Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (99) and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52) in the third quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Packers 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

NFC North Division Outlook: Green Bay Packers Solve Few Problems

In the first evaluation of the division title races around the NFL, none offered more surprises than the NFC North.  Capping the week was a somewhat surprising day for the reigning champion Green Bay Packers.

Detroit Lions – Defensive line and Reggie Bush lead the way

The surprise division leader after week one thanks to a huge victory over Minnesota, it’s clear the Detroit Lions aren’t complete pushovers.  Their defensive line was as advertised, collecting three sacks and shutting the run down after an early 78-yard touchdown hiccup.  By far the biggest piece of good news was somebody other than Calvin Johnson making plays on offense.  That was running back Reggie Bush, who piled up over 190 yards of offense including a touchdown catch.  A big help came from four Vikings turnovers as the Lions pulled away late.  They have a ways to go before silencing doubters, but it wasn’t a bad start.

Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler kept clean while defense does its thing

Another team with loads to prove in 2013 was the Chicago Bears.  Their primary issues were and have always been on offense.  Early on against the Cincinnati Bengals it seemed nothing had change as they fell behind 21-10 midway through the third quarter.  Then, ever so suddenly, things shifted.  Quarterback Jay Cutler, who wasn’t sacked all day directed two 80-yard drives that resulted in 14 unanswered points.  The defense chipped in with three takeaways, including a huge one that stopped the Bengals deep in Bears territory.  The 24-21 comeback victory was an eye-opener not just because it was the offense that led the way but that the rally came at the hands of a team that boasted the 6th ranked defense in 2012.  Is it a sign of things to come?

Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers still shouldering the load

Same location, same opponent and largely similar results.  The Green Bay Packers went into San Francisco with loads to prove.  After their humiliating 45-31 defeat in the playoffs last year, the Pack had plans for more than just revenge.  They wanted to prove the over 300 rushing yards they gave up on defense and limited rushing impact on offense could be corrected.  Fast forward to a hotly contested week one and sadly not much changed.  The Packers defense succeeded in limiting the 49ers rushing attack, allowing no player to go over 50 yards.  However, in so doing they were gashed by quarterback Colin Kaepernick for 412 passing yards.  On top of that, Aaron Rodgers got little to no help on the ground himself.  Green Bay’s leading rusher had 41 yards.  The Packers are still a good team, but show few signs of getting better.

Minnesota Vikings – Christian Ponder fails to answer first challenge

A lot of experts had a strong feeling the Minnesota Vikings would come crashing back to earth after their improbable playoff run last season.  Part of that reasoning was a lack of faith in quarterback Christian Ponder who they felt couldn’t carry a game without the steady running of Adrian Peterson.  Week one certainly did nothing to change their minds.  Ponder had a pedestrian 236 yards passing despite some notable upgrades to the receiving corps.  He also threw three costly interceptions and lost a fumble.  His lone touchdown pass was to, surprise surprise, Peterson.  The fact the Vikings defense allowed over 100 yards rushing and over 350 yards passing by the Lions wasn’t encouraging either.  The crash may have already started unless Ponder can pick up his play quickly.

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Tags: Aaron Rodgers Christian Ponder Green Bay Packers Jay Cutler Reggie Bush

  • Moveguy

    Lions beating the Vikings was predictable as everyone thought the Vikings were carried completely by an amazing year by AP last year. If any one did not think D coordinators, especially in the NFCN did not spend time figuring out how to make Ponder beat them instead of AP, then you are just being silly. The only thing surprising in that game was after the first run AP did nothing. Then add on the fact it was at Detroit? No that was predictable and really says nothing about either team other than Bush looked good and will pose a second threat. So yes the lions should be in the 8-8 to 10-6 range.

    Then the Bears struggled against the Bengals at home and you want to commend them for it? Ok Bengals are not an awful team, but they are not the Niners or Bronco’s level either. So yea the Bears squeaked out a win at home. The way you write it, you would think they won 31-14.

    Packers on the other hand you say nothing is different. First the Packers had the ball and driving to close the game to win it. They came up short. Last year the playoff game was over in the 3rd quarter, some how I find that totally different. I also notice you did not write how they were missing there best starting safety and 2nd best corner for the game? Think that might have had something to do with the air attack? Actually the Packers showed a lot on D that things are much better this year.

    Funny how you judge the Lions and Bears playing at home against lesser teams equally to the Packers going to SF.

    • Erik Lambert

      There are no excuses. The Packers missed some guys on defense but there is no reason for them to give up 400 yards passing. Also, they didn’t solve any of their problems running either. Rodgers was under duress frequently as well. They are still a good team, but they aren’t infallible.

      The Lions, to me, are a talented team with little direction. So they can look great at times and terrible at others. I think that opener was a good showing. Do I think it will continue? Doubtful. If you had read carefully, I never crowned them in the first place. I merely pointed out they look improved from the 4-12 joke they boasted last year.

      As for the Bears, yes they won a game at home but it was against a team that boasted a playoff roster two years in a row and according to multiple sources got a lot better this past off-season in the draft. Yet for the first time it wasn’t the Bears defense that led the comeback, but the offense. Considering they had such a showing against a playoff-caliber opponent, there is a reason to think their own talented roster is finally rounding out on both sides of the ball. It doesn’t guarantee them anything, but it does increase their chances.

      • Moveguy

        It was not an excuse about the Packers, but a fact you have to look at when analyzing the performance of a team, especially when you say they showed few signs of getting better. They had the lead in the 4th quarter, had the ball trying to win the game at the end and they shut down the run those are not signs of improving? As I stated had they had their starting S and CB something tells me they might not have given up 400 yards. So yes if you are going to try to write an article about judging the team for the year off one game, these are all factors someone should and would take into consideration.

        Oh here is another good one you came up with. The Packers are in trouble because on the road at SF the rookie RB playing in his first game only rushed for 41 yards. Did you see what the great Matt Forte at home ran for 50 yards. So that 9 yards in a game makes a huge difference? Got it. FYI Packers averaged 3.3 ypc and Bears were 2.9 on Sunday. I can surely see how the Packers are in such trouble and the Bears are AWESOME!

        Also you call the fact Ponder threw for 236 yards pedestrian. But Cutler threw for 242 and yet the Bears O is great and impressive. What? Don’t you find it a bit odd how teams on the road put up the same offensive numbers as the Bears at home and you consider the road teams as bad and the home Bears as good?

        You write that your impressed the Bears came back at home against the 6th best D and scored 24 points. But the Packers came back against the 2nd best D on the road putting up 28 points and yet one is great and the other has many unanswered questions.

        Ok so answer me about the Bengals how many playoff games did they win? Oh wait, you mean they don’t play well on the road in big games? Yet such a huge quality win for the Bears at home to come back from. Now you are saying Cincy got a lot better in the draft. So you are telling me that teams should expect first year players to play well in their first NFL game and it is played on the road.

        Oh yea you also say the come back was by the O and not the D. Yet in your article you write they were aided by 3 Cincy turnovers. Hmmm the O was creating turnovers??? Including the turnover in the fourth quarter following, wait for it, a Cutler pick! So I guess the fact that everyone knows Jay throws a lot of critical picks is of no concern here because everything is great in Chicago according to you.

        You called the Lions win at home over the Vikings a HUGE victory. You do recall writing that right? FYI Lions were a 4.5 to 5 point favorite. So when you say it is a HUGE win, you mean what exactly? If they had beat SF, Seattle, GB or Denver then it is a huge win. Not the Vikings at home.

        Here is what I learned from week 1. Packers are still the class of the division. The D is much better than what it was last year and when the secondary is healthy again, they are going to be MUCH better. When they are not playing the Niners they will be able to run the ball which will only open up more passing lanes as well. Lions and Bears will battle it out for second and Vikings fourth. Vikings biggest issue is the QB.

        • Erik Lambert

          Stop taking my words farther than you think. I never said Cutler had a brilliant afternoon. He didn’t. I’m saying he played well enough, especially in the second half to lead the offense to victory. Ponder had only slightly fewer yards and two more picks. Turnovers always make the yardage look pedestrian. Besides, you call them Bengals mistakes, others call them takeaways by the defense. Something they’ve done for years. You’re so quick to point out that Cutler made the mistake, which he did, but he also didn’t hesitate to answer when given a second chance.

          Also to your point about the running game, my issue is not with the 41 yards Lacy managed, it was with the 14 carries he had. Green Bay was never down by more than a touchdown during that game and yet demanded Rodgers continue to sling the ball behind a banged up offensive line rather than try to control the time of possession and get Kaepernick out of rhythm. It’s the same problems that dogged them last year. McCarthy abjectly refuses to run the ball with any consistency because it doesn’t gain yards in huge chunks. At least Marc Trestman didn’t deviate from Forte when the Bears fell behind 21-10 despite his struggles running behind an offensive line starting two ROOKIES. To me, nothing has changed with the Packers.

          Lastly, to your point about the Lions, any divisional win is a huge win. Unless I’m mistaken the Vikings went to the playoffs last year. Beating them, at home or otherwise is very important once the playoff chase starts to unfold. You have your opinion about Minnesota and that’s fine but it doesn’t change the fact they were good enough to win 10 games last year and beat your beloved Packers to do it.