The Detroit Lions seized first place in the NFC North with a 21-19 win in Chicago over the host Bears. Fresh off that big win, the Lions now must travel to Pittsburgh to face the 3-6 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The three-team logjam at the top of the NFC North has been broken.
NFC North Division Standings
|Team||Win||Loss||Points For||Points Against|
|Green Bay Packers||5||4||245||212|
Sunday's win was doubly important for Detroit. Not only did it put the Lions a game ahead in the standings, it also wrapped up a season sweep of the Bears. That gives Detroit the head-to-head tiebreaker should it come to that.
This was the first time since 2007 that the Lions took both games in the same season from Chicago.
The Packers are reeling in the wake of their second consecutive loss. With Aaron Rodgers out for at least a couple of more weeks with a broken clavicle, coach Mike McCarthy has opted to make a change at quarterback from the injured Seneca Wallace to Scott Tolzien.
As you can sense from his Sunday press conference, McCarthy was very agitated with how poorly his team executed in a 27-13 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Green Bay heads to New York to face the 3-6 Giants in Week 11, though it's important to note those three victories for New York have come in its past three games.
Minnesota won its first game in North America this season when it knocked off Washington in the Thursday night game. Quarterback Christian Ponder played very well in rallying the Vikings to a victory, but he was injured late in the contest. Once again, Minnesota's quarterback situation remains highly variable from week to week.
The Vikings travel to Seattle to face the 9-1 Seahawks, a very tall task.
Pittsburgh is coming off a 23-10 home win over Buffalo. The Steelers have now won three of their past five games after starting 0-4.
Here is how the teams match up statistically.
|Rushing||Passing||Run Allowed||Passing Allowed|
Detroit slid from second to third in passing offense after accruing just 219 yards versus Chicago. The run defense jumped up from 14th to seventh, holding Matt Forte and the Bears to just 38 yards on 20 carries. The pass defense slid two spots after ceding 300 yards in Chicago.
Pittsburgh ranks fourth in pass yardage allowed, but it is trending in the wrong direction. Per TeamRankings.com, the Steelers are just 12th over the past three games. That's still impressive, but it puts a little more context to that high ranking.
In the series history, the Steelers hold a 15-14-1 advantage. The Lions have just two wins in the past 50 years, however. Detroit has not won in Pittsburgh since November 13, 1955.
The Steelers won the last meeting, 28-20, in the 2009 season finale in Detroit. Daunte Culpepper was the Detroit quarterback that day, and Calvin Johnson managed just one reception for two yards. You can view the box score here, thanks to ProFootballReference.com.
The good news from Chicago is that no Lions suffered significant injuries. The only player to leave the game and not return was reserve running back Montell Owens, who figures to play primarily on special teams.
Ansah, Burleson, Bentley and Hilliard all missed the Chicago game.
Coach Schwartz did not touch on any of those players in his weekly press conference, which you can watch here on the team's official website.
The Lions typically reveal very little other than a broad view about injured players, and this week is no exception. Don't expect any additional information before the team is required to release injury updates following practice on Wednesday.
Schwartz did touch on the Owens injury.
Owens saw just two snaps before aggravating his balky knee, which was initially hurt in preseason. As Kyle Meinke of MLive noted from the press conference:
Montell Owens re-aggravated knee, is day-to-day, week-to-week— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) November 11, 2013
That is about as specific as Schwartz gets on the injury front.
What Needs to Improve
One of the benefits of being a first-place team is that things are going relatively well. That does not mean there is not room for improvement, however.
The bad penalty bug reared its ugly head against Chicago after going dormant for a few weeks. Detroit committed four personal foul penalties, including two on Chicago's final drive which nearly cost the Lions the game.
This is an ongoing battle for the Lions under Jim Schwartz. Detroit ranks 25th in penalties per game, averaging 6.9 accepted flags per week, according to TeamRankings.com.
Detroit had been doing much better in controlling the mental error penalties, which includes infractions like offsides, false starts, facemasks and personal fouls. The Lions need to make sure the regression in Chicago was a one-week fluke and not a recurrent trend.
Another area ripe for improvement is in getting to the quarterback. The Lions continue to generate a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, including 11 QB hits against Chicago, per the ESPN box score from the game.
Yet for all that pressure, the sack number remains terribly low. Detroit notched two sacks versus Chicago, raising the season total to 15. That is good for just 29th in the league, according to NFL.com.
As TeamRankings.com notes, the sack percentage figure of 4.1 percent rates 30th out of 32.
It just doesn't make sense. The game charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) grade the Lions fourth in their pass-rush metric. Detroit clearly doesn't have trouble generating pressure.
Converting all that pressure into more sacks would be a huge boon for the defense. Sacks are far more valuable than forced incompletions. They also produce the potential for fumbles, something Ansah has proved quite adept at creating in his sacks.
Detroit has tried some blitzing lately, but it remains ineffective. I like the concept of the inverted defensive line, with the tackles and ends swapping positions, as a way to try to finish more sacks.
Yet, there really isn't much the coaches can do here. Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the defensive front have to stay more disciplined in not allowing escape routes and staying under control as they get near the quarterback.
That will be paramount this week against Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers quarterback is one of the most elusive targets in the league and is a major handful to bring down.
Also, the Lions must learn how to handle being a front-runner. This is virgin territory for Detroit.
Lions haven't been in 1st place in the division after Week 10 since 1999. Never been atop the NFC North this late since realignment in 2002.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) November 11, 2013
Every Lion, from Schwartz on down to his players, is trying very hard to cling to the "one game at a time" cliche. As Schwartz noted in his Monday presser, "We have six wins. That's not going to be enough."
Yet it's not likely to be easy to curb the enthusiasm. Honestly, I'm not even sure I want them to not be excited about being in first place. It might be a good thing to relish in the success.
That is what the Lions must sort out as they progress. How well will they handle being the hunted, not the hunter?
We will get those answers over the next two weeks. Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are games these Lions should expect to win. Let's see them make it happen!