Know the NFC North: Week 3

Andy Lyons

A roundup of how the old "Black and Blue Division" fared in Week 3 of the 2013 Season.

NFC North Standings

Chicago Bears: 3-0

Detroit Lions: 2-1

Green Bay Packers: 1-2

Minnesota Vikings: 0-3

Chicago Bears

Last week: 40-23 win at Pittsburgh Steelers

The final score belies how close the Bears came to blowing this game. After the Bears jumped out to an early 17-0 lead in the first half, the Steelers fought back to bring the game within 4 points to start the fourth quarter, and all the momentum favored the home team. Alas, the Bears responded nicely and iced the game with a long drive culminating in a 17-yard Earl Bennett touchdown reception followed by a Julius Peppers 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

My friends know that I am not an admirer of analyst Cris Collinsworth, but I thought he had an excellent comment Sunday night. After the Peppers fumble return, the fifth turnover and second defensive touchdown, Collinsworth (in his smug, grating chuckle voice) pointed out that the Bears' opponents have to figure out how to outscore the Bears' defense before worrying about the offense. The Bears bring new meaning to the old cliché that "the best offense is a good defense."

Thanks to their early lead and defensive contributions, the Bears played fairly conservatively on offense with a heavy dose of running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush. Jay Cutler did have 30 passing attempts, but most of those passes were the so-called "extended handoffs," as evidenced by his low 5.3 yards per attempt average.

Highlights:

Bears receivers - While none of the Bears' receivers had a dominant game on the stat sheet (none had more than 52 yards or 7 catches), they did a lot with what they were given in the Bears' conservative game plan. I shudder to quote Collinsworth again, but he gushed that the Bears' receivers' play was the best he had ever seen in a game. That is gross hyperbole, but considering the Bears' historical weakness at the receiving position, it was impressive.

Takeaways - I really cannot highlight this any more. I have touched on this every week and the trend continues. At their current rate, the Bears will finish the season with around 59 takeaways, which is within striking distance of the San Francisco 49ers' single-season record of 63 set in 1978.

Lowlights:

Pass defense - This really isn't fair because the Bears were playing very conservative defense for most of the night, but it is still not acceptable to allow an opposing receiver to rack up 196 yards in a game like Antonio Brown did on Sunday. The Bears secondary fell for Ben Roethlisberger's ability to move the defense with his pump fakes/Jedi mind tricks repeatedly to the glee of Collinsworth (this is getting out of control). The real concern in this area is that cornerback Charles Tillman was forced to leave Sunday's game with another injury and is questionable for the Week 4 matchup against Calvin Johnson.

Michael Bush - I really do not understand the Bears' desire to have a designated goal line back. Bush is ineffective and his career does not justify the trust. He has never rushed for 1,000 yards, has not averaged more than 4 yards a carry in three years and does not dominate the goal line like true "goal line backs." Bush got 9 short-yardage carries on Sunday and finally managed to bull rush one into the promised land. Is Forte really incapable of doing that?

Next week: at Detroit Lions (2-1)

Green Bay Packers

Last week: 34-30 loss at Cincinnati Bengals

The Packers' Week 3 matchup with the Bengals was a game of streaks and momentum. The Bengals jumped to an early lead in the first quarter after touchdown runs by Giovanni Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. These touchdowns were a mere 12 seconds apart thanks to a Jeremy Ross fumble on the kickoff following the Bernard score.

However, this lead was short-lived and the Packers methodically to put up 30 unanswered points in the second and third quarters. The pendulum then swung back to the Bengals, which scored the last 21 points of the game for the win. In the process, both teams gave up 4 turnovers and each returned a fumble for a touchdown.

The biggest play of the game came on a fourth-and-1 on the Bengals' 30-yard line with a little under 4 minutes left in the game. The Packers led by three and coach Mike McCarthy gambled on fourth down rather than try a long field goal. Things did not go well. Rookie Johnathan Franklin took the handoff and tried to dive through the pile only to have the ball poked out by Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson. After a chaotic fumblerooski, Bengals cornerback Terence Newman scooped up the ball en route to a 58-yard touchdown to take the lead for good.

Highlights:

Mason Crosby - The Packers placekicker had a terrible 2012 campaign, but has rebounded nicely thus far in 2013. He was 3 for 3 on Sunday and is still perfect on the year. There may still be some trust issues, as Coach McCarthy elected to go for it within field goal range on that fatal fourth down play discussed above.

Running game - For the second game in a row, the Packers had significant success on the ground. Even with their first and then second string running backs on the sideline, the Packers worked to establish the run and finished the game with 182 yards on the ground. Although a huge chunk of that total came on a 51-yard rush by Franklin, that is nothing to sniff at against a stout Bengals defense.

Lowlights:

Team health - The Pack were already fairly beat up before Sunday's bout, but they needed a medic by the end of the game. Second string running back James Starks started the game well by running for about 4 yards a carry, but he had to leave the game after a knee injury. His replacement, Franklin, stepped up well by running for 103 yards and a touchdown, but he coughed up the key fumble at the end of the game and left late with an injury. Clay Matthews contributed a sack and 2 forced fumbles but could not finish the game with a hamstring injury. Last but not least, tight end Jermichael Finley left the game with a concussion after nearly being decapitated during a catch.

David Bakhtiari - Bakhtiari, the Packers' rookie left tackle, was used and abused by the Bengals' Michael Johnson. Johnson had 1.5 of the Bengals' 4 sacks and ran over Bakhtiari to force the fumble that sprung Terence Newman's game-winner. The Packers' selected Bakhtiari in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, and he was projected as a backup for the right tackle spot. After an injury to Bryan Bulaga, Bakhtiari found himself protecting the blind side of one of the most valuable arms in the league. From what I can tell, Bakhtiari has held up pretty well this season, but he was exploited on Sunday.

Next week: Bye

Minnesota Vikings

Last week: 31-27 loss vs. Cleveland Browns

This one hurts. Mere days after the Browns cried uncle on the season by trading away their best offensive player, and against a backup quarterback with under 100 attempts in his five-year career, the Vikings lost a heartbreaker at home to a very beatable team.

Without a viable rushing option, the Browns essentially handed the game to journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer. Although Hoyer made plenty of mistakes (i.e. 3 interceptions), he threw for 321 yards and 3 touchdowns on 53 attempts. The running game chipped in with over 100 yards, but nearly all of that came on three fluke runs of over 20 yards apiece.

This was a weird game, and the weirdest part was the Browns' production through trick special teams plays. The first came in the second quarter, when defensive back Josh Aubrey took a fake punt snap and ran for 34 yards to set up an eventual field goal (Aubrey was also the Browns' leading rusher on the day). The second, and more damaging, play occurred in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-4 from the Vikings' 11-yard line, punter/holder Spencer Lanning took a fake field goal snap and tossed it to tight end Jordan Cameron, who was inexplicably left all alone near the sideline.

Highlights:

Umm... hmm...

Turnovers - Remember how I praised the Bears for forcing 11 turnovers on the season? The Vikings are actually right on their heels with 10. The problem is the Vikings have also given up 10 of their own.

Christian Ponder's legs - Ponder's play as a quarterback does not merit a "highlight" award, but he had a great day scrambling for 46 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is an athlete and maybe should be more willing to tuck and run in the future. He still threw an interception and took 6 sacks on the day so...

Lowlights:

Offensive line - As mentioned, the Browns reached Ponder 6 times on Sunday. The primary culprit was right tackle Phil Loadholt, who was responsible for one of the sacks and 4 of the Browns' 8 quarterback hurries. The offensive line did not fare much better in the run game, as Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson managed only 3.5 yards per carry on the day.

Special teams gullibility - Allowing the Browns to score 10 points off of special teams trick plays is beyond embarrassing. On the fake field goal, I just don't understand what the Vikings thought Cameron was doing hanging out by the sideline. What were the coaches doing? Call a timeout!

Next week: Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) at Wembley Stadium. Once again, Europe is treated to the NFL's finest matchup.

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