Know the NFC North: Week 9

Mike McGinnis

A roundup of how the old "Black and Blue Division" fared in Week 9 of the 2013 Season.

NFC North standings

Detroit Lions: 5-3

Green Bay Packers: 5-3

Chicago Bears: 5-3

Minnesota Vikings: 1-7

Green Bay Packers

Last week: 27-20 loss at home against the Chicago Bears

Packers fans, NFL marketing staff and broadcasting executives collectively cringed when quarterback Aaron Rodgers left Monday night's tilt against the Bears with a shoulder injury. Further testing revealed that Rodgers has a fractured collarbone and will be out for several weeks. For a team already struggling with injuries, this is a devastating one, especially given Rodgers' importance to this team. The Packers can, and did, replace many starters, but Rodgers isn't one of them.

This was evident on Monday as backup quarterback Seneca Wallace took the field. Wallace wasn't terrible in a backup role, but he wasn't good and certainly wasn't Rodgers. Wallace completed 11 of 19 throws, but only threw for 114 yards. He also took 4 sacks, including one on each of the last two plays of the game, and threw an interception.

Regardless of Wallace's ineffectiveness, the Packers hung in this game thanks in a large part to running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks. These two backs combined for 190 yards and 6.8 yards per carry and each found the end zone. With the Packers' passing game largely missing in action, the running game picked up much of the slack.

For their part, the Bears put together a solid game behind their own backup quarterback, Josh McCown. Running back Matt Forte ran for 125 yards on 24 carries and McCown found five different receivers for 272 passing yards. The Bears defense also took advantage of the Packers' offensive injuries by limiting them to their lowest yardage total of any game this season.

Highlights

Running game - I have been praising the Packers for their offensive balance all season, and this game was a great example. As stated above, Lacy and Starks carried the offensive load against the Bears, and they will need to continue to do so until Rodgers is back. I don't think Wallace is bad, but the last drive of the game showed what happens when the Packers are forced to rely on him. On that drive, the Packers offense looked totally out of sync and Wallace took two bad sacks that effectively killed any hope of a Rodgers-esque comeback.

Lowlights

Injuries - Duh.

Receiving corps - Losing Rodgers exposed some holes in the Packers' receiving corps. Jordy Nelson was no longer unstoppable and receiving fill-ins Jarrett Boykin and Myles White disappeared altogether. Having an all-star caliber quarterback can hide a lot of deficiencies, but losing him reopens the holes.

Next week: At home against the Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)

Chicago Bears

Last week: 27-20 win at Green Bay Packers

See above for a recap of the Bears' Monday night win over the Packers.

Highlights

Defensive ends - Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin were dominant on Monday night. McClellin recorded 3 sacks along with 2 more tackles for a loss. Peppers recorded a sack of his own while also tipping a Wallace pass to himself for an acrobatic interception.

Run blocking - A big part of Forte's success came as a result of some great blocking up front. Forte's average first contact came after 3 yards, which allowed him to build a head of steam and hit holes with force. The result was a 5.2 yards per carry average on the day.

Josh McCown - This is more of a "middlelight." McCown was an adequate fill-in, with a quarterback rating of 90.7. He spread the ball around the field pretty well and connected on touchdowns with receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over and kept drives moving with a fairly conservative game plan (his yards per attempt average was a pedestrian 6.6).

Lowlights

Run defense - The other side of Lacy and Starks getting credit for running wild is that the Bears run defense was abused by the Packers. Pro Football Focus placed the blame largely on safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte, awarding them a -4.7 and -2.7 in run defense. Combined, they missed 5 tackles against the run and are ranked among the worst run defense safety pairs in the league.

Next week: At home against the Detroit Lions (5-3)

Minnesota Vikings

Last week: 27-23 loss at the Dallas Cowboys

This game looked very positive for the Vikings with 2:44 left in the game. The Vikings were up 23-20 after taking the lead with a nice 87-yard fourth quarter drive, and they had the Cowboys pinned deep in their own territory. However, the Vikings defense could not force a stop and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo marched 90 yards to put the Cowboys on top for good with a touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds left.

The Vikings actually played pretty well in this game. Running back Adrian Peterson ran with a purpose and quarterback Christian Ponder was relatively efficient with an abundance of short-to-mid range passes. More importantly, however, Ponder did have 2 turnovers, one of which was recovered for a touchdown a mere 10 seconds after a Jason Witten touchdown reception. When it rains, it pours.

Highlights

Adrian Peterson - Peterson is finally hitting his stride this season. In my opinion, the past two games have been his best of the year. On Sunday, he ran for 140 yards on 25 carries and also caught 3 passes for 37 yards. The scary thing is that his 711 yards on the year is only slightly behind his eight-game total (775 yards) from his nearly record-breaking 2012 season.

Lowlights

Closing - The Vikings were up by 3 with 4:29 left in the game when cornerback A.J. Jefferson intercepted a Tony Romo pass at the Cowboys 40-yard line. The Vikings had a great chance to ice the game, but instead went three-and-out without gaining a yard and only eating a little over a minute off the clock. They then allowed Romo to go the entire length of the field with time and a timeout to spare. The Vikings were in a great position to beat a decent team and blew it.

Next week: At home against the Washington Redskins (3-5) on Thursday night

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