NFC NORTH

NFC NORTH: Midseason report for each team in the division

Posted Nov 8, 2013

Tim Twentyman takes a closer look at one key issue facing each team in the NFC North heading into the second half of the season

LIONS

Record: 5-3

Beat: Minnesota (34-24), Washington (27-20), Chicago (40-32), Cleveland (31-17) and Dallas (31-30)

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

Week 10 opponent: at Chicago (5-3)

Upcoming schedule: at Chicago, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Green Bay, at Philadelphia, vs. Baltimore, vs. New York, at Minnesota

What went right the first half: The Lions thought running back Reggie Bush was the missing piece to their offense. Through eight games, it seems they were right.

Bush ranks third in the NFL in scrimmage yards per game (121.9) and has given the offense that threat of the run, which is so desperately needed.

Bush, quarterback Matthew Stafford and All Pro receiver Calvin Johnson have formed one of the most explosive offensive trio's is the NFL. The Lions are No. 3 in total offense, sixth is scoring and have the league's No. 2 passing offense behind Denver.

What needs to get better: Big plays have been a problem for the defense through the first half of the season.

The Lions have given up a total of 11 plays of 40-plus yards on the season. It's taking an average of just 6.46 plays during opponents’ scoring drives, which is the lowest in NFL.

The defense ranks second on third down and is the top half of the league in both defending the run and causing turnovers. If they simply limit the big plays they have a chance to be a much better unit in the second half.

Issue of the week: Can Lions rush the passer?

They could be without starting defensive end Ziggy Ansah this week in Chicago because of an ankle injury. That means veteran Israel Idonije, rookie Devin Taylor and newcomer Austen Lane must pick up the slack.

The Lions were effective getting to Cutler in a Week 4 victory, forcing three sacks, six quarterback hit and four Cutler turnovers. The Lions haven’t lost this season (4-0) when they’ve forced at least two turnovers.

Cutler hasn’t played in a few weeks because of a groin injury, but is expected to start. If he’s a step slow the Lions have to take advantage.

Stat pack: Ndamukong Suh had two sacks, two quarterback hits, two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble that was recovered by teammate Nick Fairley and returned for a 4-yard touchdown the last time he played the Bears.

PACKERS

Record: 5-3

Beat: Washington (38-20), Detroit (22-9), Baltimore (19-17), Cleveland (31-13) and Minnesota (44-31)

Lost to: San Francisco (34-28), Cincinnati (34-30) and Chicago (27-20)

Week 10 opponent: vs. Philadelphia (4-5)

Upcoming schedule: vs. Philadelphia, at New York Giants, vs. Minnesota, at Detroit, vs. Atlanta, at Dallas, vs. Pittsburgh, at Chicago

What went right in the first half: The Packers found themselves a running game.

They’ve been searching for balance in their offense for a number of years now and seem to have found it with rookie Eddie Lacy.

Lacy's 545 yards since Oct. 1 are the most during that span. He’s eighth in the NFL with 596 total rushing yards and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry with four touchdowns.

What needs to get better: Red zone defense.

The Packers are the NFL’s worst defense in the red zone. On average, NFL offenses have scored a touchdown 55.6 percent of the time they've reached the red zone this year, according to STATS, LLC. When teams play the Packers, that number jumps all the way to 69.2 percent.

Green Bay has the league’s fifth-best defense vs. the run (94.5 yards per game), but rank 20th against the pass, and that’s been the biggest issue in the red zone.

Issue of the week: Can they survive the Rodgers injury?

Seneca Wallace is expected to make the start Sunday against Philadelphia for the injured Aaron Rodgers, who’s expected to miss the next month or so with a fractured left collarbone.

Wallace is 6-15 as a starter and has lost 10 of his last 11. He was 11 of 19 for 114 yards with an interception and was sacked four times after relieving Rodgers in the loss to Chicago on Monday.

Stat pack: Green Bay had won 29 of its last 31 regular-season games at Lambeau Field.

BEARS

Record: 5-3

Beat: Cincinnati (24-21), Minnesota (31-30), Pittsburgh (40-23), New York Giants (27-21) and Green Bay (27-20)

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

Week 10 opponent: vs. Detroit (5-3)

Upcoming schedule: vs. Detroit, vs. Baltimore, at St. Louis, at Minnesota, vs. Dallas, at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, vs. Green Bay

What went right in the first half: The Bears have recovers the most fumbles in the league (8) and have 11 interceptions for a total of 19 takeaways. They’ve scored 69 points off those turners, which is the third-most in the league.

If that’s not good enough, the defense itself has scored four times this year.

The Bears nearly set the NFL record last year with nine defensive touchdowns.

Over the past decade, Chicago has recorded 38 defensive touchdowns and is 27-5 in contests in which they score defensively

What needs to get better: Consistency on defense.

It’s rare to see the Chicago defense rank in the bottom third of the league in nearly every major statistical category on defense.

They are allowing the third-most points (28.2), seventh-most yards (381.1), third-most rushing yards (127.5) and 10th-most passing yards (253.6).

The loss of defensive captain and middle linebacker Lance Briggs, as well as Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton, hasn’t helped, but the ability to get turnovers is really keeping this unit afloat.

Issue of the week: Protect Jay Cutler.

That might be more important than ever with Cutler making his first start in three weeks after suffering a groin injury.

The Lions defensive line harassed Cutler to no end the first time around in Week 4 and forced him to turn the ball over four times, the most he’s had all year.

Bears right guard Kyle Long gets a second chance at All Pro Suh, who schooled the rookie the first time around with two sacks and a forced fumble.

Stat pack: Cutler and McCown have been sacked 12 times this year. The Bears allowed 28 through the first eight games of 2012.

VIKINGS

Record: 2-7

Beat: Pittsburgh (34-27) and Washington (34-27)

Lost to: Detroit (34-24), Chicago (31-30), Cleveland (31-27), Carolina (35-10), New York Giants (23-7), Green Bay (44-31) and Dallas (27-23)

Week 10 opponent: Defeated Washington 34-27 on Thursday night

Upcoming schedule: at Seattle, at Green Bay, vs. Chicago, at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia, at Cincinnati, vs. Detroit

What went right the first half: Adrian Peterson continues to dominate.

No running back in the NFL sees more eight-man defensive fronts than Peterson, yet he still finds ways to be successful. Give the Vikings offensive line and blocking scheme its due credit, but Peterson is simply amazing.

He’s third in the NFL with 786 yards. He leads all running back with nine touchdowns. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

What needs to get better: Consistency at the quarterback position

It almost seems like a broken record when talking about this team.

The Vikings have started three different quarterbacks in nine games – Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman – and they’ve combined for a quarterback rating of 74.7.

Only the Bills (73.2), Cardinals (72.7), Jets (70.6), Giants (67.0) and Jaguars (64.2) are lower.

Those other teams, however, don’t have the best running back on the planet and favorable coverage to throw against week-in and week-out.

Issue of the week: Another quarterback bites the dust.

Give Ponder some credit, he was playing very well against Washington Thursday night before he was knocked out of the game in the second half with what was reported as a separated shoulder.

Up to that point, he’d throw two touchdown passes and had a 113.1 passer rating.

It looked liked he was finally stepping up and taking control of that quarterback spot. We’ll have to wait and see the severity of his injury and if the Vikings are back to the quarterback carousel.

Stat pack: Since entering the NFL in 2004, defensive end Jared Allen has an NFL-best 121.5 sacks.