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Green Zone League Articles

Reviewing the Puzzle NFC North
By Garth Pearce
Special to gzl-football.com

CHICAGO BEARS

In the last review we highlighted the youth factor on the offensive line and their need for more experience and playing time. Both LT Carroll and and RG Warford have improved from playing more games and some focused training. C Wasson has been replaced by rookie Will Figgins who brings better athleticism, awareness and blocking to the roll. LG Blalock has been replaced with Dante Magana, who whilst a weaker player provides a longer term option with better athleticism and higher ceiling, Overall the line is better and will only continue to improve in future years if this outfit is given the opportunity to grow.
Next we looked at the ability of Ryan Williams to be the #1 back for the Bears and it appears our concerns were well founded. Williams is no longer with the team and has been replaced with the ever able Maurice Jones-Drew and rookie Bronze Pittman. MJD is getting on in age, having lost a couple of steps, but he gives a veteran presence and wily skills to support youngster Pittman in the backfield. Pittman is a 238lbs back with decent speed, strength and mobility and is so far averaging a nice 4.5 ypc. This pair provides a definite improvement from last season at half back and Pittman should be a long term performer in Chicago to the joy of Bears fans.
Finally the major problem area was a lack of quality aerial targets for Cutler to throw too. Greg Jennings and Jacoby Jones are too proven receivers who take the Bears' passing game to a whole new level, whilst rookie Jesse Hendricks is the tall timber to give the short game more targets alongside TE Olsen. With these 3 additions and Olsen, Cutler is left wanting nothing to make a successful passing game for the Bears. All receivers provide a variety of options and therefore game plans, plus with the successful run game from Pittman it is a versatile and potent attack that was lacking last season.


DETROIT LIONS

Tom made a bold move this off season to switch from a 4-3 base to 3-4 base defense, however with the athleticism of DT Suh he doesn't shut the door on being able to alternate if things fail...which seems to be the case. I picked Tom out for making way to many changes last year which he has done a better job of cutting back on all those transactions, however in most there weren't a whole lot of impact moves in the bunch, which still begs the question is it all worthwhile? They are yet to win a game, haven't kept the opponent below 27 points in a game and themselves are only averaging 18.7 ppg. Lamar Miller's honeymoon is over and his performance is back on par with what his attributes say it should be (0 TD's to date at 3.63 ypc). As much as the defense sucks the offense is just not utilising its options to the best of their abilities. Calvin Johnson is 3rd on the team for receiving yards and by admission of the GM himself, sometimes stuck in the slot this year. WTF!?! As numerous Gm's have pointed out, Stafford to Megatron is the best QB/WR matchup in the league and should be exploited. Considering the average talent across the rest of the wide outs and TE's it's no wonder the passing game isn't the power house it should be. Stafford needs more skilled targets to pass to and the passing game should be airing it out to the 6'5", 95 speed matchup nightmare weekly with cameo appearances from other players. This offense has been going backwards ever since their Superbowl loss in 2013 when it should be a top producer for the league.
The defense of the Lions' last season was their biggest downfall and the play to date hasn't shown it to be any better. Yes the change to 3-4 is always a rocky road to sort out, but so far their allowing on average 56 more yards per game than last season, even though they now have Cortland Finnegan and Chris Houston supporting the secondary that failed miserably in 2014. The D-Line got worse alongside the linebackers and now the defensive ends are doing as much coverage work as the backs (DE Avril has as many INTs as CB Smith or Finnegan, plus a sack). For a guy who did a lot of game planning when he came into this league, Tom needs to pick up his game and get these Lions working on at least one side of the ball, otherwise it'll be game over before where a quarter of the way in.


GREEN BAY PACKERS

Much like the Bears, the Packers were running with a young offensive line last season and needed some more playing time and progression to help them along. This year the line-up is similar, with C Madison and LG Raney both making some progress with their awareness and skills which has led to 0 sacks for the pair to date. Rookie RG Khalid Kroons has been added to the mix and shown to be just as impressive, whilst 6th overall pick Terron Armstead has yet to take the field (although that is likely to change this week with OT Joseph being traded out). That puts a lot of raw talent on the front line with only OT Johnson holding one end with experience, but knowing that only OT Joseph has let through the only 2 sacks for the team is solid work from this crew. I would like to see more training effort put into these guys over the next few years so they become truly dependable in all situations, but at the moment they are working well.
Some moves were made to the defense in the off season that to my view was a sideways shift in current ability for long term benefits. Jalil Brown left for the Titans and has been replaced with Cobrani Rogers (faster, 3 years more playing time, but lower AWR), DE Mathis is out whilst rookie Damontre Moore gives a lifetime of pass rushing to the team, whilst OLB Jon Beason adds further veteran talent to an already spectacular linebacker corps. The secondary is still looking raw, especially when you add E.J. Biggers to the mix, plus Sam Shields is out for the season which all supports their current 21st ranked pass defense. Overall this hasn't worked out for the best in Green Bay as the team that started 6-0 last year is at 1-2 from a mixed bag of performances, however with a new QB expected in town for the week 5 game versus the Lions fortunes are looking up (plus they are playing the Lions). Cassel and Clausen just haven't filled the void left by Matt Schaub's departure, even though Cassel was the architect of the Packers opening 2014 winning run. Even the change of receivers with Chris Matthews and Brandon Marshall hasn't brought out the best in the passing game, so only time will tell if a new play caller will make it work and help lift the Packers up.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Youth was the flavour of the year last review and now we see those players in Minnesota given a further year to improve their game. HB Wilson, WR Blackmon, LT Joeckel, LG Carimi, C Golic Jr, RG Uzzi, DT Floyd and MLB Kuechly have all shown signs of greater play reading and game smarts. Adding to this list of youth are rookies CB David Amerson, TE Vance McDonald and HB Joseph Randle which puts the Vikings starting roster at one of the youngest for age and years played. If this team can actually keeps some wins flowing and these boys get training properly then in the long term they'll be a force, but at the moment it's a mixed bag.

The mixed bag involves the Vikings' offense finally being able to score some points, averaging 30.5 ppg, whilst their defense is giving up on average 0.3 ppg more. Last season they average 18.1 on offense and gave up over 8 more points on defense. With 7 turnovers by their offense they are on track to be only slightly better in that department than last year (32 for the year), however the entire running game has nearly scored as many TD's in 4 games as the entire 2014 season (6 so far to 7 last year). With Wilson injured for the long term they can only hope that Randle will protect the ball better and help lift the turnover doldrums around, but Colt McCoy has to do better than a 9-5 TD-INT ratio to make it a team effort. The fact that they are scoring decent numbers is a positive and a step forward from last year. Now they need to do something about the 2nd worst pass defense in the league to keep opponents from blowing away their own gains.
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