime: 11 hours.

We'll be heading up to Green Bay in a few hours and should be in Lambeau Field by early afternoon, where the blogging will commence in earnest. In the meantime, here are extended posts I wrote on the Vikings-Packers rivalry and the teams' running games.

We've brought you our "Black and Blue all over" feature since the ESPN blog network launched in July, with a goal of distilling the volume of NFC North-related stories. We hope this will be an especially valuable service on Monday mornings, considering the thousands of words most newspapers still devote to Sunday games.

Monday night's matchup between the Packers and Vikings left us with only two games Sunday, and like most people, we were surprised by the outcome of both. The Detroit Lions looked nothing like the calm and crisp team that sailed through preseason, while the Chicago Bears were able to turn the switch in time to post an improbably dominant victory at Indianapolis.

Looking at the highlights of Monday's coverage:

  • Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times noted the Bears' impressive victory. But, as only a Chicago media member can, Mulligan pointed out the Bears caught the Colts at the right time. Peyton Manning missed the preseason because of a knee injury. The interior of the Colts' offensive line was new. Lucas Oil Stadium robbed the Colts of their hometown crowd weapon. And they're an easy team to run against. Otherwise, it was a great win.
  • The Bears made two personnel changes official: Kevin Payne is the new starting safety while Dusty Dvoracek unseated Anthony Adams at nose tackle.
  • Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye had a dominating night, as the Chicago Tribune writes. Three of Ogunleye's six tackles were behind the line of scrimmage, including a safety.
  • Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press puts the Lions' opener in perspective: "When the Atlanta Falcons put a whupping on you, it's time to close shop."
  • Lions quarterback Jon Kitna was trying to stop the confidence bleed afterwards. "You cannot allow yourself to get in the mindset of, it's the same old thing," Kitna said, according to the Free Press.
  • Kitna was part of a sideline dispute with several Lions assistant coaches, but downplayed it afterwards.
  • Speaking of the same old thing: Receiver Roy Williams had one acrobatic touchdown reception, but he admitted to making the wrong adjustment on another play, leading to a third-quarter interception.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com writes the Lions' poor tackling Sunday is a reflection of a basic lack of talent, not a lapse in coaching.
  • Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune and Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal touch on the rivalry between the teams they cover. Wilde asked coach Mike McCarthy if he disliked the Vikings more than any other NFL team. McCarthy responded with a broad smile that lasted for 15 seconds before Wilde realized that was his (non-) answer.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that its time for the Packers' offensive line to come of age, even with injuries that have forced lineup changes at three positions: "Either play up to the standards of a real NFL offensive line -- starting tonight against the Minnesota Vikings -- or step aside for someone else."

Breakdown: NFC North

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
8:03
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
  • Atlanta 34, Detroit 21

We arrived in lovely Appleton, Wis., in time this afternoon to watch all of the Detroit Lions' opener at a local establishment -- Diet Cokes only.

The Lions were hoping to improve their run defense after ranking No. 23 in the NFL last season. More than likely, they'll finish Week 1 of 2008 ranked last.

If anything, the Lions' run defense looked worse than ever in an embarrassing 34-21 loss at Atlanta. Detroit gave up an astounding 318 yards on the ground, including 220 to tailback Michael Turner. Their linebackers got pushed around and, eventually, sent off the field; Ernie Sims and Paris Lenon both left with injuries at different points of the game.

Worse, Turner and backup Falcons tailback Jerious Norwood (93 yards) looked like they were running much harder than the Lions were hitting. Tackling in the Lions secondary was, shall we say, subpar.

Conventional wisdom suggested the Lions would sell out against the run, forcing rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to beat them. Instead, Turner ran for 117 yards in the first quarter alone and Ryan only had to attempt 13 passes.

An early 21-0 deficit, meanwhile, took the Lions out of their plan to re-focus the offense around their running game. Tailbacks Kevin Smith and Rudi Johnson weren't much of a factor, combining for 62 yards on 19 carries.

You don't want to put too much stock in the season opener, but this performance hardly reflected a team on the cusp. The Lions are trying to be a tougher team this season, and run defense is perhaps the best test of progress in that area. Based on Sunday's performance, you know where the Lions stand.

  • Chicago 29 , Indianapolis 13

Some naysayers questioned whether the Chicago Bears' defense could turn the switch when the regular season began after a pretty unimpressive preseason. The Bears showed they could in Sunday night's victory over Indianapolis, holding the Colts under 300 total yards and scoring nine points on its own.

Lance Briggs' fumble return for a touchdown and Adewale Ogunleye's safety harkened back to the best of the Bears' defense during the 2006 Super Bowl season. This is the way the Bears must win in 2008 as well -- combining big plays and strong leadership from its defense with competent play from the offense.

Kyle Orton and the Bears' offense did not commit a turnover, providing more than enough support for a defensive group that got its act together in a hurry.

Breakdown: NFC South

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
9:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Carolina 26, San Diego 24

It was only an opening day win, but Carolina's victory against San Diego ranks as one of the biggest victories in franchise history. It's definitely in the top five.

It's hugely significant because the Panthers went across the country, beat what was supposed to be one of the top teams in the NFL and did it without their best player (Steve Smith, who's suspended for the first two games). With Chicago coming to Charlotte next week, the Panthers have a decent shot at a 2-0 start. If the Panthers can do that without Smith, they could be in great shape the rest of the way.

That's why the victory was so important. For right now, I'll rank it third in franchise history. Here's the other four:

1. The NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia in the 2003 season. No one thought the Panthers could win that game either. They did and it put them in the Super Bowl.

2. The playoff victory against Dallas in the 1996 season. It was Carolina's first playoff victory.

4. The 1996 victory in San Francisco. It sent a message that the second-year team was for real.

5. The playoff victory against the Giants after the 2005 season. John Fox went into New York and coached the best game of his life.

Atlanta 34, Detroit 21

Not to put a damper on Atlanta's victory, but David Carr and Chris Weinke also won on opening day of their rookie year.

That's what Matt Ryan did against the Lions, but that doesn't mean he'll turn into Carr or Weinke. Ryan is a different personality than Carr, who never recovered from the shell shock of playing behind a horrible Houston offensive line.

He's also in a different situation than Carr and Weinke, who guided the 2001 Carolina Panthers to a 1-15 record as George Seifert's legacy disintegrated before our eyes.

I'm not saying it's going to be all roses for Ryan. There will be ups and downs are there are for any rookie quarterback (except Dan Marino). But the Falcons are handling Ryan perfectly so far.

They're not asking him to win games on his own. Against the Lions, he only attempted 13 passes, completing nine. That was possible because Michael Turner was running wild.

Defenses are going to start trying to do something Detroit didn't. They're going to start focusing on shutting down Atlanta's running game. Turner made things easy for Ryan on Sunday, but it's not going to be that easy every week.

New Orleans 24, Tampa Bay 20

NEW ORLEANS -- Their fans spent much of the offseason begging for a playmaker. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers said they already had enough.

Maybe, the fans were right. Last year's offense didn't excite, but it was good enough to get the Bucs to the playoffs. That won't happen again if the Bucs continue to play like they did in Sunday's loss to New Orleans. The normally-efficient Jeff Garcia wasn't.

Give some credit to the revamped New Orleans offense. But put plenty of blame on the Bucs. They couldn't make a big play. They had only one pass play go for more than 20 yards (a 26-yarder to Antonio Bryant).

Joey Galloway, who has torn the Saints apart in past years, was exceptionally quiet. After missing the entire preseason with a groin injury, Galloway had six catches for 56 yards. His longest catch went for 13 yards.

So much for a deep threat.

Tampa Bay's passing game isn't built around the downfield pass. It's a West Coast offense that relies on short and medium passes turning into big gains. That didn't happen Sunday and that's going to be a big problem if it continues.

Lions steamrolled in Atlanta

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
5:26
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We arrived in lovely Appleton, Wis., in time this afternoon to watch all of the Detroit Lions' opener at a local establishment -- Diet Cokes only.

The Lions were hoping to improve their run defense after ranking No. 23 in the NFL last season. More than likely, they'll finish Week 1 of 2008 ranked last.

If anything, the Lions' run defense looked worse than ever in an embarrassing 34-21 loss at Atlanta. Detroit gave up an astounding 318 yards on the ground, including 220 to tailback Michael Turner. Their linebackers got pushed around and, eventually, sent off the field; Ernie Sims and Paris Lenon both left with injuries at different points of the game.

Worse, Turner and backup Falcons tailback Jerious Norwood (93 yards) looked like they were running much harder than the Lions were hitting. Tackling in the Lions secondary was, shall we say, subpar.

Conventional wisdom suggested the Lions would sell out against the run, forcing rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to beat them. Instead, Turner ran for 117 yards in the first quarter alone and Ryan only had to attempt 13 passes.

An early 21-0 deficit, meanwhile, took the Lions out of their plan to re-focus the offense around their running game. Tailbacks Kevin Smith and Rudi Johnson weren't much of a factor, combining for 62 yards on 19 carries.

You don't want to put too much stock in the season opener, but this performance hardly reflected a team on the cusp. The Lions are trying to be a tougher team this season, and run defense is perhaps the best test of progress in that area. Based on Sunday's performance, you know where the Lions stand.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/25
Sunday, 9/28
Monday, 9/29
WEEKLY LEADERS