NFC North Spin cycle: Are Packers back now?

Posted Oct. 15, 2012 @ 4:27 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

Is the Pack back? That certainly looks to be the case after Green Bay's convincing defeat of the previously undefeated Texans obliterated memories of the Packers' jaw-dropping meltdown against the Colts the previous week. It was also a good weekend for the Lions, who manufactured a gritty come-from-behind win over the Eagles. The Vikings, however, weren't as fortunate, losing on the road to Robert Griffin III and the Redskins.

What follows is PFW's weekly team-by-take take on the state of the NFC North:

BEARS

On bye.

LIONS

What we learned: The Lions showed major grit and skill in grinding to a 26-23 OT victory Sunday at Philadelphia. Detroit, which trailed by 10 points with less than four minutes left, scored the game’s final 13 points in securing a much-needed second victory of the season. The Lions (2-3) made the necessary plays in all phases in the triumph. QB Matthew Stafford and his pass-catching corps shone down the stretch, with WR Calvin Johnson and TE Tony Scheffler especially coming up big. The defense, which allowed just 4.6 yards per play, forced three turnovers. In his return to the lineup after missing four games with a knee injury, FS Louis Delmas showed a playmaking flair with an interception and a pair of tackles for loss. DE Cliff Avril also had a strong game, notching two sacks. What’s more, the club’s special-teams coverage units, which were awful in the Lions’ previous two games, took a step forward.

What’s in store next: The Lions’ victory gives them a little breathing room entering Monday night’s game at Chicago (4-1), and it gives them a real chance to reenter the picture in the NFC North race. A win against the Bears would leave the Lions a mere one game behind Chicago. The Bears and Lions split a pair of games a season ago, with each team holding serve at home. It’s unclear whether RB Jahvid Best, the star of the Lions’ win against Chicago a season ago, will be available. He is eligible to come off the PUP list but must be medically cleared after an extended concussion-related absence.

What the heck? While the Lions showed considerable toughness in victory, they also made too many mistakes. Sixteen penalties were enforced against Detroit for 132 yards. It’s an issue that the Lions must fix, as such mistakes just whittle away at their already reduced margin for error. Moreover, the Lions had some issues on third downs on both sides of the ball. They converted just 3-of-13 on offense while Philadelphia moved the chains eight times in 17 third-down tries. 

— Mike Wilkening

PACKERS

What we learned: The Packers appear to have bounced back into serious playoff contention following an impressive all-around 42-24 victory over the previously undefeated Texans on a national stage. The offense returned to its normally very reliable form in Reliant Stadium, as reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers made his fantasy owners breathe easy again with a brilliant six-TD effort that tied a franchise record set by Matt Flynn last season. A strong effort by the defense was equally important, as DRE C.J. Wilson set the tone on the first play of the game with the first of three sacks by Dom Capers’ fired-up unit. Clay Matthews more than held his own matched up against fellow defensive MVP candidate J.J. Watt with four tackles (one for loss) and three QB hits.   

What’s in store next: The Packers can ill afford a letdown in their third consecutive road game in a domed stadium against Jeff Fisher’s plucky Rams, who are undefeated at home. The Rams were done in by missed opportunities in their 17-14 loss in Miami in Week Six, including three straight missed FG attempts (one from 66 yards) by cannon-legged rookie PK Greg Zuerlein, who had connected on his previous 15 FG attempts. Last year, Rodgers threw three TD passes to three different receivers (Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver) in a 24-3 victory over the Rams in Week Six. The Rams, who lost last week despite outgaining Miami 462-192 and limiting them to only 19 rushing yards, outgained Green Bay 424-399 in that game.

What the heck? Already missing WR Greg Jennings, NT B.J. Raji, TE D.J. Williams and RB Cedric Benson, the injury bug continued to sting the Packers, perhaps severely with LBs D.J. Smith and rookie Nick Perry, CB Sam Shields and RB Brandon Saine all going down for the count against the Texans. The loss of Smith, who appears to have been hurt pretty seriously, further weakens an ILB corps that earlier lost physical starter Desmond Bishop with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason opener. Smith is tied for the team lead in solo tackles with fellow LB A.J. Hawk.

— Dan Arkush

VIKINGS

What we learned: The Vikings still have some work to do defensively. They had few answers for Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, allowing him to gain 8.3 yards per attempt passing and 10.6 yards per run, including two TDs in a 38-26 Redskins victory. It was the worst defensive performance of the season for the Vikings, who had not previously allowed more than 23 points. Missed tackles and assignments and a tough break — not drawing what appeared to be a clear hold against Chad Greenway on Griffin’s 76-yard scoring run — were the keys to the loss. Give the Vikings credit: They could have folded when trailing by 19 points in the fourth quarter, but they clawed back once the passing game finally got clicking and cut the lead to five with 3½ minutes left before Griffin nailed it shut with that long scoring run.

What’s in store next: Returning home to face the suddenly flagging Cardinals, it’s not clear which quarterback the Vikings will face. Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the Cardinals’ overtime loss to the Bills at home, and he was replaced by former starter John Skelton, who just became healthy himself again after a Week One injury. The Vikings’ next two games are in Minnesota, and they will happen in a five-day span with a Thursday-night tilt against the Buccaneers in Week Eight following this Sunday's matchup with Arizona. These are two winnable games, and the Vikings learned a valuable lesson Sunday about starting fast. They dominated the first quarter against the Redskins, outgaining them 148-45, but settled for three field goals and a slim 9-0 lead. Less than a quarter later, it was 17-9 Redskins, and Washington never trailed again.

What the heck? Christian Ponder is in a mini-slump here. He admirably picked himself up time and time again Sunday, rallying his team despite two picks and a fumble. But that’s three games now in a row where he has been subpar. Against the Lions, he gained barely four yards an attempt. In Week Five against the Titans, he was picked off twice and was a little too hot and cold against one of the NFL’s worst statistical defenses. And Sunday, Ponder struggled despite finishing with somewhat gaudy numbers (352 passing yards on 52 attempts). He needs to come out and have an efficient game like he did against the 49ers, leading a long statement drive on the opening series and making plays with his head and his arm. Ponder has been just a shade off since the first three games of the season.

— Eric Edholm