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NFC North News and Notes: October 8

Posted Oct 8, 2013

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

Vikings

Last Week: 26-18 loss vs. New Orleans

Taking down the Saints this year is looking like it’s going to be a tough task for any team in the League, but with New Orleans having played Monday night and heading to the slow track on Chicago’s Soldier Field, it appeared that the Bears had a decent shot to hand Drew Brees and Co. their first loss of the season.  That would not be the case though, as Brees carved up the Chicago secondary and gave the Bears their second loss of the season via a 26-18 score.

For the second week in a row, the Bears needed a 4th quarter rally to bring the game within reach but couldn’t knot things up.  The Saints got out to an early 13-0 lead but Alshon Jeffrey’s three-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter got the Bears back in the game.  However, Brees responded with a seven play, 71-yard drive towards the end of the 1st half that he capped with a touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas that really took the wind out of Chicago’s sails.

Jeffrey had his second straight big game and is emerging as a legit No. 2 receiver behind Brandon Marshall, who has seen his numbers struggle during Jeffrey’s emergence.  Jeffrey has over 300 yards receiving and a pair of scores in the losses to Detroit and New Orleans, while Marshall has only 11 grabs.  In both games though the Bears have been behind by double-digits for most of the 2nd half causing Jay Cutler to need to throw deep (to Jeffrey) rather than the short, moving-the-sticks throws that Marshall generally makes hay on.

Defensively the team has struggled against the high-powered offenses it’s faced the past two weeks, but the injuries are piling up.  After losing DT Henry Melton a few weeks to an ACL, the same injury happened to fellow DE Nate Collins on Sunday, thinning out the interior of their defensive line even more.

This Week: Bears vs. Giants, Thursday at 7:25 PM

On paper it appears as though the Bears should get back to their winning ways this Thursday as they play host to the winless Giants.  Eli Manning has been a turnover machine so far this season, which is a recipe for disaster against any team, much less the tenacious Bears defense at Soldier Field.


Vikings

Last Week: 22-9 loss at Green Bay

Having lost 21 straight road games to the Packers heading into last Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field, the odds were stacked against the Lions from the get-go.  But the surprise deactivation of Calvin Johnson due to a lingering knee injury really put the team behind the eight ball, and it showed on the field as the Packers pulled away late for a 22-9 victory.

Without Megatron in the lineup you knew the Lions offense would suffer, but to their credit the Detroit defense did a mostly good job holding Green Bay’s offense in check for most of the day.  The Packers led 6-3 at halftime and extended that lead to 9-3 thanks to Mason Crosby’s third field goal of the game midway through the 3rd quarter. The next Lions drive was a three-and-out, and that’s when the secondary let James Jones get behind it, and Aaron Rodgers hit him for a 83-yard score that put the game out of reach.

Matthew Stafford didn’t turn the ball over at all while completing 25-40 passes, but the explosiveness of the Lions passing game just wasn’t there in Johnson’s absence.  Reggie Bush was unable to get much of anything going on the ground (44 yards) or through the air (4 catches, 25 yards).  Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, along with running back Joique Bell, each had a team-high four catches.

Outside of Jones’ long catch the Packers offense didn’t have many explosive plays, which is of course a staple of theirs.  Green Bay’s ground game was effective on this day though, with Eddy Lacy going for 99 yards and the team combining for 180 yards rushing.

This Week: Lions at Browns, Sunday at Noon

A few weeks ago it looked like this game would be a nice breather after divisional games against the Bears and Packers but suddenly the Browns have won three games in a row and sit in first place in the AFC North.  They did lose quarterback Brian Hoyer for the season with a knee injury last Thursday so Brandon Weeden is back in the saddle as the team’s starter.  A healthy Megatron would certainly boost the Lions chances this weekend.


Vikings

Last Week: 22-9 win vs. Detroit

It wasn’t the prettiest game the Packers will play this year, but any time you can grind out a divisional win you’ll take it, and that’s exactly what Green Bay did in its 22-9 win over the Lions, though the win came with a price in the form of Clay Matthews’ thumb.

Matthews broke his thumb during the 3rd quarter of the win and is expected to miss a month or more.  He has three sacks on the season and is one of the NFL’s most disruptive pass-rushes, so his absence will certainly be felt.  From a Vikings perspective, it’s unlikely that he’ll be back in time for the matchup against the Packers at Mall of America Field on Oct. 27.

Green Bay’s offense only had a few of the big plays its known for but for the most part they moved the ball effectively on this day, as Aaron Rodgers threw for 274 yards and the team rushed for 180.  Mason Crosby, who has come under fire for having his share of struggles over the past 15 months or so, was 5-5 on field goals, which has to be a major confidence booster.

The Packers defense recorded a season-high five sacks, and clearly benefitted from a Calvin Johnson-less Detroit offense.  Still though, give the Packers credit for stopping Reggie Bush, something that most other teams have had major issues with so far on the season.

The win brought the Packers back to .500 on the season at 2-2 and, more importantly maybe, kept the Lions from having a large lead in the NFC North.  Now both the Lions and Bears sit at 3-2, while Green Bay and the Vikings (1-3) bring up the bottom-half of the divion.

This Week: Packers at Ravens, Sunday at Noon

Green Bay heads to Baltimore this Sunday to take on the defending Super Bowl champions, who have been very hit-or-miss on this young season but are 3-2 after last Sunday’s 26-23 win at Miami. The Ravens have allowed just 15 points in their two home wins this year, but the Packers offense should prove to be a much tougher test for Baltimore’s retooled defense than either the Browns or Texans offenses were.