This is a new post I will be doing each week to help the POD faithful keep a wary eye on the rest of the "Black and Blue Division." I'll provide a brief recap of the past week's games and point out some good and bad trends for each team. Without further ado:
NFC North standings
Detroit Lions: 1-0
Chicago Bears: 1-0
Green Bay Packers: 0-1
Minnesota Vikings: 0-1
Last week: 24-21 win against the Cincinnati Bengals
With a little over 8 minutes left in the game, the Bears trailed by four and faced a fourth-and-1 at the Bengals' 27-yard line. Rather than settle for a field goal, rookie coach Marc Trestman gambled and running back Matt Forte delivered by easily gaining the first and more. The next play, quarterback Jay Cutler found Brandon Marshall in the end zone to take the lead for good. I was somewhat skeptical about the Trestman hire, but I really admired this call. It was gutsy and highlighted the difference between Trestman and ex-Bears coach Lovie Smith, who would have stoically sent the kicking team onto the field without a second thought.
In a sloppy first half in which both teams tried to blow the game, the Bengals survived multiple turnovers and poor field position to take a lead into halftime. After the Bengals executed a beautiful 7-minute drive to open the third quarter and take an 11-point lead, the Bears looked to be on the ropes. However, that was the last success the Bengals offense would have for the day, and they finished the game with two three-and-outs and a fumble.
For all the talk of Trestman's offensive genius, the Bears really won this game because they did what they have always done: capitalize on their opponents' mistakes. With 14 points off turnovers and a dominant advantage in field position (the Bengals started drives beyond their own 20 twice while the Bears did seven times), the Bears hung in the game long enough for their offense to gel and then efficiently finished the game with only one wasted possession in the second half.
Bears' red zone efficiency - While the Bears struggled to move the ball for much of the game (5 punts in the first half), their offense improved throughout and managed touchdowns on each of their 3 trips to the red zone.
Pass protection - The Bears have struggled for many years to protect their quarterbacks, but they turned in a clean sheet against a decent Bengals pass rush in Week 1. The Bears concentrated on upgrading their offensive line this offseason and started the 2013 season with four new starters, including two rookies. The new group held up well protecting Cutler, and it also appeared to me that Cutler has quickened his decision making and release.
Running game - The Bears could get absolutely nothing going on the ground. Despite a decent workload of 28 carries, running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush scrapped together a measly 65 yards with a score against a stout Bengals rush defense.
Pass defense - Yes, Charles Tillman did have 2 interceptions, but he and his cohorts were abused by Bengals receiver A.J. Green and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. When targeting that trio, quarterback Andy Dalton was an excellent 19 for 23 for 244 yards and 2 scores. I have a lot of respect for Peanut, and he is a turnover machine, but Green made him look silly on a couple of plays.
Next week: Home against the Minnesota Vikings (0-1)
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 34-28 loss at the San Francisco 49ers
I am sure Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy and the Packers' defense spent the offseason dreaming of retribution for the embarrassment San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick handed them in the 2012 playoffs. That retribution will have to be delayed, as Kaepernick again dominated the Packers, although this time he did it with his arm instead of his legs.
This game was a seesaw until the fourth quarter, with the teams trading 6 combined passing touchdowns in the first three quarters. The Packers were winning by four midway through the fourth quarter, but allowed a 1-yard Frank Gore touchdown run with a little under 6 minutes left and went three-and-out on their last real possession.
The biggest talking point from the game occurred when linebacker Clay Matthews buried Kaepernick after he was out of bounds on a third down play. That hit, and the resulting scrum and offsetting penalties, allowed the 49ers to have another shot at the end zone on a re-played third down (turns out, the referees were actually wrong and it should have been fourth down, but such is life). The 49ers made good use of the re-play, as Kaepernick found tight end Vernon Davis in the end zone for a score.
Passing game - This highlight won't get any points for creativity, but Aaron Rodgers and the passing game were the biggest highlight for the Pack last week. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are great young receivers that excel at stretching the field.
Johnny Jolly - After being out of football for three years for drug-related issues, Jolly made his return on Sunday. He had a great game, finishing with 2 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit, and it was great to see the story come full circle.
Pass defense - To say that Anquan Boldin had his way with the Green Bay defense would be an understatement. All due credit to Boldin and Kaepernick, but the Packers made them look like first ballot Hall of Famers. Boldin was everywhere and seemed to be uncoverable while racking up over 200 yards through the air. Vernon Davis also had a productive day with 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Packers have struggled with pass defense for several years, and it looks like the trend will continue into 2013.
Catching - Receiver James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley simply do not have great hands. They are athletes for sure, but they both have a bad case of the dropsies. This was especially evident for Jones on Sunday, as he batted a ball up in the air that ended up being an easy interception for the 49ers. If Finley wants a big contract this offseason, he needs to start hanging on to the ball (sounds like another big, athletic tight end I know).
Next week: Home against the Washington Redskins (0-1)
Last week: 34-24 loss at the Detroit Lions
We all know how this turned out, so I won't rehash the rest of POD's excellent coverage.
Jerome Simpson - Simpson was the only Vikings pass catcher to have any success against the Lions on Sunday. Simpson finished the game with 7 catches on 8 targets for 140 yards, and he was the only bright spot for the Vikings offense outside of the one long Adrian Peterson run in the first quarter.
Kick returns - Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson looked extremely dangerous in the two chances he had to return kicks. Detroit punter/kickoff man Sam Martin did a great job securing touchbacks, but Patterson came very close to making the Lions pay when given the chance. I know of at least one POD blogger who had to change his undergarments after Patterson came inches away from returning a huge kickoff, and I'm confident we will see Patterson on return highlights at some point this year.
Christian Ponder - I have to wonder how long Ponder's leash is in Minnesota. If it was ever evident that he is not the Vikings' quarterback of the future, it was when he invited the Lions back into the game with a baffling cross-body throw that was easily picked off by Stephen Tulloch. At that point in the game, it was all Vikings, and another score may have put it away early. Instead, Ponder tried to make a crazy throw while desperately scrambling away from Ndamukong Suh. He was incapable of stepping up with the run game out of order despite the Lions concentrating on stopping Peterson.
Ball control - Unable to rely on their workhorse, Peterson, to pick up yards in chunks, the Vikings seemed unable to alter their game plan. They continued to throw Peterson into the brick wall the Lions defense had constructed, resulting in 6 total three-and-outs, and they took possessions away from themselves with 4 turnovers.
Next week: At the Chicago Bears (1-0)