NFC North standings
Detroit Lions: 3-1
Green Bay Packers: 2-2
Minnesota Vikings: 2-2
Chicago Bears: 2-2
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 38-17 win at the Chicago Bears
Apparently, reports announcing the death of the Packers offense have been greatly exaggerated. A week after Aaron Rodgers told fans to relax about the struggling Packers offense, the team hung 38 on their neighbors to the south for an easy victory.
The game was fantastic for the first half, with both offenses moving the ball in chunks and answering each other blow for blow. The Packers scored touchdowns on all three of their first-half possessions, moving the ball quickly and with ease against the banged-up Bears defense. The Packers used a no-huddle offense to keep the Bears on their heels, and their drives took only 2:22, 3:47 and 2:47, respectively. The Bears, for their part, answered in kind with methodical and effective drives that netted them two touchdowns and a field goal.
The game drastically changed on the last play of the first half. Down 21-17, the Bears took over possession on their own 20-yard line with 1:03 left on the clock. After lackadaisically running a few plays without any attempt to conserve time, the Bears realized they stood a chance to enter the break with the lead after two deep receptions by tight end Martellus Bennett helped them moved down to the 8-yard line. On the final play of the half, with time expiring, Bennett reeled in another pass at the goal line. As he was being tackled, Bennett attempted to reach out and swing the ball over the goal line, but he was ruled down at the one-millionth-of-an-inch line. The replay afforded no real view of the play, so the call was upheld.
After this unfortunate end to the first half, the Bears fell apart in the second half. Quarterback Jay Cutler opened the second half with interceptions on each of the Bears' first two drives while the Packers continued to score on each of their drives until their final possession ended with a missed Mason Crosby field goal. The Bears quietly turned the ball over on downs for their final two possessions without finding the end zone again. Thus ended a bizarre game in which neither team attempted a punt, but both teams scored or turned the ball over on each of their possessions.
Aaron Rodgers - Rodgers was at his vintage best on Sunday. With the Packers playing most of the game with the lead, he only threw the ball 28 times, but he connected on 22 of those attempts for 308 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps his best throw of the day was a bomb to Davante Adams that went for a score but was called back due to a penalty. Rodgers was undercut mid-throw but used his arm strength to chuck the ball 30 yards downfield with precision accuracy.
A.J. Hawk - Hawk seemed to be everywhere at once against the Bears. He drew the difficult assignment of guarding Bears running back Matt Forte out of the backfield on passing routes, but he hung with him and did not allow Forte to gain big yards after the catch. He was also tough against the run, plugging running lanes consistently. He finished the day with 13 tackles.
Eddie Lacy - The Bears have a middling rush defense, allowing a generous 4.7 yards per carry. On Sunday, they played without several key defensive players, such as Jared Allen and Charles Tillman. Even so, Lacy found few running lanes and finished the day with only 48 yards on 17 carries, which comes out to only 2.8 yards per carry. The Packers offense line has been decent against the pass this season but is struggling in run support.
Next week: At home against the Minnesota Vikings (2-2)
Last week: 41-28 win at home against the Atlanta Falcons
Coming into this Week 4 matchup, the Falcons seemed like a team on the rise after their Week 3 thrashing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In contrast, the Vikings were floundering in the absence of Adrian Peterson. However, in the first career start of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings came out of the gates swinging and never let up. The Vikings offense, so quiet in the last two weeks without Peterson, was brutally efficient and scored on eight of their 11 drives. On defense, the Vikings forced two late turnovers and limited a high-powered offense that put up 56 points in three quarters last week.
The Vikings jumped on the Falcons early in this contest by forcing a quick three-and-out before driving the field for the first of running back Matt Asiata's three touchdown plunges. The Falcons responded with a touchdown drive of their own, but the Vikings immediately drove the length of the field for a second time, courtesy of a 55-yard run by running back Jerick McKinnon and Asiata's second goal-line touchdown. This game had shootout written all over it, but the Falcons could not keep pace. The Vikings scored on all of their first-half drives except for a single missed field goal by Blair Walsh, and they entered halftime up 24-14. The Falcons closed the gap courtesy of touchdowns on their first two second-half drives, but the Vikings defense stiffened and forced two punts and two interceptions on the Falcons' remaining drives. The Vikings built a comfortable lead through three Walsh field goals and the last of Asiata's three touchdown runs.
Big plays - The Vikings offense thrived on big plays this week. In the passing game, all seven players that recorded a reception from Bridgewater caught at least one pass that went over 10 yards. For the game, Bridgewater averaged 10.6 yards per attempt. For reference, that is nearly 2 yards per attempt more than any other starting quarterback's average for the season. Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon showed his big-play ability as well, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and breaking one run for 55 yards.
Jarius Wright - Wright, an offensive afterthought for most of his time with the Vikings, is thriving thus far in the Bridgewater era. The current speculation among experts is that Wright and Bridgewater built a rapport while practicing with the second-team offense this offseason. Regardless of the reason, it is evident that Bridgewater feels comfortable airing it out in Wright's direction, and he looked his way 10 times on Sunday -- a full third of the Vikings' passing attempts and six more targets than any other player. Wright brought down eight of those throws for 152 yards and looks to be a legitimate threat in the Vikings' passing attack.
Stubbornness - I realize that there are reasons I do not understand all of the decisions NFL coaches make... namely that I am not an NFL coach myself. However, I cannot wrap my mind around why some coaches stubbornly make conclusions about the roles their players should have and refuse to alter that belief regardless of any apparent facts or the opinions of unbiased experts. Such is the case in the Minnesota backfield during the forced leave of Adrian Peterson. Rookie Jerick McKinnon is clearly the best running back the Vikings have on the roster without Peterson. However, the coaching staff is hell-bent on keeping McKinnon as a change-of-pace back while force-feeding the plodding Asiata carries. Asiata is an effective goal-line back, as his three short-yardage touchdowns this week attest. But that is really the limit of his skill set, whereas McKinnon is an electric player.
Next week: At the Green Bay Packers (2-2)
Last week: 38-17 loss at home against the Green Bay Packers
See above for a recap of the Bears' loss to the Packers.
Martellus Bennett - As mentioned above, Bennett had a monster game against the Packers. He ended the day with nine receptions for 134 yards on 11 targets. He stretched the field, brought down big plays and presented a mismatch for linebackers and defensive backs alike. For this, and his contributions in the running game, Pro Football Focus called Bennett's performance the best of the year by a tight end and awarded him a +6.4 grade.
Running game - After struggling all season to move the ball on the ground, Matt Forte and company had a coming-out party on Sunday. Forte compiled 122 yards on 23 carries while backup Ka'Deem Carey added an additional 72 yards on 14 carries in garbage time.
Time management - As already discussed, this game was basically a tale of two halves, and the Bears looked lost after the Martellus Bennett catch at the end of the first half was not ruled a touchdown. But the Bears did not have to be in that position. On that drive, they had plenty of time to move the length of the field thanks to several big plays. However, they made no effort to conserve time at the beginning of the drive, necessitating an end zone or bust play as time expired. Unfortunately for them, they chose the "bust" option and Bennett was a fingernail short of the goal line.
Jay Cutler - The Bears suffered from a classic case of Cutler being Cutler on Sunday. With the game still very much in the balance, Cutler opened the second half with interceptions on consecutive drives. Both were head-scratching throws that absolutely should have been picked off. On the day, Cutler's stat sheet looked fine, with 252 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 82.5. As is so often the case with Cutler, though, the stat sheet does not tell the full story. He killed the Bears' comeback hopes with those turnovers and off-target throws at key moments. Cutler being Cutler.
Next week: At the Carolina Panthers (2-2)