NFC NORTH

NFC NORTH: Four big issues facing Packers, Lions, Bears and Vikings this week

Posted Oct 25, 2013

Tim Twentyman takes a closer look at one key issue facing each team in the NFC North heading into Sunday

PACKERS

Record: 4-2

Beat: Washington (38-20), Detroit (22-9), Baltimore (19-17) and Cleveland (31-13)

Lost to: San Francisco (34-28) and Cincinnati (34-30)

Week 8 opponent: at Minnesota (1-5)

Issue of the week: Who does Aaron Rodgers throw to?

He still has Jordy Nelson, which is good, but he’s likely to be without receivers James Jones (knee) and Randall Cobb (leg) and tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) for Sunday night’s game in Minnesota. That’s a production loss of 74 catches, 1,027 yards and seven touchdowns. All three of those numbers are more than 50 percent of Rodgers’ total production this year.

We’ll see if Rodgers can make Jarrett Boykins, Myles White, Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostic better. Boykins had a 100-yard performance in a win last week.

Quotable: "We still have our gun back there — Aaron," cornerback Davon House told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "To me, personally, you're only as good as your quarterback. As you can see, Jarrett Boykin, a free-agent dude, came in and had 100 yards receiving (last week)."

Stat pack: The Packers rank third in the NFL in run defense (79.0 yards per game) after ranking 17th a season ago (118.5)

LIONS

Record: 4-3

Beat: Minnesota (24-24), Washington (27-20), Chicago (40-32) and Cleveland (31-17)

Lost to: Arizona (25-21), Green Bay (22-9) and Cincinnati (27-24)

Week 8 opponent: vs. Dallas (4-3)

Issue of the week: Can the Lions stop the big play?

The Lions are the fourth-best defense on third down and rank in the top 10 in takeaways with 13. So why do they rank in the bottom third in points allowed (23.9) and 31st in total defense?

The answer is easy – big plays.

The Lions have allowed five passes of 40-plus yards this year and four runs of 40-plus yards. No other team in the NFL has allowed more than two runs of 40-plus yards.

Quotable: “We’re a pretty good third-down team,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “If we can make teams drive on us, that will go a long way to getting a drive stop. Big plays turn in to points, both offensively and defensively. It’s been a point that we have been working hard on. Big plays we can certainly play some of those better. Even in the games we won we have given up some big plays.”

Stat pack: Calvin Johnson has played 98 games so far during his career and has two games, including Sunday’s game vs. Dallas, to get 271 yards and move past WR Torry Holt (8,589) for third among players in their first 100 games.

BEARS

Record: 4-3

Beat: Cincinnati (24-21), Minnesota (31-30), Pittsburgh (40-23) and the New York Giants (27-21)

Lost to: Detroit (40-32), New Orleans (26-18) and Washington (45-41)

Week 8 opponent: BYE WEEK

Issue of the week: How do they keep pace the next month?

Can the Bears survive four, five or maybe even six games without quarterback Jay Cutler (groin) and middle linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder)?

Josh McCown entered Sunday's game at Washington in the second quarter, his first game action since the 2011 season, and completed 14-of-20 passes for 204 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown to Martellus Bennett.

The Bears will need similar performances vs. Green Bay, Detroit and Baltimore in the coming weeks. They’ll also need running back Matt Forte to be a focal point of the offense.

When Cutler went out with a thumb injury in 2011, the Bears dropped five of six following a 7-3 start.

Quotable: “Our football team feels that it can rally around Josh, and he’s going to put us in a position to win games,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman told Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. “That was clear (Sunday). And that gives us a lot to build on going into next week.’’

Stat pack: McCown completed 70 percent of his passes for 204 yards and a touchdown for a 119.6 passer rating. He also scrambled for 33 yards. It was his highest passer rating since a 125.2 for the Oakland Raiders against the Denver Broncos in 2007.

VIKINGS

Record: 1-5

Beat: Pittsburgh (34-27)

Lost to: Detroit (34-24), Chicago (31-30), Cleveland (31-27), Carolina (35-10) and the New York Giants (23-7)

Week 8 opponent: vs. Green Bay (4-2)

Issue of the week: Can Christian Ponder change perceptions about him?

Ponder knows this is probably his last chance to convince coaches and fans he has a future in Minnesota.

After being benched in favor of Josh Freeman last week, Ponder will get the start vs. Green Bay after Freeman suffered a concussion vs. the New York Giants.

This is Ponder’s last chance to grab the reigns of the Vikings offense and hold on.

Ponder has completed 59 percent of his passes for 691 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions on the season.

Quotable: "He was a completely different person," tight end Kyle Rudolph told the Associated Press of Ponder after Wednesday's practice. "The way he went about his business the last two weeks, it kind of got everybody fired up."

Stat pack: Ponder was sacked 10 times in two games by Minnesota last season -- four by defensive end Jared Allen. The Vikings have only 12 sacks this year, the fifth-lowest total in the league.