Sunday was not a banner day for the NFC North. Not only did the division go collectively winless, but it did so in truly shameful fashion. If you see any distortions on the page below, I swear it's from the snow, not from tears. The only solace for Detroit Lions fans after Sunday's debacle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers seem as uninterested in winning the division as the Lions do.
Detroit Lions: 6-5
Chicago Bears: 6-5
Green Bay Packers: 5-5-1
Minnesota Vikings: 2-8-1
Last week: 42-21 loss at the St. Louis Rams
In what is increasingly becoming a trend for the Bears, this game was lost in the trenches. The Rams ran the ball with authority to the tune of 258 yards and 3 touchdowns. More incredibly, per Pro Football Focus, only 59 of those yards came after contact. For the math-challenged, that means that the Rams racked up a ridiculous 199 yards before contact.
To say that the Rams' running attack dominated the Bears' defense is an understatement. After rookie starting running back Zac Stacy left the game with a concussion, unknown rookie Benny Cunningham took over backfield duties and gashed the Bears for 109 yards and a score. Even receiver Tavon Austin got in on the action with a nifty fake end-around play that went for a 65-yard score.
The game itself was not that interesting. The Long brothers fought. Michael Bush was terrible. Josh McCown took two of the hardest hits I have seen so far this year. Devin Hester broke the NFL record for return touchdowns only to have it negated by a hold. The Rams were up 21-7 by the end of the first quarter and never looked back.
Passing attack - Josh McCown continues to impress. On Sunday, the veteran signal caller went 36 for 47 for 352 yards and 2 touchdowns with 1 pick. In the process, he found seven different receivers while facing intense blindside pressure from Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (credited with 1 sack and 7 hurries).
McCown's top target was receiver Brandon Marshall, who hauled in 10 catches for 117 yards and a score. I am not a Marshall supporter, but he gets an A for effort this week. He threw blocks, forced himself open and fought for balls in the losing effort.
Run defense - As a unit, Pro Football Focus gave the Bears' defensive line a -17.3 grade.
Michael Bush - Consistent readers of this roundup know my feelings on Bush. He is what the French call "les incompetent." The Bears' insistence on having a dedicated short-yardage back is mind-boggling and reminds me of the Lovie Smith era. Lovie was incapable of moving beyond a single game plan regardless of his personnel, and Marc Trestman is showing a similar tendency with Bush. On Sunday, Bush dropped a guaranteed touchdown reception that should have been a gift and managed to lose about 4 yards on a fourth-and-goal dive play.
Next week: At the Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1)
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 26-26 tie (hehe) at home against the Minnesota Vikings
Watching Matt Flynn carve up the Vikings defense upon his semi-triumphant return to Lambeau Field sent me into Vietnam-style flashbacks to the fateful Week 17 matchup against the Lions to end the 2011 season. After entering the game for the ineffective Scott Tolzien midway through the third quarter, Flynn went 21 for 36 for 218 yards and a touchdown.
Both teams featured impressive run games that increased in efficiency as the game ground on. The Vikings led by 16 in the fourth quarter but could not keep Flynn and company off the scoreboard in the final frame. In overtime, the Packers settled for a field goal on their initial drive.
The Vikings very nearly won the game on their ensuing drive. On a third-and-14 play on the Packers' 17-yard-line, quarterback Christian Ponder found receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the back of the end zone, but Packers cornerback Davon House slightly altered the pass with his fingertips at the last second to send the ball careening off of Patterson's head.
The Vikings settled for a field goal to tie the game and neither team scored again, resulting in a tie (otherwise known as a double loss).
Matt Flynn - As mentioned above, Flynn picked up where he left off at Lambeau two years ago. Flynn was very effective moving the Packers offense and had a veteran presence Tolzien did not. One good example occurred on the Packers' final drive in regulation. On third down, Flynn's hard count drew the Vikings offside. Flynn immediately snapped the ball, dropped back and threw a jump ball up to James Jones for a 28-yard reception to set up the game-tying field goal.
Defensive line aggressiveness - The Packers defense did not have a great day against the run, but they lived in the Vikings backfield. Aside from 6 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries, the Packers also compiled 13 tackles for a loss. The Vikings occasionally took advantage of this aggressiveness with directed runs, but it also resulted in a lot of negative plays for the Vikings offense.
Pass defense - The Packers allowed Christian Ponder to turn in his most complete game of the season (21 for 30 for 233 yards and a touchdown for a 103.9 quarterback rating). Enough said there.
Third down efficiency - The Pack went 3 for 16 on third downs on Sunday. Ouch.
Next week: At the Detroit Lions (6-5) on Thanksgiving Day
Last week: 26-26 tie (never gets old) at the Green Bay Packers
Toby Gerhart - I am as shocked as you that Gerhart has found his way into such a hallowed ground, but he's earned it. Gerhart ran for 91 yards on 8 carries on Sunday and now has 158 yards in the past two games. He's finally showing why the Vikings
wasted used a second-round pick on him in the 2010 draft, and he was a great complementary and change-of-pace back for Adrian Peterson.
Defensive line - The Vikings' defensive line only reached the Packers' quarterbacks for 2 sacks but hurried them an additional 10 times. The defensive line also did an adequate job against the Packers' newly dominant run game (which surprisingly ranks fifth in both total yards and yards per attempt) outside of a 34-yard run by James Starks and a series of scrambles from Tolzien and Flynn.
Closing - The Vikings led 23-7 in the fourth quarter of this game but allowed newly signed Packers quarterback Matt Flynn to orchestrate scores on their final three drives to force overtime.
Pass protection - The Packers sacked Ponder 6 times on Sunday. Even worse, three of those sacks were on third down. Two more of the sacks killed drives in the red zone, leaving the Vikings with 3 points instead of 7.
Next week: At home against the Chicago Bears (6-5)