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NFC NORTH: Where each team stands heading into Preseason Week 2

The four teams in the NFC North are off and running through the preseason portion of their schedule. Here’s a look at a few of the takeaways from the first game action for Minnesota, Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago:

MINNESOTA

Preseason record: 1-0

Last game: Minnesota 42, Denver 28

3 takeaways:

  • Kirk Cousins sharp in brief outing
  • Ground game could be a force again
  • Guard Nick Easton’s season likely over

Twentyman: Cousins was sharp in his one series of work, completing all four of his passes, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. Cousins orchestrated an eight-play, 75-yard drive on Minnesota’s first possession. He and Diggs hooked up three times on the drive. One of those was a beautifully thrown ball down the right sideline for 28 yards to set up the touchdown.

The Vikings’ run game, which ranked seventh in the league a year ago, had a nice debut, and showed no signs of slowing down despite missing Dalvin Cook and some starters along the interior of their offensive line. The Vikings churned out 147 yards, with Latavius Murray racking up 43 of those on just four carries. Only the Jaguars ran the ball more than the Vikings last year, and the run game is expected to again to be a big part of Minnesota's offense, even with Cousins in the fold.

As far as Easton is concerned, it’s certainly not ideal to lose a potential starting left guard before the regular season starts. The Vikings signed veteran Kaleb Johnson, but are expected to turn to veteran Tom Compton to fill that spot. Compton has 15 NFL starts in six seasons.

Quotable: “The thing I was probably most impressed with is the way we came off the ball with our offensive line,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune Monday. “I thought we were physical up front.”

Next game: vs. Jacksonville, Sat. Aug. 17

DETROIT

Preseason record: 0-1

Last game: Oakland 16, Detroit 10

3 takeaways:

  • Rookie Kerryon Johnson looks good in debut
  • Very little pass rush
  • Backup quarterback still an open competition

Twentyman: Johnson had a very solid debut both running the football and catching it out of the backfield. He showed good vision, balance and playmaking ability after rushing for 34 yards on seven carries (4.9 average) and catching four passes for another 33 yards. It was a good start to build on for Johnson and the Lions' revamped rushing attack.

Detroit’s defense didn’t record a sack and generated just one quarterback hit all evening in Oakland. While it’s a little concerning some guys upfront didn’t win individual matchups, I’ll hold off any concrete judgements about that portion of the defense until Ziggy Ansah is in the mix, and head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni start scheming up pressure.

When it comes to the competition between Matt Cassel and Jake Rudock to be Matthew Stafford’s backup this season, neither player took a big step forward in the competition. Cassel completed 10-of-18 passes for 81 yards. Rudock hit on 12 of his 19 attempts, but only one traveled more than 10 yards downfield. Cassel probably has a bit of an edge in the competition at this point, but it’s still too close to call.

Quotable: “There are certainly some positive things out there that we like and we hope we continue to see, but there is so much more that is in behind it that he still has to learn, and kind of continue to grow and progress with that really has to be our point of emphasis,” Patricia said of Johnson’s debut.

“He’s got a long way to go. I was excited to see him have a couple big plays and show off some of his is natural ability, but from an overall standpoint, we’ve a long way to go there.”

Next game: vs. New York Giants, Fri. Aug. 17

GREEN BAY

Preseason record: 1-0

Last game: Green Bay 31, Tennessee 17

3 takeaways:

  • Run game struggles
  • Big plays a big part of passing attack
  • Defense missing a lot of starters

Twentyman: The Packers’ run game was non-existent for most of the game, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry on the night. The longest run of the game for them came late in the contest on an 11-yard run from Akeem Judd. Green Bay finished with 89 yards on 32 carries.

The offense did however rack up 372 yards through the air despite completing just 25 of their 45 passing attempts. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t play in the contest, but the 14.9 average is a good sign the Packers' offense wants to push the ball down the field in the passing game with some of their young playmakers on the outside. Rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (fifth-round pick) caught five passes for 101 yards (20.2 average), including a 51 yarder. Backup quarterbacks Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer both played well, and that should be a good competition throughout camp.

The Packers were without two of their young players in the secondary. First-round pick Jaire Alexander has a groin injury, and last year’s top draft pick, Kevin King, has an injured shoulder. Also among those who didn’t suit up on defense for the Packers were starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry (PUP), and starting defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Muhammad Wilkerson. The Packers appear to be banged up early in camp on defense.

Quotable: “The tape’s going to be really good to learn from,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “There’s going to be a lot of good things on the tape, but there’s going to be a lot of things where we didn’t quite finish.

“I’d call it a stepping-stone game where we had production, we had positive things, (and) we had things where clearly we needed to do better.”

Next game: vs. Pittsburgh, Thu. Aug. 16

CHICAGO

Preseason record: 0-2

Last game: Cincinnati 30, Chicago 27

3 takeaways:

  • Trubisky, first-team offense struggles
  • Kyle Fuller picks up where he left off
  • Defense struggles to contain Bengals’ offense

Twentyman: Trubisky was in for two series that lost one yard on eight plays. The Bears' only first down came on Carlos Dunlap’s roughing the quarterback penalty. Trubisky missed on a deep sideline pass to Kevin White on his first throw, and finished 2-of-4 passing for four yards with a sack and a passer rating of 56.2.

The Bears placed the transition tag on Kyle Fuller after a very good 2017 season, and ended up matching Green Bay’s four-year, $56 million offer sheet. Fuller recorded a 47-yard pick-six to kick off the scoring in this one.

The Bengals scored points on five of their first six possessions. Chicago struggled to tackle in the open field, which resulted in some big plays for the Bengals. Cincinnati finished with 144 yards on the ground (5.1 average), and completed 21 of their 36 passes for 307 yards and three scores with just the one interception for an overall 102.4 passer rating.

Quotable: "We expect to be better," Trubisky told ESPN after the game. "We were sloppy and that's not how we want to play."

Next game: at Denver, Sat. Aug. 18

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