Green Bay Packers: Evaluating NFC North Rivals Week 1

Michael DulkaContributor ISeptember 12, 2011

Green Bay Packers: Evaluating NFC North Rivals Week 1

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    The NFC North looks to be the best division in the NFL after the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings completed their Week 1 games. The Packers, Bears and Lions all beat playoff-caliber teams to show the strength of the division, while the Vikings fell to the San Diego Chargers. 

    With the NFC North looking extremely deep, the Packers will face significant challenges in many of their division games. The Packers are still the team to beat in the division, but it is important to assess where the other division opponents fall after Week 1. 

    After Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season, the power rankings in the NFC North would stack up with the Packers on top, followed by the Bears, Lions and Vikings in that order. 

    This article provides some analysis of the Packers NFC North division opponents Week 1 games and where they stand in the division.  

Chicago Bears Defeat Atlanta Falcons 30-12

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    The Chicago Bears scored early and often in their 30-12 blowout victory over the Atlanta Falcons as they opened their season with an impressive win over a quality opponent. Matt Forte and Brian Urlacher led the Bears on offense and defense respectively as they dominated the Falcons.

    Forte excelled against the Falcons both rushing the ball and catching passes out of the backfield from Jay Cutler. After the team's traded field goals to open the game, Forte added the first touchdown on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Cutler. He took a short pass over the middle, eluded multiple defenders and broke tackles on his way to the end zone.

    The Bears looked impressive, but most of the Bears' offensive success came at the expense of the atrocious Atlanta secondary. Throughout the game, Cutler had wide receivers streaking wide open down the field.

    Although Cutler's performance was mostly positive, he still had some trademark Jay Cutler throws and decisions. When facing pressure, Cutler forced throws into pressure and offered some potential interceptions to the Falcons defense. 

    With his team up 13-3 late in the first half, Cutler had an opportunity to put the game further out of reach as a beautiful play call left tight end Kellen Davis wide open. Cutler overthrew the 6'7'' tight end and the Bears were forced to settle for a field goal leaving points out on the field.

    Later in the game, with the Bears comfortably ahead 30-6, Cutler faced pressure on a screen pass and tried to get the pass off with three Falcons within feet of him. The ball was batted up into the air, caught by Kroy Biermann and returned for a Falcons touchdown.

    The Bears defense was much more impressive as they frustrated Matt Ryan with their Cover-2 defense forcing him into two turnovers. They also forced a fumble on a Michael Turner run.

    Most of the Falcons' success on offense came from running the ball as they averaged 7.9 yards per rush, but as they failed to put points on the board, were forced to play catch-up and threw the ball 47 times.

    Certainly, the Bears proved they are for real and can play with any team in the league when they are on their game. With that said, they are still not the team to beat in the division, but should be held in a higher regard than the Detroit Lions at this point.

    The Bears' weaknesses appear to be the offensive line that was responsible for giving up four sacks and multiple holds that wiped out big plays and Cutler's tendency to make mistakes in the face of pressure. The Bears face a big road test next week against the New Orleans Saints.   

Detroit Lions Defeat Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20

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    The Detroit Lions officially announced their arrival to meaningful existence as they outlasted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on their way to a 27-20 victory. Matthew Stafford bounced back after a shaky start to beat the up-and-coming Bucs.

    The Lions had their offensive stars primed for the season opener as Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best all had big days. Stafford completed 24-of-33 passes for 305 yards, three TD and one INT, Johnson had six receptions for 88 yards and two TD, and Best carried the ball 21 times for 72 yards and added four receptions for 42 yards.

    After a slow start, the second quarter saw the Lions offense finally start rolling as they had hoped it would with a healthy Stafford. A 36-yard Calvin Johnson touchdown from Stafford followed by an 11-yard Tony Scheffler score from Stafford gave the Lions a 20-10 late in the first half. 

    With Stafford healthy, the Lions are a dangerous team offensively, but still struggle at times on the defensive side of the ball. There were moments that Josh Freeman had all day to sit back and complete passes. Against a team that is more of an aerial threat than the Bucs, the Lions will struggle unless their defensive line can create constant pressure.

    After scoring 20 first-half points, the Lions struggled to move the ball consistently and only put an additional seven points on the board in the second half. Part of the reason for this is the inability of Jahvid Best to take carries straight up the middle.

    In the fourth quarter, the Bucs failed to convert a 4th-and-1, giving the Lions the ball with 7:48 on the clock up 27-13. With a great opportunity to run out the clock, the Lions were unable to move the ball as Best earned zero yards on first down, one yard on second down and a screen pass to Best earned seven yards.

    Without a power back, the Lions will continue to struggle to put teams away late in games. This could be a huge concern going forward as the team must learn how to handle success if they are going to jump into NFC contention.

    The Lions are a dangerous team, but are still a little ways away from competing with the Packers and the Bears. They will need to make improvements on both sides of the ball to make the jump, but are definitely headed in the right direction.  

Minnesota Vikings Fall to San Diego Chargers 24-17

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    The Minnesota Vikings got their season off to a great start as Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown, but things went downhill as the Vikings couldn't hold off the San Diego Chargers and fell 24-17. Harvin and Peterson showed their explosiveness, but Donovan McNabb's Viking debut was a dud.

    The Vikings somehow found themselves up 17-7 at halftime, but failed to put together anything in the second half and put up zero additional points. The Chargers on the other hand, scored 17 points over the third and fourth quarters to give them the 24-17 victory.

    Down by a touchdown with 5:01 to go in the game, the Vikings got the ball on their own 20-yard line. On first down, McNabb had nothing open other than a short check-down to Peterson for two yards. On second down, a miscommunication in the backfield between McNabb and Peterson resulted in a two yard loss on a Peterson carry. Facing 3rd-and-long, the Vikings offensive line collapsed and McNabb was sacked for a 10-yard loss. The Vikings were forced to punt and never saw the ball again.    

    McNabb finished an abysmal game completing only 7-of-15 passes for 39 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a QB rating of 47.9. McNabb's first pass as a Viking was intercepted on an athletic play by linebacker Shaun Phillips as he tipped the pass into the air before completing the catch.

    McNabb was pitiful against the Chargers and will need to be significantly better in order for the Vikings to win games. Without dramatic improvements going into the rest of the season, the Vikings will be unable to put together long scoring drives.  

    The freshly re-signed Adrian Peterson was better against the Chargers, but failed to find the end zone in the opener. Peterson finished the afternoon with 98 rushing yards on 16 carries, but 10 of Peterson's carries went for less than five yards. 60 of his 98 yards came on two runs. 

    If the Vikings are going to have any success this season, they will need Peterson to be more consistent and constantly pick up five or six yards here and there in order to move the ball and maintain drives. If Peterson cannot manage this, incredible amounts of pressure will fall onto the shoulder's of McNabb who appears unable to carry the weight.

    The Vikings have some play-makers in Peterson and Harvin, who can score any time they touch the ball, but success in the NFL comes most consistently for teams that can put together and maintain long drives.

    Next week, the Vikings host a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team coming off a painful home loss to the Detroit Lions. It will be interesting to see how well the Vikings stack up against a team their division rivals handled pretty well.