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NFC North News and Notes: November 13

Posted Nov 12, 2013

We take a look around the NFC North to see what the Vikings closest competition has going on…

Vikings

Last Week: 21-19 loss vs. Detroit

Jay Cutler returned to the lineup for the Bears on Sunday but by game’s end, many were questioning the decision to start him in the first place as he was largely ineffective before exiting the 21-19 loss with groin and ankle injuries.

Cutler, who missed Monday’s game against the Packers due to a groin injury he suffered a Week 7 loss to the Redskins, gave way on the team’s final offensive series to Josh McCown, who again excelled. He completed six passes for 62 yards and connected with Brandon Marshall for a touchdown to nearly bring the Bears back in the game, but Matt Forte was unable to convert on the two-point conversion.

McCown’s numbers this year are great: 42-70, 538 yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers in the three games he’s played.  On Monday the Bears announced that Cutler, a pending free agent, will for sure miss this Sunday’s game vs. the Ravens, so McCown will get yet another shot to show what he’s got and try to keep the Bears in the race for the playoffs. Should he keep playing well, it will be interesting to see how quickly Cutler gets back into the lineup this time around.

What really hurt the Bears in this game was their inability to establish anything on the ground. Forte had just 33 yards rushing, by far his worst output of the season. That forced Chicago to throw the ball 49 times in a game that was within one score from start to finish.

Given all the injuries on defense, it had to be considered a win for the Bears to hold the Lions to 21 points. However, it was announced on Monday that all-world CB Charles Tillman will miss the rest of the regular season with a triceps injury. The injuries on defense to him, Lance Briggs, Henry Melton and others will put even more pressure on the offense to put up points.

This Week: Bears vs. Ravens, Sunday at Noon

Before heading out on the road for four of their final six games, including a Nov. 30 matchup with the Vikings at Mall of America Field, the Bears will play host to the Ravens this Sunday at Soldier Field. Baltimore is just a game back on Cincinnati in the loss column for first in the AFC North after its overtime win over the Bengals on Sunday. Kind of feels like whoever loses this game will be really up against it to make the playoffs despite plenty of the season left to be played.

Vikings

Last Week: 21-19 win over Chicago

The Lions got good-to-great games from their three key offensive players – Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson – and earned a tough road win against the Bears on Sunday by a 21-19 score to go a full game up on both the Bears and Packers in the race for first in the NFC North.

Johnson had two touchdown catches, including the game-winning score with 2:22 to go, to push the Lions record to 6-3 and beating the Bears for the second time this season.

Though his numbers (18-35, 219 yards, three touchdown passes, 87.7 rating) weren’t nearly as gaudy as they have been in some other weeks, Stafford played a very efficient road game, turning the ball over just once, which isn’t bad at all considering he was going against a Bears defense known for turning opposing offenses over.

To compliment the air attack, Bush had his second 100-yard day as a Lion, going for 105 yards on just 14 carries. As a team the Lions took advantage of Chicago’s depleted defense and racked up 145 yards on the ground, good for 5.6 yards per carry. Doing that via the running attack will certainly open up things for the passing game, so the Lions did a good job of having balance on Sunday, something that has been a trademark of theirs this year due in large part to Bush’s addition to the offense.

Detroit’s defense took advantage of a gimpy Jay Cutler, who returned to the starting lineup after injuring his groin a few weeks ago but was forced to leave this contest in the 4th quarter due to an ankle sprain, though it appeared as though his groin was also giving him issues again. Josh McCown again replaced Cutler and led the Bears to a touchdown late, but the Lions defense stuffed Matt Forte’s rushing attempt on the two-point conversion to secure the win.

Given that Cutler wasn’t 100 percent and the explosive Lions offense, you knew Chicago would want to establish Matt Forte to help take pressure off of Cutler and keep Stafford and Co. off the field.  However, Forte was held to just 33 yards on 17 carries after he averaged 6.8 yards per carry in the previous matchup of these two teams in September, a 40-32 Lions win.

This Week: Lions at Steelers, Sunday at Noon

Detroit will look to stay atop the NFC North with a very winnable game in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, who have won three of their last five games since their 0-4 start but are still a team that the Lions can and should beat. However, it’s been a long time since the Lions have been in first place this late into the season so it will be telling in terms of how they react to playing with some pressure on their shoulders as opposed to not having much expected of them. After this trip to Pittsburgh the Lions play four of their final six at Ford Field.

Vikings

Last Week: 27-13 loss to the Eagles

Life without Aaron Rodgers got off to an awful start for the Packers, who without their all-world quarterback couldn’t keep up with the high-powered Eagles offense on Sunday, losing 27-13 at Lambeau Field.

Rodgers, who will miss at least a few more weeks with a broken collarbone, watched from the sidelines as Seneca Wallace left after the team’s first series with a groin injury, leaving third-stringer Scott Tolzien as the lone healthy quarterback on the Packers roster. Whether it was Wallace or Tolzien on this day, Green Bay’s game plan was clear early: run the ball to keep the Eagles offense off the field.

And for the most part that worked during a sloppy first half. Mason Crosby missed a pair of field goals in the first half, Eagles’ kicker Alex Henry missed a kick of his own and the score at halftime was 10-3 thanks to a 55-yard DeSean Jackson touchdown reception.

Philadelphia’s offense got going to start the second half, though, scoring 17 points in the 3rd quarter thanks largely to a pair of Nick Foles-to-Riley Cooper touchdown passes. The game essentially ended early the 4th quarter after Green Bay failed to convert on 4th and 4 from the Eagles seven-yard line when a Tolzien pass to Jordy Nelson fell incomplete.

Lacy (99 yards rushing) was again solid but once Green Bay got behind in the 3rd quarter it made the Packer offense one dimensional since they had to throw on nearly every down to try and get back into the game.

Defensively the Packers got Clay Matthews back from a thumb injury, though he was hardly the same player as he was pre-injury, as he played with a large cast / club on his hand that slowed his game down significantly. Green Bay also lost DE Johnny Jolly, CB Casey Hayward and LB Nick Perry to injuries during the game and their status for this week is uncertain.

On offense, in addition to the Wallace injury, C Evan Dietrich-Smith and T Don Barclay couldn’t finish the game due to injuries.

This Week: Packers at Giants, Sunday at 3:25 PM

The Packers, who will be led by Tolzien again, take on another NFC East opponent this week as they travel to New Jersey to take on the Giants, who have won three games in a row and are in the thick of the race for a division crown despite their 3-6 record. The desperate nature of the Giants combined with how beat up the Packers are could make this a very tough game for Green Bay.