NFCN Report – Week 14

14 weeks of NFCN football and we know that the Packers are finally starting to feel some swagger to their play.

The Vikings are a playoff-quality team, but are they a team that can win playoff games?

The Bears are who we thought they were, before the season, a five or six win team.

Lions fans can look forward to another holiday right after New Year’s Day. Jim Caldwell will be fired on January 3rd or 4th.

[graphiq id=”jdAk0BtDdwV” title=”NFC North Barroom – NFC North Standings” width=”640″ height=”530″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/jdAk0BtDdwV” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – NFC North Standings | PointAfter”]

Green Bay Packers

The football Gods answered Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary in week 13 and in week 14 they answered Packers’ fans prayers to see Mike McCarthy reclaim his play calling duties. McCarthy had surrendered the job to newly promoted coach Tom Clements (associate head coach/offense) during the off-season so he could more closely oversee other areas of the team.

Throughout the past several weeks, McCarthy defended Clements saying there was nothing wrong with the playcalling and that the players simply needed to do a better job of executing. Then he didn’t.

McCarthy Q on playcalling

There’s no doubt to anyone watching McCarthy on the sidelines, that the head coach missed his old duties. He always carried a playcall sheet and looked at it like Eddie Lacy looks at a Rib Eye Steak.

On Sunday, McCarthy anointed Lacy the lead steer in a stampede of rushing attempts (44) which helped the big back produce 124 yards on 24 attempts and James Starks 71 yards on 11 carries. The Packers finished with a total of 230 yards rushing, the highest single game amount all season and their only game with two rushing touchdowns.

[graphiq id=”1d5FOlGjTsp” title=”NFCNorth Barroom – Green Bay Packers Rushing Performance Per Game in 2015″ width=”640″ height=”518″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/1d5FOlGjTsp” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/20/Green-Bay-Packers” link_text=”NFCNorth Barroom – Green Bay Packers Rushing Performance Per Game in 2015 | PointAfter”]

The changes in playcalling weren’t just a public flogging of Tom Clements; Aaron Rodgers himself was denied some of the latitude of changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Both coach and Rodgers downplayed the changes, but it’s clear that this goes back to McCarthy stressing that the players had to execute what was being called. Now we know he wasn’t only referring to blocking, throwing, running and catching – but also executing the play called and not checking out, Mr. Rodgers.

Any, maybe, this is the road to the Super Bowl for the Packers. Two weeks ago, I wrote that the answer to the Packers’ problems was Mike McCarthy. (See here.) The initial results look good as Green Bay totaled 435 yards of offense and they now have a one game lead for the NFCN.

But, I must preach caution to Packers fans calling their bookies.

The facts are these… the Packers are feasting on teams with poor won-loss records.

[graphiq id=”4NkclwSEdDv” title=”NFC North Barroom – Green Bay Packers 2015 Schedule” width=”400″ height=”400″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/4NkclwSEdDv” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/20/Green-Bay-Packers” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Green Bay Packers 2015 Schedule | PointAfter”]

The Packers are now 7-2 when playing teams that are under .500. (1-2 vs teams with a record over .500). Add the victory over the Chicago Bears in week one and they are 8-2 against teams unable to play .500 football.

It’s also difficult to forget the disturbing smell of that losing stretch in November that began in Denver after their bye week and continued until their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Bears. They netted a 1-4 November record. I still got a whiff of that stink against the lowly Cowboys. The passing game with wide receivers is still a problem and the defense benefitted greatly from Dez Bryant’s (continued) dropped passes.

The Packers desperately need wins on the road against the Raiders and Cardinals over the next two weeks so that the swagger they had against the crumbling Cowboys can continue against better opponents. Without wins (especially against the Cardinals), Green Bay will likely end up wasting another season of one of this generation’s greatest quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers.

Minnesota Vikings

If I was producing a fictional movie of the Vikings 2015 season my opening scene would be the murder scene. Fade up from black, offensive coordinator Norv Turner lies in a pool of his own blood. The camera slowly tilts up to reveal the killer… head coach Mike Zimmer.

Come on, Vikings fans. You know Zimmer wanted to terminate – with extreme prejudice – his offensive coordinator for calling one of the stupidest plays of the NFL season. No need to re-live in detail the most critical play in the Vikings loss to the Cardinals in Arizona Thursday night.

Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around, Matt Kalil being spin-moved into disgrace, Teddy Bridgewater not recognizing the utter ridiculousness of the playcall and reacting immediately with a throw out-of-bounds… None of that matters, Uncle Norv blew the game.

And, there’s growing concern that maybe Norv is blowing the entire season, too. He and Bridgewater seem as compatible as mariachi music at a Donald Trump rally. I know it seems odd timing to criticize Turner after Bridgewater had his highest passing total, 335 yards, of the season.

But, Norv is a vertical-passing attack guru. Teddy is a west-coast passing quarterback.

Norv leads the league in calling seven-step drops (per Pro Football Focus). Bridgewater leads the league in sacks.

Norv relies on big-armed QBs. Bridgewater is not a big-armed QB.

[graphiq id=”80W7pIqmPOd” title=”NFC North Barroom – Teddy Bridgewater Overview” width=”640″ height=”545″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/80W7pIqmPOd” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/23832/Teddy-Bridgewater” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Teddy Bridgewater Overview | PointAfter”]

It’s not a good look for a playoff team to have their quarterback being sacked 37 times when he’s tried to pass 383 times.

Add in the meek nine touchdown pass totals Bridgewater has through 13 games  – a far cry from the league leaders – and it’s only natural to wonder if the Turner-Bridgewater relationship is going nowhere.

[graphiq id=”e1xPWkvrAgt” title=”NFC North Barroom – NFL Quarterbacks With Most Passing TDs in 2015″ width=”600″ height=”457″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/e1xPWkvrAgt” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – NFL Quarterbacks With Most Passing TDs in 2015 | PointAfter”]

The team’s upcoming games are a great opportunity for offensive coach and quarterback to mind meld and start producing fewer sack totals and more touchdown passes.

[graphiq id=”aACR4gsxJ9b” title=”NFC North Barroom – Minnesota Vikings 2015 Schedule” width=”400″ height=”400″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/aACR4gsxJ9b” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/14/Minnesota-Vikings” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Minnesota Vikings 2015 Schedule | PointAfter”]

Next week, the Bears defense comes in with a two game trend of allowing big plays on defense, the following week presents even more possibilities as no team allows more passing yards per game than the New York Giants, 314.

When Zimmer spoke to the media this past weekend he revealed no animosity towards Turner and, in fact, revealed some satisfaction with the team’s play when asked how the loss compared to the equally disappointing loss to the Broncos earlier this season.

Zim quote on denver loss

Maybe the opening scene of my fictional Vikings movie is Zimmer, Turner and Bridgewater walking in slow motion towards the camera looking badass. That only happens if Turner transforms his playcalling to something suitable for Bridgewater’s talents and the QB begins to develop a kick-ass nickname, like… Teddy Touchdown.

Right now, I’m telling makeup to prepare the theatrical blood.

Chicago Bears

While the Bears made me pause and re-consider my five or six game victory prediction after they won three of four games between weeks nine and 12, including a win at Green Bay, the truth prevailed. This team needs more playmakers and they are a really good draft (or two) away from becoming a serious contender.

[graphiq id=”dGUZxIwIgct” title=”NFC North Barroom – Chicago Bears 2015 Schedule” width=”400″ height=”400″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/dGUZxIwIgct” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/26/Chicago-Bears” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Chicago Bears 2015 Schedule | PointAfter”]

A Bears fan could stare at the results of their last five losses and shed tears at the thought of having lost by 3, 6, 2, 3, and 3 points. For the season, the Bears have four losses by three points or less. That’s puts them tied for the most in the league. If not for a missed field goal (or two), a dropped pass, a missed tackle and the Bears could be… blah, blah, blah.

Every losing team has a sad story.

Fox Q on losing

What’s really sad is that first year General Manager Ryan Pace and veteran head coach John Fox may have blown several opportunities to have built a playoff team in their first year in Chicago. It’s fair to ask if Brandon Marshall, the fourth leading receiver in the NFL, really had to go.

[graphiq id=”6tMVIbedLfL” title=”NFC North Barroom – NFL Receiving Yards Leaders in 2015″ width=”600″ height=”400″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/6tMVIbedLfL” link=”http://nfl-receiving-statistics.pointafter.com” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – NFL Receiving Yards Leaders in 2015 | PointAfter”]

The stories of Marshall’s disruptive behavior are well-known. But, the WR is creating more disruption on the field and might be the biggest reason the Jets are flying towards the playoffs and the Bears will hibernate in January.

After Sunday’s loss to Washington, Kyle Long took responsibility for the loss because of his poor performance. Respect the accountability. But, I’m certain Long still regrets being forced to move to tackle after two seasons of Pro-Bowl work at right guard. Making the move even more frustrating is that it was done days before the opener with no preseason game reps, despite the knowledge that the team had trouble at the RT position.

Why wasn’t the decision made earlier? Why wasn’t more competition added? Was there a serious miscalculation on the abilities of Michael Ola who played 844 snaps at four different offensive line positions for the Bears in 2014 and is now the Lions’ starting right tackle?

We could list more questionable management moves by Fox and Pace – and we will at season’s end when we take a more formal review – but, there is no denying that the Bears, despite a pathetic 1-6 home record, are on a better path then they were a year ago at this time.

Look at how statistically close they are to the division-leading Green Bay Packers in several key spots.

[graphiq id=”1QyuOrlDRtj” title=”NFC North Barroom – Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers in 2015″ width=”600″ height=”518″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/1QyuOrlDRtj” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers in 2015 | PointAfter”]

Helping the team’s prospects for the near-future is the play of Jay Cutler. It was just a couple of months ago when draft prognosticators had the Bears choosing a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft. Not anymore. There is growing consensus that the Bears can win with Jay at quarterback and he’s doing nothing to cast doubts.

[graphiq id=”eym82tVaVO5″ title=”NFC North Barroom – Jay Cutler Overview” width=”640″ height=”545″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/eym82tVaVO5″ link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/4650/Jay-Cutler” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Jay Cutler Overview | PointAfter”]

There are plenty of other doubts on the roster and the next three games will determine how the team will prioritize their offseason needs. If the list of regrets next season is as long as they are this year, then expect another roller coaster year with more lows than highs.

Detroit Lions

Forgive my joking about Jim Caldwell’s impending ouster as coach of the Lions. By all accounts, he’s a decent man… unfortunately, he’s also a lousy head coach. Take a look at Caldwell’s post-game media conference and you have to feel for the guy. He looks like a man awaiting the guillotine to fall.

And that’s because on Sunday the Lions took the field and delivered the kind of uninspired performance that perfectly captured the demeanor of their head coach. Making things worse is that it happened after the kick-to-the-nuts loss versus the Packers ten days earlier. The only way to salvage some respect is to send out a team onto the Edward Jones Dome 100% invested in kicking ass. What we saw was a team whose stock is plummeting and its draft pick status rising.

[graphiq id=”5psvY263gm9″ title=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions 2015 Schedule” width=”400″ height=”400″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/5psvY263gm9″ link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/21/Detroit-Lions” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions 2015 Schedule | PointAfter”]

The Lions have been a franchise haunted by poor decision-making. Against the Rams they were constantly reminded of one of them: – Aaron Donald. If recently fired GM Martin Mayhew saw the game he must have been grinding his teeth to the gums. Donald, who Mayhew bypassed in the draft for Eric Ebron, dominated with three sacks, six quarterback hits and five tackles. He’s been dominating all season long making his sophomore year even more impressive than his freshman year.

When the season is over, Caldwell might look back and think about his own poor decisions: entrusting the offense to Joe Lombardi, not stepping forward more quickly to correct the Lombardi error, not using the blown call by the officials in the Seattle loss as a galvanizing tool and instead trying to bury the anger of his players, and more…

One sure thing, Caldwell’s successor will try to figure out why the Lions rank dead last in running the ball.

[graphiq id=”6L5vEP59M57″ title=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions Rushing Performance Per Game in 2015″ width=”640″ height=”518″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/6L5vEP59M57″ link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/21/Detroit-Lions” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions Rushing Performance Per Game in 2015 | PointAfter”]

Certainly the offensive line is responsible in large part, but they can’t be blamed entirely for this disaster. Do the Lions need to upgrade the running back position? Should the Lions have traded up for Todd Gurley instead of trading down for Laken Tomlinson?

It is true that the rushing results have been better since Lombardi’s departure, but the team needs to prioritize a big improvement to their run attack.

[graphiq id=”8irADBF2ysR” title=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions Yardage Breakdown Per Game in 2015″ width=”640″ height=”488″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/8irADBF2ysR” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/21/Detroit-Lions” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions Yardage Breakdown Per Game in 2015 | PointAfter”]

Defensively, the Lions are in the middle of the NFL pact. The 2016 coaching staff has a lot to work with here. It took a little while to get over the loss of Ndamukong Suh, but that was to be expected, especially with the early season injuries along the defensive line.

But, these Lions have burgeoning stars at the line, Ezikiel Ansah, and at corner with Darius Slay. If DeAndre Levy returns from injury to play like he did in 2014, each layer of defense has a legitimate All-Pro.

[graphiq id=”cVSUOAVma4B” title=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions Total Yards Allowed/GM in 2015″ width=”600″ height=”523″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/cVSUOAVma4B” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/21/Detroit-Lions” link_text=”NFC North Barroom – Detroit Lions Total Yards Allowed/GM in 2015 | PointAfter”]

On Monday, Coach Caldwell said he’s coaching to win the final three games and has no intention on testing the roster for players who can help in 2016. That’s to be expected. 7-9 looks a lot better on a resume than 4-12.

JIM CALDWELL- Q on next game

That doesn’t mean the rebuilding won’t start immediately. Caldwell and his offensive coordinator can leave Lions fans with a great big gift by getting Matthew Stafford going on a roll so that the team can at least feel good about going into 2016 with him at QB and not have to worry about a total re-build on offense.

Visit us next week as we begin to speculate on who the next General Manager of the Lions will be.

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Aldo Gandia

Aldo Gandia

Among my career highlights I have produced two films while in high school that received nationwide attention; leaned out of a helicopter over the Gulf of Suez at the age of 20 to shoot movies of oil rigs; won an Emmy award for a sports special and another for a kid's fitness show; and led a team of very talented creative professionals to produce break-through corporate communications.


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