LIONS INSIDER

NFC NORTH: 3 surprise developments for each team

Posted Sep 28, 2017

Tim Twentyman takes a look at three surprise developments for each team in the NFC North.

Three weeks are in the books for the NFC North, and no one has really separated themselves from the pack in the division. Things get a little more interesting this week as the Bears play the Packers on Thursday Night Football, and the Lions travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings Sunday.

After three weeks of football, what have been three surprise developments for each team?

DETROIT

Record: 2-1

Wins: Arizona, New York

Loss: Atlanta

Three surprises:

1. After struggling so much to generate takeaways last season (14 all year), the Lions lead the NFL after three weeks with eight. Seven of those have been interceptions, which they had just 10 of all last season. Teryl Austin has his players around the football, and when that’s the case, good things typically happen.

2. It’s a surprise Glover Quin doesn’t get more credit when the conversation about the league’s best safeties comes up. Quin already has two interceptions this season, including one he returned for a touchdown. Only Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has more interceptions than Quin since the start of the 2013 season. Quin is also one of the surest tacklers in the league. It’s a surprise he doesn’t get more credit for the player he is.

3. It shouldn’t be too big of a surprise, given Detroit's history in this category, but the inconsistency early on in the run game is still a bit of a surprise. Detroit spent so much time this offseason on improving that part of their offense. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said it was an emphasis. The Lions have their top two backs healthy, and spent a lot of resources in the offseason upgrading the offensive line with T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner. Detroit was good on the ground against New York (138 yards), but were just OK against Arizona and not very good last week vs. Atlanta. Detroit currently ranks 17th in rushing (97.0).

GREEN BAY

Record: 2-1

Wins: Seattle, Cincinnati

Loss: Atlanta

Three surprises:

1. The Packers had one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL last year, but going out and signing Davon House in free agency and then drafting Kevin King and Josh Jones seems to be paying off early on. Jones leads the team in tackles (17), and King has been very solid. The Packers currently rank seventh in pass defense (183.0).

2. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is currently fourth in the NFL with six touchdown passes. That’s certainly no shock. The fact that he already has three interceptions is a bit of one, however. Rodgers is on pace for 16 interceptions this season. The smart money is probably on the under for that total, but it’s still strange to see him up among the leaders in interceptions, given the fact he threw just seven all of last year, and hasn’t thrown more than eight since 2011.

3. NFL offenses always strive for balance between the run and the pass. In Green Bay, the gap is about as wide as it can get. The Packers are second in passing (291.3 yards per game), but rank 29th running the ball (69.0). Green Bay’s struggles on the ground are a bit of a surprise, especially with their pass game and Rodgers typically the first thing defenses attempt to stop first. Ty Montgomery is averaging just 3.0 yards per attempt. Rodgers is the team’s second-leading rusher with 52 yards.

MINNESOTA

Record: 2-1

Wins: New Orleans, Tampa Bay

Loss: Pittsburgh

Three surprises:

1. So much is written about Minnesota’s defense, and it’s well deserved press, but the offense has been the big story early on. The Vikings own the league’s second-best total offense (400.3) and they’re third in passing (285.3). The Vikings have three players -- Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs -- that rank in the top 10 in the NFL in most yards from scrimmage. The Vikings are the only team to have more than one player in the top 10. Quarterback Sam Bradford got off to a great start Week 1, and Case Keenum has kept the ship rolling the last two weeks since Bradford’s been out with a knee bruise.

2. Running back Dalvin Cook has been even better than expected. The Vikings’ second-round pick already has 288 yards rushing, which is second in the league. He has four runs of at least 20 yards. Add in his receiving yards, and Cook already has 370 total yards from scrimmage, third most in the NFL.

3. The Vikings have five sacks in three games, which is respectable, but four have come from Everson Griffen. It’s been a one-man show upfront for Minnesota. Talented third-year rusher Danielle Hunter (12.5 sacks last year) has been shut out through the first three games.

CHICAGO

Record: 1-2

Win: Pittsburgh

Losses: Atlanta, Tampa Bay

1. The emergence of Tarik Cohen as a Robin to Jordan Howard’s Batman has been a pleasant surprise in Chicago’s backfield early on. Cohen is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and is Chicago’s leading receiver in both catches (20), yards (126) and touchdowns (1).

2. The fact that Cohen is the team’s leading receiver is a compliment to his ability, but it’s also an indictment on Chicago’s current situation at receiver. In three games, Bears receivers have combined for just one touchdown. To put that in a bit of perspective, Detroit has gotten five touchdowns from their receivers, Minnesota also has five and Green Bay has 4.

3. The Bears are no pushover after winning just three games last season. This team can run the football and plays good defense. They gave Atlanta all they could handle Week 1, and easily could have won the game with a first down inside the Falcons 5-yard line with a touchdown to win the game. They beat a Pittsburgh team Sunday that’s annually among the best in the AFC. If they find some consistent play at the quarterback position, they could surprise some teams.