A look in Week 10 around the NFC North, which went winless Sunday.
The Packers and Bears aren’t close in the standings, where the NFC North leaders hold a three-game and head-to-head advantage over the bottom dwellers, but perhaps they’re not as far apart in other areas.
For instance, Matt LaFleur’s decision to fly the Packers to the west coast a day early for their Week 9 visit with the Los Angeles Chargers, not unlike Matt Nagy’s to lead the Bears to London only 48 hours prior to kickoff against the Raiders in Week 4, was questioned following a flat defeat following an impressive winning streak.
Of course, it was LaFleur and Rodgers — not outside observers — doing much of the second guessing.
“I think anytime you go out and you put a performance like that,” LaFleur told reporters this week, “that’s the first thing that comes to mind was, were we into it?”
What’s not really in question is how thoroughly the Chargers got into the teeth of the Packers’ soft defensive underbelly, and, conversely, how out of the game a shorthanded O-line was able to take Green Bay’s pass rush.
Again, second part sounds a bit familiar, no?
The Packers offense will be just fine, we’d imagine. Davante Adams returned from his four-game layoff with turf toe and came away unscathed, even if it wasn’t after immediately regaining his Pro Bowl form, and Aaron Rodgers and his offensive line are simply too good to think the unit’s 184-yard, 11-point clunker is of great concern.
However, the defense is now ranked 26th overall, can’t stop the run or rush the passer consistently and welcomes perhaps the game’s best dual-threat back in Christian McCaffrey’s Panthers, who got back on track Sunday and are now locked in with Kyle Allen behind center and Cam Newton on injured reserve.
While Mike Zimmer didn’t say his Vikings looked past the Matt Moore-led Chiefs at Arrowhead in their third loss of the season, we think it’s fair to wonder considering they’re now traveling to face the 5-3 Dallas Cowboys in a much-anticipated primetime clash between high-powered, run-first offenses and talented, havoc-wreaking defenses.
All three of Minnesota’s losses have come on the road — including two against 2018 playoff opponents — and Zimmer did discuss this week the importance of earning what would be their first signature victory against his old pals, not to mention the NFL’s top-rated offense, in the Cowboys.
“Being able to go on the road and beat a good team is important for us. For us to do that, it’s not about that. It’s we have to control the clock. We have to not turn the ball over. We have to be efficient. … There’s a lot that goes into it, what we have to do, to beat a team like this.”
The Vikings protected the football last week, and though they lost the time-of-possession battle, it’s tough to point to their run defense’s worst performance of the season, because 91 of the 147 yards allowed came on one TD run. Minnesota also allowed an explosive touchdown through the air — not exactly long, methodical scoring drives — but certainly a separate concern with Dallas leading the NFL in yards per play and ranking fourth overall in scoring offense.
Yet the Vikings rank fourth and 11th in those categories, respectively — and the comparisons hardly end there. Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook are among the few backs in football whom their teams have built their respective offenses around, and with Adam Thielen’s hamstring again barking and clouding his Sunday-night status, both WR corps are overly reliant on a singular weapon in Amari Cooper and Stefon Diggs, respectively.
No one is quarterbacking more consistently in the NFC North than Matthew Stafford, yet he’s a defeat at Soldier Field Sunday — where he played poorly a year ago in a down season — from having the division’s fewest wins to show for it.
“Those guys on offense have done a great job on offense of putting those skill guys, putting the offense, putting the quarterback in good situations to have some good completions. Give coach [Darrell] Bevell credit and his staff for doing that,” Matt Patricia told us on a teleconference this week. “But just give credit to Matthew Stafford. … He’s been around the game a long time but really approaches it every single day like a new day and he wants to get better. Just give him credit for his work ethic, his toughness and his ability to study, be disciplined and really just try and get better every single time he gets in the building.”
Indeed, Stafford is playing some of the best, most efficient football of his career with personal bests in TD percentage (6.5), adjusted yards per attempt (9.1) and passer rating (106.0). He isn’t the reason the the Lions are 3-4-1 and coming off a gut-wrenching late loss in Oakland.
That, much like Chicago’s plight, lies in the Lions’ inability to play complementary football. Defensive whiz or not, Patricia’s unit has gone from bad to worse this season after some late signs of promise in 2018, currently sitting at 31st in total ‘D,’ 30th on third downs and 23rd in te red zone.
Detroit has a get-well opportunity in Chicago Sunday, but rest assured the free-falling Bears offense views it similarly.