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NFC NORTH: 3 strengths & 3 areas to improve for each team

It is the crucial midway point of the season, and there are good trends and some not so good trends that have developed through the first half of the year for all four teams in the NFC North.

In a division race separated by just two games from first to last place, the difference between the eventual division champ and the other three teams will likely be the team that can stay consistent with the things they do well, while making the biggest adjustments on things they’ve struggled with the first half of the year.

This week’s NFC North column takes a look at a few of the things Chicago, Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit have done well the first half of the season, and a few things they have to do better.

CHICAGO

Record: 5-3

Last week: Beat Buffalo, 41-6

3 strengths:

  • Chicago is second in the NFL with 21 takeaways on the season. They have 14 interceptions from 10 different players. Their plus-10 turnover differential is also second in the league.
  • The Bears aren’t just taking the ball away, but they’re also converting turnovers into points. Chicago’s 81 points off turnovers is the most in the NFL. The league average is around 36 points.
  • Chicago’s rushing offense ranks seventh in the NFL, averaging 128.4 yards per contest. They have three players who’ve rushed for more than 225 yards this season, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who’s second on the team with 302 yards.

3 things to improve:

  • While Chicago’s defense has been very good pretty much everywhere this year, one area where they have struggled has been defending their red zone. Opposing quarterbacks have a 126.1 passer rating with nine touchdowns and no interceptions when getting inside the 20-yard line. None of Chicago’s 14 interceptions this season have come in the red zone.
  • Chicago is allowing on average 33.5 yards per kickoff return this season. That’s the second highest in the league and 11.5 yards more than the NFL average.
  • Trubisky has just one touchdown on the year when the ball travels at least 20 yards in the air. He’s thrown three interceptions on such passes and owns a 57.7 passer rating on deep passes.

Next up: vs. Detroit (3-5)

MINNESOTA

Record: 5-3-1

Last week: Beat Detroit, 24-9

3 strengths:

  • After a 10-sack performance last week vs. Detroit, the Vikings lead the NFL with 31 sacks. With Everson Griffen just starting to get his legs under him after a long absence, that can be a scary group upfront.
  • Minnesota’s defense has been very stingy in the red zone. Teams are converting those opportunities into touchdowns just 39.4 percent of the time. Only Tennessee (31.8) has been better.
  • Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been very good when pushing the ball down the field. He has a passer rating of 126.6 on deep balls, and has thrown six touchdowns on those passes.

3 things to improve:

  • The Vikings have to find some consistency in their field goal kicking. Minnesota has made just 13-of-19 kicks this season, which is the second lowest percentage (68.4) in the NFL.
  • Minnesota’s offense is averaging just 91.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 29th. Getting Dalvin Cook back healthy after he missed a long stretch of games with a hamstring injury should help.
  • The Vikings have 13 giveaways on the season (five interceptions and eight fumbles), with a turnover differential of just plus-1

Next up: Bye week

GREEN BAY

Record: 3-4-1

Last week: Lost to New England, 31-17

3 strengths:

  • Green Bay’s passing defense has been much improved this season. They rank in the top 10 defending the pass and third in passing first downs allowed. The resources allocated to improving that part of the defense the last two offseasons seems to be paying off.
  • On offense, 15.3 percent of Green Bay’s rushing attempts are gaining at least 10 yards. Green Bay has rushed the ball the fourth fewest times this season (176), but their 27 runs of 10-plus yards are the 12th most.
  • Davante Adams is quickly becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL. He’s been Aaron Rodgers’ go-to man this season with seven touchdowns on the year, which ranks second in the NFL.

3 things to improve:

  • Aaron Rodgers is completing a career-low 60.6 percent of his passes through eight games. Part of that has been playing with a group of young receivers because of injury, but with a career 64.8 completion percentage, 60.6 percent is low for him.
  • The Packers have played from behind in a lot of games this season, partly because they’ve given up a touchdown on the opening drive in four of their eight contests. That’s the second most points allowed on opponent opening drives.
  • Green Bay’s front seven on defense has generated just 37 negative plays for opposing offenses all season, which is the seventh fewest in the NFL.

Next up: vs. Miami (5-4)

DETROIT

Record: 3-5

Last week: Lost to Minnesota, 24-9

3 strengths:

  • Detroit’s allowing on average 214.6 passing yards per game, which is the fourth fewest in the NFL.
  • Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, which is the fourth most among any back with at least 50 carries this year.
  • Detroit’s 24 sacks are the seventh most in the NFL this season.

3 things to improve:

  • Detroit’s allowing on average 142.5 rushing yards per game, which is the third highest in the NFL. Detroit’s allowed five rushes of 40-plus yards this season.
  • The Lions' offense ranks 29th in the NFL, scoring a touchdown just 44.4 percent of the time in the red zone. It’s an area they have to be a lot better at moving forward.
  • Detroit’s generated eight takeaways while giving the ball away 11 times. Their minus-three turnover differential ranks in the bottom third of the league.

Next up: at Chicago (5-3)

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