By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Bears go into the 2012 season as decided underdogs to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.
The Detroit Lions are coming off their first playoff season in more than a decade and they are very dangerous and explosive offensively.
However, both of these teams are vulnerable.
Even though the Packers went through the first 13 games of last season undefeated, they have a couple of significant issues that may keep them from being the dominant team they have been in the last couple of years.
With Green Bay, it’s about defense. The Packers gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history last year –299.8 per game – and that’s a problem that has not been solved. The Packers used their first six picks in the draft on defensive players, but the Packers are still very likely to have a difficult time covering opposing receivers.
In addition to back-end problems in the secondary, the Packers struggle more than most teams when it comes to tackling. This issue kept defensive coordinator Dom Capers up at night last year and he has vowed that there will be improvement in this area. But even if they do get better, there’s just too far to go before this area becomes a strength.
The Packers’ quick-strike ability on offensive and their explosiveness does not help their defensive players. Like many of the most high-powered offensive attacks, the Packers have virtually ignored the running game. That strategy doesn’t appear to have changed. The Packers have brought in Cedric Benson to play running back, but don’t expect him to get more than 10 carries per game.
They get the ball, they attack and they score. Then their defense goes on the field and they repeat this pattern over and over again.
This would be fine if the Packers had a hard-hitting, physical defense. They don’t. While the Packers are likely to score on most possessions, their defense gambles to create turnovers and get the ball back.
If they don’t get it, the opponent can light up the scoreboard as well.
In their opening game, the Packers will host the nasty and physical 49ers. It will be a test for Green Bay to see how they stand up to a team that is known for its hitting ability. If the 49ers punish the Packers, you can expect future Packer opponents to attempt a more physical style the rest of the season.
Tight end Jermichael Finley acknowledged that the 49ers are going to bring the pain in this game. “They have a great defense, of course,” Finley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It’s going to be a challenge off the bat so that’s a test for us.”
The Packers are a finesse squad compared to teams like the 49ers, Bears and Giants, so they are going to have to stand up for themselves and dish out some punishment this year.
The Lions are an exciting team that features a high-powered offense with a formidable quarterback-wide receiver combination in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
There is no reason to think that either one will slow down this season.
But the Lions have discipline and defense issues.
Start with Jim Schwartz, who is actually one of the calmest guys in the state of Michigan from Monday through Saturday. However, he gets so wound up on game day that it translates to his team.
Instead of remaining calm and cool under pressure, Schwartz is Mr. Emotion on the sidelines. His players take their lead from him and it shows up in penalty yard differential. Not only were the
Lions in the bottom eight teams in the league in that category last year, many of those penalties came in game-deciding moments.
Unlike the Packers, the Lions have an aggressive and hard-hitting defense. They play with a physical style and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has game-changing ability in the middle of the defensive front.
However, they often struggle against the run – they gave up 5.00 yards per rush last year – because they overrun plays and are often out of position.
Both the Packers and Lions are formidable opponents. But they have weaknesses that can be exploited by opponents with sharp coaching staffs.
Let’s hope this is Lovie Smith and his crew fits this description.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.