NFC North standings
Green Bay Packers: 4-2
Detroit Lions: 4-3
Chicago Bears: 4-3
Minnesota Vikings: 1-5
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 31-13 win at home against the Cleveland Browns
Even without several key playmakers, the Green Bay Packers dominated the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field on Sunday. In poor weather conditions, the Packers offense put up an early 17 first half points while an aggressive pass rush reached quarterback Brandon Weeden for 3 sacks and hurried him 8 more times while limiting him to a pathetic 40 percent completion rate.
Relying primarily on receivers Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin and tight end Jermichael Finley, Aaron Rodgers methodically marched the Packers down the field all game while compiling 260 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Packers offense was conservative and consistent and designed to control the clock to protect their early lead. Running back Eddie Lacy also contributed a modest 82 yards on 23 carries.
Overall, this was not much of a game and was essentially over after the second Packers touchdown of the first quarter. The Browns offense was completely MIA and didn't reach the end zone until around the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter.
Defense - One of the biggest surprises in the NFC North this season has been the Packers defense. In particular, the Packers run defense has been outstanding, giving up only 3.2 yards per carry (third best in the league). I highlighted a few players last week and the defense again put together a great performance this week to prop up a banged-up offense.
Next man up - Both the Packers offense and defense were very shorthanded this week, but it was hard to tell from the play on the field. A great example of this depth is Jarrett Boykin. In his first career start, Boykin brought in 8 catches on 10 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown. Third-year linebacker Jamari Lattimore also saw increased action with outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Mike Neal out and contributed more tackles (12) than in the past two seasons combined, along with a sack.
Injuries - This should be obvious, but the Packers are hurting. They are starting players from their practice squad or even players off of the street. They beat the Browns with some great backup play, but that is unlikely to be a long-term solution, especially since they continue to lose players. Tight end Jermichael Finley, who stepped up as a receiver on Sunday, left the game on a stretcher, and he has a bruised spinal cord.
Next week: At Minnesota Vikings (1-5) on Sunday Night Football
Last week: 45-41 loss at Washington Redskins
The Bears went down swinging on Sunday in a wild shootout with the Washington Redskins while putting up 86 combined points. The Redskins dominated the first half of this game with 3 second quarter touchdowns while holding the Bears to only 46 total yards of offense. However, they couldn't put the Bears away thanks to an interception of Robert Griffin III deep in Redskins territory and an 81-yard Devin Hester punt return for a touchdown.
The turning point of the game occurred in the second quarter when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a torn groin muscle. Ironically, the Bears offense actually began clicking after Cutler left the game, carried by running back Matt Forte and backup quarterback Josh McCown. Forte rushed for 3 touchdowns, including a 50-yard sprint, and McCown efficiently spread the ball around to six different receivers.
It looked like the Bears were going to hold on for the win after McCown executed a six-play, 66-yard drive capped with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett with a little under 4 minutes left on the clock. However, the Redskins marched down the field and retook the lead for the final time when running back Roy Helu scored his third touchdown of the game with 45 seconds left.
Field position - For all of the Bears' struggles on Sunday, they owned the field position battle. Of the Bears' 14 possessions, eight started beyond their own 30 and three started in Redskins territory. In contrast, the Redskins had only one possession start beyond their own 30. The Bears' returners, led by Devin Hester, were aggressive in fielding punts and kickoffs, and the Redskins were content to kick to them. Punter Sav Rocca allowed Hester 3 returns on 4 punts and kicker Kai Forbath only forced 1 touchback on 8 attempts.
Josh McCown - Quarterback controversy in Chicago? Just kidding. But McCown did a great job filling in for the injured Jay Cutler on Sunday. McCown went 14 for 20 for 204 yards and a touchdown while leading a Bears offense that hung tough with the red-hot Redskins offense. Outside of Shaun Hill, I list McCown as one of the more competent backups in the league.
Mental health - Brandon Marshall is not the only person affiliated with the Bears to have borderline personality disorder. Most Chicago residents are completely bipolar when it comes to Da Bears. The same fans and radio personalities who were predicting deep playoff runs in the preseason are now prophesying doom and gloom after key Bears players started dropping like flies. On top of an already crowded injury list, the Bears lost quarterback Jay Cutler, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman for extended time on Sunday. Their bye comes at just the right time.
Defense - Not of analysis needed here. The Bears' banged-up defense gave up 45 points; enough said.
Next week: Bye
Last week: 23-7 loss at the New York Giants
This game is a great argument for flexible scheduling for more primetime games. The winless Giants outmatched the reeling Vikings in every phase of the game. The Vikings offense managed only 220 total yards; the defense failed to force a turnover from the king of turnovers, Eli Manning, despite his best efforts to hand them interceptions; and the special teams negated a few good returns with 2 fumbles. The lone highlight for the Vikings was an 86-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels, which he followed up with a fairly humorous self-inflicted fumble near the Vikings' goal line.
Defense (kind of) - The Vikings defense, aside from not forcing a turnover, did a decent job containing the Giants on Monday. They were severely handicapped by the offense's ineptitude and 2 special teams fumbles giving the Giants short fields. On the other hand, the Giants focused on a running game led by the newly signed Peyton Hillis and rookie Michael Cox. Not exactly a high-quality duo.
Pass rush - The Vikings pass rush hurried Eli Manning on 50 percent of his dropbacks, which helped limit him to only 200 yards on 39 attempts. Again, the Giants hurt themselves by dropping a ton of balls, but the Vikings pass rush helped throw Eli off of his rhythm, and he threw several balls that should have been intercepted.
Josh Freeman - You knew this was coming. New Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman was the definition of ineffective, going 20 for 53 for 190 yards and an interception. Freeman looked incredibly rusty and most of his throws were off the mark. Wide receiver Greg Jennings visibly looked frustrated after Freeman led him into a monster hit from Giants defensive back Antrel Rolle. How bad was Freeman? Pro Football Focus awarded him the lowest grade ever for a quarterback at -11.3.
Adrian Peterson - Peterson's season stats look okay on paper. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has scored 5 touchdowns on the year. However, that average would be the worst of his career if it stands, and it is misleading because Peterson has had a few huge runs on the year. It isn't fair to discount those big runs, but a majority of his carries have produced minimal gains. When he doesn't break a big run in a game, as shown this week, it makes for an ugly day. This is not the same running back who was threatening single-season records and demanding orange peanuts a year ago.
Next week: At Green Bay Packers (4-2) on Sunday Night Football