NFC North Spin cycle: Week Five

Posted Oct. 08, 2012 @ 3:20 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

The Bears and Vikings scored lopsided victories in Week Five, and both remain atop the NFC North with 4-1 records. Meanwhile, the Packers fell below .500 to 2-3 after getting upset in Indianapolis and the Lions tried to fix what ails them while on bye.

BEARS

What we learned: The Bears’ offense is going to need to break out of its habit of starting extremely slowly. During the team’s current three-game winning streak, Chicago’s “O” produced only 16 points in the first half of the games. That is 16 points in six quarters. In Sunday’s win over Jacksonville, the offense had only produced a couple field goals before scoring its first touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. The defense has accounted for two TDs in each of the past two games, and the Bears know their defense is not going to keep scoring at that pace. The offense has not really begun to click in the past two games until it was playing with a lead built by a defensive score. How will it respond in a game where it’s not afforded that luxury?

What’s in store next: The Bears have a full two weeks to prepare for their next game. After the bye, Chicago will host the Lions on “Monday Night Football.” Detroit, which is on bye in Week Five, is off to a 1-3 start and is alone at the bottom of the NFC North standings, while the Bears and Vikings are tied for first place. The Lions travel to face the Eagles in Week Six. Detroit no doubt will be fired up for a chance to knock off the Bears at Soldier Field and games between the two rivals tend to get a bit chippy.

What the heck? OLT J’Marcus Webb has been the most maligned member of the Bears’ offensive line, but has 2011 first-round pick ORT Gabe Carimi really fared that much better this season? He put himself in the spotlight on the opening drive of the third quarter Sunday, giving up a sack and drawing false-start penalties on back-to-back plays with the Bears inside the Jaguars’ 10-yard line. On the season, Carimi has been penalized six times, according to STATS, Inc., while Webb has been flagged only twice, one of which was declined. The Bears need, and expect, Carimi to clean up the sloppiness.

PACKERS

What we learned: Head coach Mike McCarthy was the first one to admit that the Packers are greatly underachieving after allowing the supposedly inferior Colts to storm back from a 21-3 halftime deficit and drop Green Bay to 2-3 in a dramatic 30-27 victory in Indianapolis. Injuries to RB Cedric Benson (sprained foot), NT B.J. Raji (ankle) and TE Jermichael Finley (shoulder) compounded the Packers’ agony, with Benson, who had been coming on strong, and Raji looking very iffy for Week Six. The defense’s second-half inadequacy, the offense’s imbalance after Benson went down for the count and PK Mason Crosby’s failures on special teams (two missed FGs, including a potential game-tying kick that would have sent the game into OT) were equally painful and perplexing.

What’s in store next: It certainly doesn’t get easier with a game on a Sunday-night national stage looming against the Texans, who entered their Monday-night game vs. the Jets as arguably the NFL’s top team. Wade Phillips has worked wonders with the Texans defense, and the offense is operating smoothly under the direction of a healthy Matt Schaub. A big story line will be the matchup between Defensive MVP candidates J.J. Watt of the Texans and Clay Matthews of the Packers, although Matthews will be coming off a subpar effort vs. the Colts.

What the heck? Why, many in Packers Nation are no doubt wondering today, did McCarthy opt to totally abandon the run game early in the second half? It was a decision that was greatly responsible for letting the Colts back into the game. In addition, after the offensive line was overwhelmed by five Colts sacks, it would appear the unit’s eight-sack debacle in Seattle was far from being an aberration.

VIKINGS

What we learned: The Vikings are officially contenders with the Packers two full games back of first place and the Lions sitting at 1-3 with questions. In that regard, the NFC North has been, quite literally, turned upside down. Some saw four-win potential for this Vikings team — for the entire season. Instead, following the 30-7 home victory over the Titans, the Vikings have moved to 4-1 and so far are one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. It wasn’t a perfect performance, as Christian Ponder (who had thrown 144 passes between interceptions) was picked twice, three field-goal drives bogged down in the second and third quarters and rookie S Harrison Smith was tossed for contact with a referee. But the Vikings dominated and guaranteed they will be .500 or better through at least early November.

What’s in store next: The Vikes travel to D.C. to play a Redskins team with QB Robert Griffin III having suffered a concussion late in the game against the Falcons and remaining out. If Griffin misses the contest — he wrote on Twitter he expects to play — it would be the second game in a row with a backup QB starting (in this case, a rookie QB in Kirk Cousins) for the opponent. The Vikings have begun to face questions about the legitimacy of their record, considering who they have beaten. But the schedule toughens in the next five weeks prior to the bye, so the Vikings will have their chance to show that they truly are an improved club. The impressive part is that the Vikings have acted as if winning is part of the plan and that already surpassing last season’s win total was fully expected.

What the heck? Smith’s ejection was stunning in that it appeared roundly out of character. It’s an automatic tossing — if you grab an official, you’re gone — but it still was unexpected from a rookie who is regarded as a heady player who does not have a violent streak. There is some question as to whether it was anything more than a rare misstep, and Smith did not appear to have bad intentions when he pushed back judge Steve Freeman aside following Antoine Winfield’s INT. Smith took full blame and said he’ll accept whatever the NFL’s fine is. "It wasn't even a play, so it was just stupid for me to be involved," Smith said. "I just got kind of caught up in the heat of the moment, and at the end of the day you can never touch the officials. They have a hard enough job as it is, and to make it harder on them is just stupid and is something I don't ever want to do from this point on." Consider the lesson learned.