By Laurence W. Holmes-
(CBS) Getting the win last week against the 49ers gave the Bears the gift of time. In the 32-team era, teams that start out 0-2 only have a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs. That time also allowed for another week of getting a sense of what the NFC North is all about. As the Bears ready up for their game against the Jets, Adrian Peterson still isn’t on the field for the Vikings and the Lions and Packers beat each other up on Sunday in Detroit’s 19-7 win.
After watching all three teams, it’s hard for me to tell you that anyone in the division is better than the Bears. So let’s break down the division and what we’ve learned so far.
The Vikings’ blowout loss to the Patriots in Week 2 was easy to predict. Peterson was deactivated just two days before the contest in which he was a big part of the gameplan. With Peterson not available, you knew there wasn’t time for Minnesota to adjust. This past week, coach Mike Zimmer had a better chance to get his team ready to play, but then there was the injury to quarterback Matt Cassel in a loss to the Saints. In the long-run, I believe rookie Teddy Bridgewater is going to be fine. Norv Turner is the perfect offensive coordinator for him, and his West Coast system fits with his skills. Still, even with Peterson, I’m not sure the Vikings have the personnel to match up with the other three NFC North squads.
Green Bay has real problems. So far, its offense has looked clunky. The Packers have scored a total of 17 points in the three first quarters they’ve played. And that’s been a struggle. Aaron Rodgers has looked off. He’s had receivers not run the right routes or do so at the wrong depths, and the run game hasn’t been able to balance their offense out. Eddie Lacy is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.
The offensive line may be the Packers’ biggest problem. And it’s not just the run game. Rodgers has been under a ton of pressure through three games. You would think that it’s just Derek Sherrod giving up the pressures as the replacement for Bryan Bulaga, but it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, Sherrod was terrible against Seattle (-6.4 grade by Pro Football Focus), but he’s not the only one. Whether it was the Seahawks, Jets or Lions, the Packers have given up plenty of pressure up the middle.
Nick Fairley (more on him in a minute) was fantastic for the Lions on Sunday. He often made it so there was no pocket for Rodgers to comfortably step into. Next week, Bears interior linemen Lamarr Houston, Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson could have a real impact on the game.
Defensively, the Packers are a work in progress. If you look at their last six quarters of football, they’ve actually been pretty good., giving up only 13 points in that stretch. They’ve also come up with big turnovers in the red zone in the last couple of games. Julius Peppers isn’t a perfect fit for Dom Capers system, but he’s starting to make plays. It’s weird to say this, but the defense has been more consistent than the offense.
As for the Lions, everything is set up for them to win the division, but can they get out of their own way?
In Week 1, they looked like a well-oiled machine. I loved the hire of coach Jim Caldwell. I feel like he’s the perfect coach for Matthew Stafford. He’s subtle, tough and more qualified to work with a quarterback than Jim Schwartz.
Yet Stafford is still prone to mistakes. He played an almost flawless game agains the Giants (346 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 125.3 rating). He was in control of his considerable talents. Since then, we’ve seen him fall back on bad mechanics, weird throwing angles and risk-taking passes. Sound familiar? On Sunday, Stafford turned the ball over three times, including a red-zone pick. The Packers won the turnover battle and still lost the game. Luckily for the Lions, they found a way to win despite Stafford’s regression.
So far, Caldwell has been able to get the best out of Fairley, the formidable defensive tackle who came into camp out of shape. Caldwell put him on the bench, and Fairley’s had to earn back his playing time. He’s made an impact taking on double teams, freeing up Ndamukong Suh and Ziggy Ansah. Fairley destroyed the Packers’ interior. His penetration forced Lacy to bounce an end zone run outside, which ended up being a safety for Detroit, and he also forced a fumble. The Lions’ run defense is second-best in the NFL to the Jets’. If Stafford could minimize mistakes, Detroit could be for real.
With all that being said, the Bears aren’t mismatched against any of these teams. They’re equally flawed, which means the NFC North is up for grabs. Even with injuries on the offensive line, I like the Bears offense as a group better than everyone in the division. I still have questions about Chicago’s defense, and injuries could play a significant role, but things don’t look as bleak for the Bears as they did before the second half of the 49ers game.
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.