NFC North Questions

NFC North Questions

With a quarter of the season already done, the Barroom’s Chief Editor wanted to explore what is the single most important issue facing each NFC North team. While there are certainly several questions each team is searching answers for, Aldo Gandia wanted to focus on one he thinks should be at the top of each team’s concerns. 

Each NFC North team has started to develop storylines that I find fascinating. Here’s a quick capsule before I answer what I believe is the central question being asked about each team:

  • Vikings – I wrote before the season started that the Vikings defense was championship ready. I believe they might even become a historic defense (SEE HERE). When the season is over, will their defense be the topic every NFL follower will be talking about?  Superstars are starting to spout at every level of the defense, which one(s) are the most indispensable? On offense, Sam Bradford is playing like a championship quarterback: in charge, efficient and making big plays. Is he the present and future Vikings quarterback?
  • Packers – Is the Aaron Rodgers’ offense back to the level they played at prior to 2015? Jordy Nelson might no ever be, physically, the same, but he and Rodgers could still deliver the types of numbers they had prior to Nelson’s injury. Will they? Is the Packers’ secondary the team’s only liability? And, if and when, Sam Shields comes back will the problems go away?
  • Bears – Should the Bears center their focus on developing their young players and worry less about winning from week-to-week? Or, is making the playoffs still within reach? Is John Fox just a temporary head coach until the roster is fully set in the future?
  • Lions – With Matthew Stafford under contract until the end of the 2017 season, should the re-building Lions begin planning for life without their eighth year quarterback? How long will Bob Quinn’s rebuilding program take?

There are of course many more questions for each team. About their organization, coaches, players and their recent play. We’ll be addressing those throughout our podcasts, videos and stories in each barroom. But, now let me tackle one key question I have for each team.

NFCN Questions – Minnesota Vikings

Does the Vikings Super Bowl chances rest on the shoulder of the offensive line?

What are some of the main qualities a team needs to win a Conference Championship. Based on what we’ve seen from teams like the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos there are five qualities. Let’s see how the Minnesota Vikings rate with each quality.

  • Excellent Coaching
  • Dominant Defense
  • Reliable Running Game
  • Efficient Quarterback
  • Capable Offensive Line

Yes, it is the offensive line that it the sole question mark this team possesses. Could their play prevent the Minnesota Vikings from making the Super Bowl? Can this duct taped line protect the quarterback and create rushing lanes?

On Monday Night, ESPN announcer Sean McDonough said that offensive coordinator Norv Turner told him,”The offensive line is getting better week-to-week.”

how-can-a-team-win

And, against an average New York Giants defense the line did show progress. Even when starting right tackle Andre Smith left the game with injury. Jeremiah Sirles stepped in and played admirably. Could this line, under the tutelage of the team’s new offensive line coach Tony Sparano thrive? The fire plug looking coach has, so far, been successful at putting out numerous fires along the line. The team lost starting right tackle Phil Loadholt in preseason. He retired as his body could no longer take the strains of the game. Then left tackle Matt Kalil tore a labrum in his hip and was placed on injured reserve. How can a team win a championship with this many injuries to their offensive line?

Sparano is part of the answer. So is offensive coordinator Norv Turner. It appears he is getting better at helping his line though the play calling. He’s calling fewer deep drops and more screens. Quarterback Sam Bradford was not sacked on Monday Night and that’s huge for a team that saw Teddy Bridgewater sacked 44 times last season.

What will transpire over the next quarter of the season is defensive coordinators studying the tape of the Vikings’ line and how it operates under Sparano and Turner. We’ll see if the front five can thrive against the fortified schemes they’ll face. If they do, my gut says this is a Super Bowl-capable team. If they do not, it will lead to another item to the Vikings long list of letdowns.

NFCN Questions – Green Bay Packers

Is the #1 run defense in the NFL a real thing or a mirage?

After three games one of the biggest NFL surprises is found at the top of the run defense stats list. Sitting at the that top is Green Bay Packers. Not only is the Packers run defense at the top, they are dominating. Their 1.8 yards allowed per rush is more than a yard better than the second place New York Jets (3.1). The Packers, on average, are allowing 48 yards per game. Stellar.

[graphiq id=”38DeI4BkgvP” title=”Green Bay Packers Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game Comparison” width=”600″ height=”532″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/38DeI4BkgvP” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/20/Green-Bay-Packers” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]

These stats are surprising given the team’s past performance against the run. In 2015, Green Bay allowed 1,905 rushing yards on 420 attempts (4.5 yards per attempt), the fourth worst rate in the league. The Packers best defensive lineman, Mike Daniels, recently recalled the run defense as being “horrible” and “embarrassing.”

How have the Packers turned their run defense around? They may have been aided by weak opposition. In game one, the Packers held Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon to 31 yards on 21 carries. In weeks two and three Yeldon actually rushed for fewer yards than he did against the Packers.

[graphiq id=”9wMVuxi8OUd” title=”Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Yards Per Game Comparison” width=”600″ height=”502″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/9wMVuxi8OUd” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/18/Jacksonville-Jaguars” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]

After a quarter of a season the Jaguars rank 31s in average yards per game rushed.

Ranking last at 32, is the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers week two opponent. The Vikings came into that Sunday night game after rushing for only 65 yards in their opener against the Tennessee Titans. Since that game, the Titans’ defense has revealed itself to be soft – allowing 165 yards against the Detroit Lions and 123 versus the Oakland Raiders.

In the Packers’ third game, the Lions were without their top running back Ameer Abdullah helping them hold their division rival to only 50 yards rushing (2.2yards per carry average). The Lions are currently 22nd in rushing yards per game. Their decline coincides with Abdullah’s injury in week 2.

[graphiq id=”in3seKOpyex” title=”Detroit Lions Rushing Yards and Touchdowns” width=”640″ height=”564″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/in3seKOpyex” link=”http://nfl-teams.pointafter.com/l/21/Detroit-Lions” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]

These weak rushing teams have bloated the Packers’ run defense stats. Tougher tests lie ahead in October. In two weeks, the Packers will battle the Dallas Cowboys (Oct. 16th) who rank second in the NFL and on Halloween eve they play the sixth ranked rushing offense, the Atlanta Falcons. They’ll have help in those upcoming games with promising third-year nose tackle Mike Pennel returning from a four-game suspension. Additionally, veteran, and starting, nose tackle Letroy Guion may be fully healed from his knee injury.

The Packers run defense has been a vital part of their 2-1 start. Maintaining their 42 yards per game average is impossible. But, even at double that amount it would place them at the best in the league.

Last season the NFC champion Carolina Panthers allowed an average of 88 yards per game during the regular season and the AFC champs, and eventual Super Bowl winning Denver Broncos yielded only 83. If the Packers continue locking down the run game making the playoffs is a virtual given. If the floodgates open, as they have in the past, the playoffs aren’t out of the question, but another Super Bowl appearance is dubious.

NFCN Questions – Chicago Bears

What’s the immediate future of quarterback Jay Cutler?

For the second week in a row head coach John Fox addressed the media and made a comment many can construe as an endorsement for Brian Hoyer as the team’s starting quarterback. On Monday, Fox said his decision on who would player quarterback is performance-based, “Anybody that’s performing well, I don’t think we’re going to be likely to change.”

Cutler began the season with an excellent half of football in Texas, throwing for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Then, the sky fell. Cutler was sacked repeatedly in the second half, four times for a total of five, and he may have even suffered the thumb injury that has sidelined him for the last two and a half games.

The following week, Cutler tried to gut through the thumb injury, but he was obviously impaired. In came Hoyer, and while he didn’t fare any better than Cutler he started to settle into the QB job. In the last six quarters Hoyer has demonstrated an ability to manage the team, protect the football and make big plays.

NFCN

It’s helped Hoyer that he’s faced the 18th (Cowboys) and 25th (Lions) ranked defenses, while Cutler played the No. 3 (Eagles) and No. 5 (Texans).

Shayne Marsaw, Lead Analyst at BearsBarroom.com, thinks Fox’s proclamation may mean that the Bears are letting NFL quarterback-needy teams know that Cutler is available for the right price (the trade deadline is November 1st).

There’s no doubt that Cutler is the better of the two quarterbacks. Nonetheless, if a playoff contending team needs a quarterback in the coming weeks would the Bears deal Cutler. He’s an attractive option. No guaranteed dollars in his contract. Quick study. And, contrary to many people’s thinking he’s a more mature, responsible leader.

If Sam Bradford can fetch a 1st round and conditional 4th round draft pick, how much can Cutler get?

NFCN Questions – Detroit Lions

How much longer will Jim Caldwell coach the Lions?

Two of of Lions contributors expressed their frustration with Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, both calling for his immediate firing. (One Here. Another here.) But, Caldwell, for now, still has his job. The frustration with the head coach stems from his inability to manage the clock well, stop his team from making hurtful penalties, and not inspiring players to play four quarters.

Detroit Lions Radio co-host Nick Kostora believes that Caldwell’s immediate future rests on the outcome of the next three games – all of them at Ford Field. 0-3 at home and Caldwell may not make it to the bye (week ten). And, only one home win during that span might cost him his job at the bye. The schedule leading up to the break isn’t kind for Caldwell.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-9-36-23-pm

Caldwell’s contract runs through the end of the 2017 season. At $4 million per season, he’s among the lowest paid coaches in the NFL. General manager Bob Quinn is well aware that team owner Martha Firestone Ford is fond of Caldwell. But, she’s also no fan of losing. She fired Quinn’s predecessor, Martin Mayhew.

When Quinn retained Caldwell he did so because he was convinced the team was responding to his leadership.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-9-47-02-pm

Can he honestly say that is true today?

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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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