NFC North Roundup: Packers Week Round One
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will face off Sunday night, with both teams aiming to gain a one-game advantage over the other in the early season jockeying for position in the NFC North. The Detroit Lions also started off the season with a victory and look like a team to be reckoned with.
Our beloved Vikings certainly have plenty of things to be discussed this week: Kicker confidence, a struggling running game, and something about a quarterback or two.
Before we go too far down that rabbit hole, however, let’s take a glance around the NFC North in our weekly taking of the temperature to see how our greatest enemies are feeling.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
From a distance, all appears well in Packerland after their 27-23 victory over the formidable Jacksonville Jaguars. If you looked closely, though, you may have noticed that the return of Jordy Nelson did little to cure issues with the Green Bay passing attack that plagued them throughout their 2015 campaign.
On 35 passing plays, quarterback Aaron Rodgers amassed only 199 yards through the air, which ends up being an average of 5.7 yards per passing attempt. As Michael Salfino of the Wall Street Journal points out, this number resembles exactly the yards per passing attempt the Packers put up in 2015, which was the worst in the NFC.
[quote_center]”Even before Sunday’s opening win, that 2015 statistic made for bleak reading. Teams that finish the year with the lowest yards per pass play numbers in their conference usually struggle the following season.”[/quote_center]
For those of you looking for some optimism throughout this week and season, there you go.
For those of you skeptical that the stat can mean much of anything, allow me to add some perspective. A Shaun Hill-led Vikings team playing against a much more talented defense averaged 7.2 yards per passing attempt last week on only two fewer attempts.
Those paying attention to this weekly segment this preseason know that I’m someone that is taking the Detroit Lions pretty seriously. At the very least, I’m not going to be dismissing them anytime soon.
One reason Detroit fans have for optimism is not one I’ve really even touched on yet, and that is that they have one of the more exciting running back duos in the NFL right now. If they can stay healthy, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick could take a lot of pressure off that Lions passing game, while also helping the team pile up wins.
On Sunday, the pair outshined Andrew Luck and the potent Indianapolis offense on their way to a 39-35 victory. Abdullah and Riddick combined for 108 rushing yards, 110 receiving yards, and three of the team’s touchdowns.
Per the Detroit Free Press, head coach Jim Caldwell said this following the victory:
[pull_quote_center]”The most important thing is that I think (offensive coordinator) Jim Bob (Cooter) and those guys on offense do a nice job of getting those guys the ball in ways where they can utilize their talents. And it’s not always handing it to them out of the backfield. I believe both of them were over 100 all-purpose yards and I think that’s who they are. They’re effective catching it. They’re effective out of the backfield, as well. But I think you have to mix it up with them.”[/pull_quote_center]
The Lions may not have one running back that can put up those types of numbers in one game, but it isn’t a problem as long as these two can keep it up.
For the sake of comparisons, Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 yards on the ground. McKinnon added one catch for three yards.
Unlike the Lions above, I fully have expectations of the Chicago Bears being more terrible than we’ve seen in quite some time. If their offensive line keeps playing like it did against a tough Houston defense on Sunday, they may not have a healthy Jay Cutler out there giving them a fighting chance each week.
Houston was able to hit Cutler a whopping 13 times (five of which were sacks) on Sunday, and Cutler certainly felt it.
Per Jeff Dickerson of ESPN, here is what Cutler had to say about the matter following the game:
[pull_quote_center]”I don’t feel great. I didn’t get hit a lot in the preseason, so the last time I’ve been hit like that was last year. Usually, you want to build into these, and then Week 4 of 5, when you’ve gotten used to it, take a few shots then. I’ll bounce back pretty quickly, though.”[/pull_quote_center]
The Bears have worked hard to field a better offensive line via the NFL Draft, free agency, and an extension for Kyle Long. They still appear a long ways from competent, however, and the loss of veteran back Matt Forte certainly doesn’t help when it comes to picking up blitzes.
And, since I’m doing the comparison thing today: The Vikings allowed Shaun Hill to be sacked zero times in the opener against the Titans.