The Minnesota Vikings were the last team in the NFC North to notch their first win, besting the Pittsburgh Steelers across the pond in London last week. This week, the Vikings have their bye, as is customary for teams having just played in London.
That leaves two matchups throughout the division to look at. The 3-1 Detroit Lions bring their 22-game losing streak at Lambeau Field to town to face the Green Bay Packers. The Chicago Bears play host to the undefeated New Orleans Saints. Let’s take a look at each.
New Orleans Saints (4-0) at Chicago Bears (3-1)
Something’s gotta give this week, as the Saints bring their perfect record and a three-game losing streak at Soldier Field to Chicago. Saints quarterback Drew Brees has started out hot with over 1,400 passing yards and 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions. At Soldier Field, however, Brees is completing just over 50% of his passes and has seven touchdown passes to six interceptions.
While the players change every year, the Bears surely know that Brees has had his struggles in their house. Chicago will look to bring pressure and disrupt the timing and rhythm of the Saints passing attack. Brees has been sacked 12 times this season. Under pressure, the Bears will look to continue their ball-hawking ways in the secondary and hope to force a bad throw or two into a valuable turnover against New Orleans’ high-octane offense.
The Bears lost their first game of the season last week to the Lions. Quarterback Jay Cutler threw three interceptions and the Bears had four total turnovers in the loss. He was also sacked three times. It is no secret that Cutler has struggled when under pressure in the pocket and the Saints will look to keep him uncomfortable all day long. Much like the Bears, the Saints have an opportunistic secondary that was able to nab three interceptions in this past Monday Night’s win over the Miami Dolphins. This is one of those games that could get ugly if Cutler isn’t careful with the football.
With a win, New Orleans takes firm command of the NFC South and jumps into the conversation of legitimate contenders for the NFC this year. Should the Bears emerge victorious, they make a statement that they should at least be in that same conversation.
Detroit Lions (3-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-2)
The Packers get back to the grind and will be looking to remove the putrid taste that is likely still lingering in their mouths after the tough loss at Cincinnati two weeks ago. The team appears to be on track to return several players to health. Tight end Jermichael Finley, running backs Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn, safety Morgan Burnett, and cornerback Jarrett Bush all returned to practice this week. Linebacker Clay Matthews is still working his way back and was said to be “getting better” according to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy after Wednesday’s practice. If Matthews is unable to play this week, that would be a big loss for a pass rush that continues to struggle to keep consistent pressure on the opposing passer.
That passer, in this case, is Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford comes into this week’s game with seven touchdown passes to three interceptions. Part of the reason for the modest numbers (compared to past seasons) is the emergence of newly-acquired running back Reggie Bush. Bush has been on a tear early on this season, despite having missed a game due to a knee injury. I can promise that you will see Bush as a major key in this week’s game. Detroit needs him to keep doing what he has been doing and the Packers need to treat him much like they did San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the season opener. Spy, spy, spy. Bush is exactly the type of player who gives the Packers fits and I foresee a big day for him this week.
In addition to watching out for Bush, the Packers will also need to be aware of long-standing nemesis Calvin Johnson. The biggest challenge that Johnson presents to Green Bay is in their poor tackling. Besides his big frame and size advantage, Johnson is always among the league leaders in yards after the catch. Curtailing this is going to be important for the Packers on Sunday. They simply have to find a way to limit the Detroit offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions have one of the best, if not the best, front four in the league. Anchored by tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Lions have been able to create pressure with their four-man rush. This is something that has caused many a headache for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers excels against the blitz and when he can get his receivers one-on-one but had problems all day against a Bengals front that was able to clamp down on their own.
While Green Bay has had a single back rack up over 100 yards rushing in two consecutive games after not having any in 44 straight, don’t expect a “ground and pound” approach this week. The Packers will be looking to strike early and build a lead. That has proven to take the wind out of Detroit’s sail in the past. Detroit’s secondary is banged up and the status of both starting corners is uncertain. This is an area that Rodgers and the offense will look to attack but will have to do so with quick passes and well-executed screen passes.
Minnesota Vikings (1-3) are on a Bye
With extra time on his hands, don’t be surprised to see Greg Jennings pop up at an autograph signing somewhere or comparing any two quarterbacks that he is asked about.
Be on the lookout for our ALLGBP.com Writer’s Prediction post as well as Keys to the Game later this week!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: