Thursday, August 23, 2012

Water Cooler Briefings: NFC North


One of the big stories for the Bears in 2011 was the rash of injuries that hit its top players:  quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and linebacker and defensive captain Brian Urlacher all got hit with injuries late in the season that effectively killed their playoff hopes (Urlacher was injured in the last game of the season).  Unfortunately, the team is forced to face its injury demons once again, as two of their top four safeties were injured in their game against the Redskins last week.  Filling the void will be five-year veteran Craig Steltz (above) and second-year player Anthony Walters.  Although Walters has not seen much action, Steltz is familiar with the stand-in role; the Bears used him last year when, once again, they lost two safeties to injury.  Steltz, who frequently sees action on special teams, recorded 38 tackles after being called to action at safety (he had twelve on special teams).  Earlier this week, the Bears signed second-year player Mark LeGree as further backup at safety.


With their secondary in tatters, it would be nice if their next opponent could have a run-heavy offense.  Alas, they face the New York Giants, who were dead last in the league in rushing offense in 2011, but ranked fifth in passing offense.  Will the Giants look to exploit the Bears’ secondary, or will they continue to work on improving their running game instead?


NEXT GAME:  @ New York Giants, Friday 8:00 PM ET on CBS



To the extreme frustration of Commissioner Roger Goodell, and Detroit fans, the big story of the Detroit Lions this offseason has been players’ off-field antics.  Four Detroit players accounted for a staggering seven arrests in the 2012 offseason.  Here’s a list of those players and their infractions:

·   Nick Fairley (defensive tackle):  marijuana possession and, later, DUI and attempting to elude police;

·   Mikel Leshoure (running back):  marijuana possession (twice)

·   Johnny Culbreath (offensive tackle):  marijuana possession (once)

·   Aaron Berry (cornerback):  suspicion of DUI and simple assault (for brandishing a firearm)

Back in July, defensive tackle Corey Williams made a court appearance for DWI charges from 2011. In addition to the legal consequences of their arrests, the league and the Lions organization will likely impose penalties on these players—the league with suspensions and fines and the Lions with its own penalties, such as fines; they’ve already released Aaron Berry and Johnny Culbreath is no longer with the team.


As you can see, the Lions defense in particular has been impacted by this turbulent offseason, which also included injuries to key players like safety Louis Delmas; several other defensive players, including other defensive tackles, have gotten hurt during training camp. Unfortunately, Detroit’s secondary was already a concern last season, and 2012 has not done them any favors so far. Scrambling to fill so many holes on defense with human spackling, will the Lions’ D come together in time for the season opener against the St. Louis Rams their superstar QB Sam Bradford?


NEXT GAME:  @ Oakland Raiders, Saturday 7:00 PM ET (network not yet determined)



In contrast to the attention given to the Lions, Packers observers and fans haven’t had too much to wring their hands about this offseason.  One point of intrigue to follow, though, is Green Bay’s strategy when it comes to the running game.  With Aaron Rodgers at the helm (and ironman gunslinger Brett Favre before him), Green Bay has become a pass-heavy offense—they ranked 30th in the league in rushing offense in 2011.  While you shouldn’t expect that to change, but analysts think that they will try to make their running game more explosive—i.e., generate runs of twelve or more yards.  That may have been the motivation behind Green Bay’s running back Cedric Benson (above) last week.  Benson, who has had his fair share of off-the-field trouble, spent the last four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and replaces Ryan Grant, who was released by the team after last season.  Coincidentally (or not), the Packers’ next opponent is the Bengals. If he plays (and he might not), look for Benson to do all he can to show his former team what it’s missing.


NEXT GAME:  @ Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday 7:00 PM ET (network not yet determined)



With Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson still recovering from last year’s knee injury (he’s being held out of the entire preseason to make sure he’s ready for opening day), and a quarterback who was sacked almost fifty times in 2011 (that’s more than twice per game), a major issue for the Vikings has been its offensive line.  The team cut a couple of veterans in the offseason and added several new players.  There are several competitions for spots on the offensive line, which should raise everyone’s level of play.  That’s all good news for QB Christian Ponder (above), who’s in his second year in the league.  While the Vikes ranked fourth in the league in rushing last year (on the shoulders of Peterson), they ranked a below-average 28th in passing.  As a unit, they ranked 27th overall, allowing Ponder to be sacked 49 times and hit 76 times.  That’s a lot of face time with the turf for anyone, especially a rookie quarterback.  If his offensive line can keep him on his feet, Ponder will have a chance to show Minnesota fans the potential the team saw when they drafted him 12th overall in 2011.


NEXT GAME:  vs. San Diego Chargers, Friday 8:00 PM ET (network not yet determined)


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