Matt LaFleur, like Matt Nagy one season earlier, has flourished in his maiden head-coaching voyage, likely en route to a division title and quite possibly 12-4 regular-season mark, same as the 2018 Bears.
There is also no shortage of additional parallels, from the uneven performances on their expert side of the ball to red-zone acuity and an outstanding turnover differential playing vital roles in their winning ways.
But don’t look past the role that unusually good health has played on Green Bay’s success, just as it did last season for the Bears, who ranked third in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ games lost metric.
To wit: The Packers will have the good fortune to line up 20 of the 22 starters Sunday at Lambeau vs. the Bears that they did at Soldier Field in Week 1, if they so choose. Lane Taylor, the only regular starter on IR, was merely keeping the LG spot warm for powerful second-rounder Elgton Jenkins, while Raven Greene was deployed as a hybrid sub-package linebacker.
By contrast, the Bears have sent four Week 1 starters to IR — Adam Shaheen, Kyle Long, Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith — and though Hicks is set to return Sunday for the first time since Week 5, they could be down two more defensive starters in Prince Amukamara and Danny Trevathan. Chicago has also coaxed essentially nothing all season from fellow starting TE Trey Burton, who was inactive in Week 1, and their second-leading receiver a year ago, Taylor Gabriel, hasn’t played since Week 12.
None of this should minimize what LaFleur’s Packers have accomplished, just as it didn’t serve as a red check mark for Nagy a year ago. But it should serve as a cautionary tale for the Packers, whose depth doesn’t appear as strong as Chicago’s — regardless of how rarely it’s been called on this season.
The Vikings got right defensively in their win vs. the Detroit Lions following their struggles in Seattle, holding David Blough and Co. to 231 total yards and seven points and picking off a pair of passes.
Obviously, the Lions are everyone’s elixir, and a better gauge of where Mike Zimmer’s unit — ranked 14th overall, as low as it’s been in his five-plus year tenure — should come against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday.
But Zimmer liked what he saw from a group that stiffened considerably vs. the run, permitting only 70 yards (3.2 YPC) after allowing the Seahawks to run roughshod to the tune of 218. Linval Joseph’s second game back following a two-game absence with a knee injury was encouraging, as was Minnesota’s successful foray with rotating its maligned CB corps.
“We played better,” Zimmer said. “There as only like one or two things during the course of the ballgame that we did not do like they’re being coached. Hopefully, that continues to improve, hopefully take a little wear and tear, where they have to be thinking all the time, off their plate. I don’t know, we’ll see what this week holds.”
The early word is that the most maligned cover man of the bunch, Xavier Rhodes, avoided a serious ankle injury one week after his sideline blowup with Zimmer following after allowing a 60-yard TD grab by David Moore in Seattle.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the season finishes for Rhodes, whose play has dropped off precipitously but is owed nearly $13 million in his age-30 2020 campaign. Remember, the Vikings’ other two starters, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, are already ticketed for free agency.
The Vikings’ No. 1 focus the disappointing 5-8 Chargers, not looking ahead to a potential Week 16 NFC North title game at home vs. the Packers. But we’re already looking ahead to what could be an offseason of change in Zimmer’s prized CB room.
The silence regarding the futures of Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn is becoming deafening.
Patricia was asked following his team’s sixth consecutive loss whether he’s been in contact with ownership regarding his job security but said if any such discussion occurred, it’d remain private.
We’ve also been unable to glean much about what the Ford family and president Rod Wood are thinking, though the sense we have currently leans ever-so-slightly to the HC-GM ex-Patriots pairing could get one more season to — wait for it — do their jobs a heck of a lot better.
And in fairness, few teams have endured the amount of injury carnage of the Lions, who most recently placed WR2 Marvin Jones on season-ending IR with an ankle injury. There, he joins Kerryon Johnson — though the Lions feature back could return from his IR stint following knee surgery in Week 16 — and fellow skill players on offense, including top pick T.J. Hockenson and WRs Jermaine Kearse and Marvin Hall.
Still, it’s the defense — Patricia’s baby — that’s been the biggest problem for the club, and only so much blame can be assigned there to injuries. The Lions entered the year without enough pass rush, even with blockbuster signee Trey Flowers, and have had even more issues on the back end.
Watching recent trade export Quandre Diggs, then, intercept two more passes — including a 55-yard pick-six in prime time last week — had to really sting the fan base. Diggs now has three picks and a forced fumble in four starts for the Seahawks, who have enjoyed a serious boost since the deal, while Detroit has come up with few answers after willingly creating his absence.
Is that on Patricia? Quinn? It’s likely to be a question Detroit brass wants answered before deciding what to do with the two men heading football operations.