Four Downs: NFC North

Four Downs: NFC North

by Mike Kurtz

Chicago Bears

Biggest offseason holes: Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver

Two years ago, Chicago sold a lot -– if not the farm, than at least several large barns -– to Denver for Jay Cutler. For the past two seasons we have been privileged to see what happens when you take an ostensibly elite quarterback and surround him with no talent whatsoever. The 13.0% DVOA that the Bears had with Cutler under center last season would have ranked them 19th in the league.

The offensive tackles, particularly J'Marcus Webb, were among the worst tackles in the league. Leading the charge to a 31st-place Adjusted Sack Rate was Webb, who finished near the top of the offensive lineman wall of shame with 10 sacks allowed. He didn't have issues with one sort of player, either, despite giving up three sacks to Jared Allen in a single game. Webb was beaten by bull rushes, by hand fakes, and by most anyone with anything resembling a quick step.

Webb's counterpart at right tackle, Lance Louis, at least has sound technique. But he lacks push off the ball, which is a severe liability in the running game; Chicago ranked 25th in Adjusted Line Yards on runs to right tackle. Despite all this, newly minted offensive coordinator Mike Tice is reportedly committed to all of the current lackluster starting linemen. Tice, in fact, had made noises about turning Chicago's offense into a far more run-heavy attack, which makes some sense considering the talent of Matt Forte, but doesn't factor in the part where the Bears finished 24th in Adjusted Line Yards and had a catastrophic 24.1 percent of runs stuffed for no gain or a loss in 2011. Unless the bookends are replaced, look for Forte's impressive skill to once again by squandered in 2012.

Of course, Tice may be taking this tack in response to the state of Chicago's receiving corps, which is a carousel of possession receivers with mediocre ball skills. The top duo were Johnny Knox and Roy Williams, who had above-average seasons, finishing 35th and 38th in DVOA, respectively. Unfortunately, that is a league-wide average that includes a sizable sample of No. 3 receivers, and the Bears are still desperately looking for a receiver that goes beyond that tier.

Green Bay Packers

Biggest offseason hole: Defensive Line

Green Bay's defense isn't quite as bad as raw yardage would have you believe (they check in at 24th by DVOA), but that is damning with faint praise. The steep decline in play from the hybrid 3-4/4-3 line affected the linebacking corps by not soaking up blocks; Clay Matthews saw his sack total fall from 13.5 in 2010 to 6 in 2011. Because the pass rush wasn't getting to the passer, quarterbacks made fewer mistakes, and the team's interception total dropped from 31 to 24. In fact, the Packers were near the bottom of the league in sacks, despite the fact that Green Bay's high-octane offense caused its defense to face more passes than any other team in the league. The Packers defense was dead last in Adjusted Sack Rate, 1.9 percent below the league average.

The rushing defense didn't have the same precipitous fall from grace as the passing defense, but nonetheless fell from relatively average to near the bottom of the league in every single category aside from Open Field Yards, where the aging but still talented secondary, led by Charles Woodson, was able to bail the rest of the defense out. In fact, of Green Bay's top-five tacklers, four ( Morgan Burnett, Charlie Peprah, Woodson and Tramon Williams) were defensive backs. That is always a bad sign.

Assigning blame among a line is never easy, but the team is secure with Pro Bowler B.J. Raji, who regularly draws double teams on both running and passing downs. End/3-technique tackle Ryan Pickett also played well when he was actually on the field, which was infrequently. The rest of the assembled squad was extremely unimpressive, particularly second-year end C.J. Wilson, who fits the physical profile of an end/linebacker hybrid but in two years attempting to replace Aaron Kampman has displayed none of his talent. Another youngster, Jarius Wynn, had similar struggles and was a complete liability in the running game, contributing greatly to the league-worst Adjusted Line Yards on runs to the offensive left end. The good news for cheeseheads is that Green Bay's defensive scheme is possibly the most flexible in the league, so when the draft comes around –- and general manager Ted Thompson is a strong believer in building through the draft rather than free agency –- the front office should be able to find a few orphaned players other teams cannot find roles for.

Minnesota Vikings

Biggest offseason hole: Secondary

Minnesota may have the worst secondary in the league, considering how consistently awful it is in coverage against every type of receiver: 29th against passes to their opponents' No. 1 receivers; 30th against passes to their opponents' No. 2 receivers, and dead last against all other receivers. The Vikings clearly knew about this problem, rotating defensive backs with the zeal of a rotisserie gone haywire. Minnesota started 11 different cornerbacks and safeties over the course of the season.

All of which were awful. Only two Minnesota cornerbacks have 40 charted targets or more in our game charting data: Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen. Out of the 80 cornerbacks included in this group, Griffin finished 77th with 10.5 yards per pass and 78th with a 38 percent success rate. Allen was slightly better about giving up chunks of yardage, finishing 68th at 9.2 yards per pass, but allowed so many short first-down conversions that he finishes dead last with a 33 percent success rate.

Fortunately, there may be a few opportunities to bolster this unit in free agency, as the Titans may not be able to hold on to both Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin, and either would be a huge upgrade for the Vikings. Carlos Rogers is also an intriguing possibility as an unrestricted free agent, but his price tag may be out of reach.

The Vikings may be tempted to try to bolster their pass defense via the draft, but their third-place draft position makes it a bit of a gamble. Defensive backs are plentiful in the draft, making a high-profile pick a bit uncommon in light of more scarce talent at other positions, such as offensive tackle and defensive end. In fact, in the past 10 years, only two cornerbacks were taken in the top-five picks: Patrick Peterson (2011, Arizona) and Terence Newman (2003, Dallas). However, in light of the current situation here, it may be wise for Minnesota to select a relatively high-profile defensive back, like those mentioned above, to anchor the defense and use deep draft picks to start building for the future. LSU's Morris Claiborne might fit the bill.

Detroit Lions

Biggest offseason hole: Offensive Line

The book on the 2011 Lions was that they were an awful running team that had to rely on the pass. Indeed, Detroit finished tenth in passing DVOA and right in the middle of the pack in rushing DVOA. However, Matthew Stafford was phenomenal, contributing 1,446 DYAR to the offense, more even than Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Stafford also has astoundingly quick feet and surprisingly good pocket presence. His Manning-esque ability to evade pressure contributed greatly to an impressive 10th-ranked Adjusted Sack Rate for the Lions offense.

Detroit's maligned running backs played in one of the most even-handed platoons in the league. We at Football Outsiders separate running backs with fewer than 100 rushes from the main list of running backs, due to concern over the smaller sample size. No Lions running back ran with enough frequency to reach that threshold. With that caveat, however, both Kevin Smith (7.2% DVOA) and Jahvid Best (5.8% DVOA) were above-average backs in their limited time. Smith, in fact, was precisely as valuable on a value-per-play basis (DVOA) as Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro Maurice Jones-Drew. Smith was also extremely valuable in the passing game, with a DVOA of 27.2%, good for eighth-best among running backs.

By demonstrating the utility of the rest of the offense, we expose the severe issues with Detroit's offensive line that conventional statistics obscure. Detroit sported the second-worst offensive line in the league by Adjusted Line Yards, and Smith and Best look even more impressive in light of the fact that the Lions' line allowed the defense to stuff 21 percent of all running plays. While none of these linemen distinguish themselves in any way, center Dominic Raiola and right guard Stephen Peterman played particularly awful and greatly contributed to Detroit's 28th-ranked power running game. Tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus, on the other hand, were poor in pass blocking; Backus gave up 7.5 sacks according to tape analysis, and Cherilus 6.5. Most of these sacks were complete failures to block anybody, including one play where Cherilus was beaten on a two-man rush. Fortunately, Detroit can make immediate repairs in the 2012 draft, where a number of quality linemen project out somewhere around Detroit's 23rd pick. Players like Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler and Ohio State's Mike Adams, both of whom could play immediately and be instant upgrades, should be available.

(This article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)


54 comments, Last at 15 Feb 2013, 6:05am

1 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Stafford also has astoundingly quick feet and surprisingly good pocket presence. His Manning-esque ability to evade pressure contributed greatly to an impressive 10th-ranked Adjusted Sack Rate for the Lions offense.

Ben Muth had a different view on his twitter, saying Stafford didn't do his offensive line many favors.

Personally, he didn't strike me as particularly good or bad. When you can just heave a pass in the general direction of Calvin Johnson as soon as reaching your drop, it tends to help these things.

10 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

PLEASE STOP ALL THE>>>>>>>BECAUSE OF CALVIN STAFFORD LOOKS GOOD.......He threw more touchdown passes NOT to Calvin than most other qb's in the league threw all year long to their whole team including their number one target.

13 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

And you don't think all the extra attention Johnson draws makes it easier to complete passes to the other guys? Why do you think Kevin Walter's per target production fell off a cliff this year?

19 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I suspect the Lions' complete inability to run the ball offset some of the benefits of the Calvin Johnson Effect. When you can afford to run a nickel/dime full-time, you can afford that extra DB on Johnson.

22 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

And Johnson had by far his best season with a healthy Stafford throwing him the ball for 16 games.

Obviously Johnson helps Stafford, but a lot of that cuts both ways. If you take away Johnson would Stafford still throw for 5,000+ yards and 42 TDs? No. But then again, only Brees and Brady threw for that many yards last year.

23 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Sure, a healthy Stafford is a clearly above average quarterback, and a vast improvement on anyone else Johnson has ever played with. But to me this is more Moss and Culpepper than Harrison and Manning.

24 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

If you want to use the Moss constant, the endpoints are probably Culpepper/Moss on one end and Brady/Moss on the other. Stafford/Johnson is, to me, clearly within that bracket, but I would argue that I think they're closer to the high end than to the low end.

Time will tell. I'm a Lions fan and even I still forget from time to time that Stafford is only 23.

14 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I think the truth is probably somewhere between those opinions. Yes, having Megatron as an "outlet" is an asset that few QBs can match, but nearly 80% of Stafford's passes went elsewhere. Yes, Stafford's ability to avoid pressure has improved, but I don't think it yet approaches either Manning. (NY's ASR was several points better than Detroit's.)

I believe that in the offseason, Stafford got two pieces of advice: build strength and stop holding the ball forever. I think the first was evident in his ability to finish the season despite taking some pretty hard hits (IIRC, he sat out only one play after a hit; I believe Hill had exactly one attempt and I don't remember Stanton ever seeing playing time). The second was most evident in the first couple of games: there were plays where Stafford was dumping the ball almost immediately ... as we would see later, this was a necessary skill to have, given the inability of Backus and Cherilus to block speed rushers, but early on, it was as if the emphasis was first on remembering to get rid of the ball, and once that was demonstrated, on finding outlet receivers.

I would guess that as the season went along and Stafford became more effective, he probably regressed a bit. There were certainly plays I charted where he seemed to ignore the fact that the protection was breaking down. On the other hand, obviously there were a number of situations where simply getting rid of the ball was not an option (that happens when you keep digging yourselves 20-point holes), and while the RBs did a nice job with screens and dump-offs, Pettigrew was remarkably ineffective and yet was the target on a significant number of plays (126, while posting a negative DVOA), so it's also possible that when Megatron was "covered", if Stafford couldn't see his RB, he felt like he needed something more and would hold the ball.

That may have been a problem earlier in the season. Later, as Young was a bigger part of the offense, I think there were more viable options ... but then that would probably have led, again, to a regression toward holding the ball longer, even if it was justifiable in certain situations.

Finally, while for other QBs, the alternatives are dumpoff or sack, for Stafford, at least in his rookie season, the alternatives were dumpoff or interception ... and even so, he's brought his interception percentage down from 5.3% in 2009 to 2.4% in 2011, and his sack percentage has actually dropped, from 6.0% to 5.2%. (Detroit's ASR was significantly worse in 2009, but better in 2010 than this season, which may be a reason for Muth's comment.)

If Stafford is holding onto the ball longer, I think now it's because he's occasionally able to find a receiver for a big play, and I'm OK with that. He's increasingly comfortable with his receivers, even Pettigrew (who has a lot of talent to be as comparatively unproductive as he was in 2011), and even given the nonexistent running game. I do agree that he has quick feet and that his pocket presence seems to have improved from the last couple of seasons (5 fumbles in 2011 vs. 6 in 2009 and 2010 combined, keeping in mind that he had quite a few more plays in 2011.)

The offensive line did the best they could, I think, but they're simply not going to be a top line. Backus and Raiola deserve medals of honor for surviving the Dark Times, but both passed their physical prime quite some time ago, and Backus in particular is in a position where you can't afford to have a weakness if you want to contend. Cherilus plays well at times, but to an amateur's eye, hasn't shown the level of play the Lions need at tackle. Sims and Peterman are serviceable, I think. My preference would be to draft a tackle and a center (say, David Molk); if they can both start, that's great, but if one needs a year or two of practice, that's fine too.

The secondary is still a significant weakness: Delmas is the only player who should feel secure in his position, and of course he missed games due to injury. Houston and Wright are good enough to take advantage of mistakes, but not good enough to create them regularly. Both are relatively small and thus have difficulty against taller receivers, and Wright's confidence is particularly shaky: one or two bad plays and he's pretty much done for a quarter or two. Behind them, there is little enough talent that Cunningham simply doesn't go to a dime package. (This may just be how he does things; I've obviously not followed his defenses to the extent I do now.) I think it would make sense to pick up a CB or two to bolster that group, although given the Lions' cap space, I'm not sure there's money to sign a free agent.

Other than that, they have the normal assortment of needs: nothing really pressing until free agency happens. Of course some guys will leave, so you just want to replace them with somewhat-equal talent.

20 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I wonder how much Pettigrew's DVOA is affected by the revolving door at RB for a couple of weeks, and his status as frequent emergency dump-off receiver and "target" for throwaways?

DVOA does select a victim for legal intentional groundings.

21 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I was being glib with regards to Stafford and CJ, after all the internet is nothing if not a place where one can snarky assertions with poor support. I was going to say I don't think he's as good as his stats, but his DVOA is 10th, which sounds close to right to me.

I do think the Lions have built their offense to suit Staffords skills very well. It's all tall receivers who can jump up and grab his cannon launches. Sort of the opposite of what the Bears have done for Cutler.

2 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I felt like the Bears O-Line was improving through the season, and then completely fell off a cliff once Cutler was injured. Maybe he was compensating for the line by rushing throws/checking down...but I felt like they weren't horrible with him in there.

Is there any particular split for the line's stats with/without Cutler?

6 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The game before Cutler got hurt, Chris Williams also got hurt. After that only Webb and Garza were playing in the spots they did in game 1. I think, but I can't be positive, this also really hurt Webb.

As for compensation, this year some kind of light went off in Cutler's head and he became incredible at avoiding the pass rush. The MNF game against Detroit is the most obvious example, but also in the game he got hurt against San Diego he was making the line look much better than it was actually performing. Caleb Hanie was just bad, at everything. So yes he did make the line look worse than say an average QB would, but that doesn't change the fact it was mediocre to bad in the first place.

28 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I would credit Cutler for making the line look better before I would credit the line for improving, but that's just a gut feeling based on watching the games. I don't have stats to back that up. (And of course, Hanie was greatly inferior to Cutler in general, not just in terms of scrambling and getting out of trouble, which complicates comparisons).

I would like to see the Bears go all-in on next season given the aging defense, and I think wide receiver is a position they can fill nicely via free agency (I'd like to see them get a 1 and a 2; nobody on that roster now is really any better than a 3). As far as the draft goes, I don't know enough about who's likely to be available when they're picking to say exactly what they should focus on but I'd like to see them try to find another pass rusher, too.

30 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Hanie showed last year just why he was #3 in 2010. As long as nobody had film on him, he looked great for one game in the playoffs which game a false confidence to the Bears staff thinking they didn't need to upgrade in case Cutler went down. I agree Cutler made the OL look better. Someone posted the OL looked good last year against the Packers, but that didn't mean squat last year as once you took CM out of the pass rush you effectively killed the Pack D.

3 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Quite a lot of this article either runs contrary to my impressions from watching this division during the season or make very little sense at all.

Maybe I didn't see enough of the Lions but I don't think 'Manning-esque ability to evade pressure' and Stafford belong in the same sentence. Is there any real point in comparing MJD's DVOA from his 1600+ yards for Jacksonville and a player who didn't reach 100 carries with Megatron pinning the safeties deep?

My impression is that Raji is overrated and plays more like a fat Anthony Adams than the pro-bowler some view him as. If I was looking to fix the Packers defense I would look for a real 3-4 end (who could collapse the pocket and stack the edge against the run), think very hard about replacing the overpaid AJ Hawk and pray till my knees bled that Nick Collins gets healthy.

As for the Bears, isn't Louis supposed to be the starter at right guard with Carimi, who I thought looked promising, at right tackle? Additionally, while Webb's ten sacks aren't great I can think of quite a few young tackles who surrendered similar numbers that went on to improve quite rapidly. Anthony Davis and Brian Bulaga both gave up those numbers without the hindrance of Mad Mike Martz and his fetish for seven step drops. Bulaga was highly praised for his rookie campaign and Davis improved markedly in his second campaign. When you take account of Webb's inexperience coming from a very small school and his physical abilities I can understand the Bears keeping faith in him, though I would want to see a decent fall back option in place if he struggles again.

5 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Louis is indeed a guard who was forced to play tackle out of necessity. Of course having no capable backup tackles on the team still speaks to a need of a kind. As for Carimi, Tice is extremely high on him and has specifically said he had the highest grade of any lineman on the Bears last year. However, this is in 1.5 games. So he's still a question mark, if a promising question mark.

The offensive line is definitely a weak spot for the Bears, but it's not one I'm sure more players will help. I think if everyone stays healthy they have a chance at being average or better at spots 2-5, which is to say everywhere but left tackle. I'm higher on Webb than most, but I still think it's likely he is below average next year. I think the Bears can live with one weak lineman by making sure to give him help, which is also something I think Tice will improve a lot.

What the Bears are desperate for is a receiver who can run slant routes without falling down, and out jump a defender for a deep pass occasionally. I really want them to sign a proven guy (Bowe is my dream, V Jack is a lesser dream), and actually devote most of their picks to the defense.

44 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I pretty much agree with what you're saying here. A lot of people are screaming for the Bears to fix the O Line but this seems to prevent the team from really growing a unit together. I dunno.

As for WR, I like what you're thinking, although I like Jackson over Bowe myself. Actually, my dream scenario is that the Bears sign Vincent Jackson in FA and draft Michael Floyd in Round 1.

50 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

If sinking a ton of draft and cap resources into the line was the way to build a good one, the Rams would dominate up front and the Saints would suck.

9 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Raji is still really good. But only he and Bishop were worth much in the middle of last year's defense. Hawk was definitely the wrong LB to keep last year as Bills fans saw with Barnett. It was telling that the undrafted Francois and the undersized DJ Smith both played better in limited opportunities. I can only guess TT likes seeing Hawk's wife Laura on the sideline or he wants to pick up Brady Quinn in FA. Pickett was injured and was showing his age when he did play. Mike Neal looked good for the 10 minutes or so he played DE before his injury, but was pretty worthless once he returned. Wilson or Wynn should only be backups. And the revolving door opposite Matthews at ROLB continues to be the weakest position on the defense. Raji has played nearly every snap for two years. You can't do that with big DL guys. Towards the end of some games, he was tanked. That's on the coaches.

11 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Lord have mercy. Stop the Lions hate. If you didn't watch all the I did and most Lions fans did than your opinion doesn't mean much at all. EVERY Lions fan thinks this analysis is correct. Our lack of run game is 100% a product of bad OLINE RUN blocking. And while the MJD comparison is clearly flawed it was used to simply prove a point.....our rbs did well when they had room to run. Don't blame them for NOT being MJD and playing on a team with Calvin. MJD has MUCH better Run blocking which about evens out for whatever Calvin did to keep one safety away from the box. And because our RUN BLOCKING is so bad teams NEVER had to bring the other safety up in the box. Imagine what Calvin would do if Stafford has 1 more second to throw and the safeties had to actually play the run once in a while. One solid Interior Lineman, let a lone two could literally turn the Lions offense into one the greatest to step on a field. And I am NOT saying that lightly.

12 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Clearly you're not saying anything lightly, I can tell that because you've used block capitals, which DEMAND to be taken seriously.

15 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Dude, the Lions have a good offense. After the Millen years, I can see why you'd be excited about that. But one or two solid interior linemen aren't worth the difference between 11.8% DVOA (in a year when the lockout seems to have hurt defense more than offense) and an all time great unit. Not close. Hell, Carl Nicks and prime Dermontti Dawson wouldn't contribute 30-plus points of DVOA.

Hope Johnson and Stafford stay healthy. As long as they do, you'll have a shot at the playoffs. If some other things come together at the same time, you'll have a shot at the Superbowl. That's a pretty good place to be, without needing to convince yourself that the Greatest Show on Turf 2.0 is suddenly going to emerge in Detroit.

4 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The real indicator of just how bad the Vikings dbs were is the fact that the pass rush was pretty good.

This is the worst time to be a Vikings fan ever, even discounting the fact that they have about a 50% chance of not being called "Vikings" any longer. Even the early, expansion era Vikings fans had it better, given there was a great qb to go along with the newness of NFL football. The 1984 team played worse than the 2012 team, but there was a fresh infusion of great, sometimes HOF-caliber talent, that was added to the roster by the spring of 1986, either from the draft or the USFL. Maybe in the next 12 months this front office will add talent equivalent to Gary Zimmerman, Chris Doleman, Anthony Carter, Keith Millard, and Kirk Lowdermilk, among others, but that isn't the way to bet.

Assuming both top rated qb prospects are gone by the time the Vikings draft, and they can't trade down for a ransom, the Vikings ought to draft the tackle from USC, based on his scouting reports. There's a ton of holes to fill, but absent a great qb prospect, and given they have good pass rushers already, they may as well try to get their left tackle for the next decade, and get dbs where they can.

7 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I think one bright spot for the Vikings is that Wilf seems to be a committed owner who will get the ship righted at some point (and in some location, although per Peter King a deal is looking likely for the Vikings to stay).

That and uh... Adrian Peterson knocks defenders over a lot.

8 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Yeah, there is some irony in Wilf being the best owner the Vikings have ever had, as far as a guy who puts winning near the top of his priorities. He just happened to buy the club after McCombs ensured that a couple of drafts, 2005 in particular were screwed up with his meddling. Then, Wilf got unlucky with his first coaching hire, and the role of luck in coaching hires is greatly underestimated.

This franchise got lucky, given consistently bad ownership, with four hires in the mid 60s, with Jim Finks as GM, Bud Grant as coach, and two personnel guys, Jerry Reichow and Frank Gilliam. The franchise coasted on that luck into the 90s, because Grant was around until the mid 80s, and brought in another great personnel guy, Paul Wiggin, who is still with them as a consultant today. Reichow and Gilliam were active into the late 90s. Those five guys brought in and taught a ton of talent for decades, despite awful ownership that was always trying to run things like a Dollar General store.

16 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Do I take it you're ready to give up on Ponder, then?

If so, would you favour trying to swap picks with the Rams in order to get Griffin? Because it seems to me that a world where the Vikings want Griffin is one in which the Rams (who presumably want Kalil) have a strong interest in trading with them rather than the Browns, Redskins or whoever.

18 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I'd say Ponder has about a 50% chance of being an above average starting NFL qb. If they had lost a couple more games, I'd definitely say they should draft Luck, because I've seen enough of him to make my guess that he has about a 50% chance of being one of the top three starting NFL qbs for more than five years. I am a lot more ignorant of Griffin's ability to become that type of NFL qb, so I can't really state a prefrence with regard to getting Griffin, whereas I think Kalil has the sort of odds that Luck does, for his position, except that a tackle of such a skill set has a better chance of being at the top of the heap for more than a decade.

I just don't know enough to have an opinion on Griffin, so my default preference is that they take Kalil.

32 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Until last year, I'd agree with you Will. But after seeing Cam Newton one year after the Panthers spent a high pick on Jimmy Clausen I think you get the best QB you possibly can.

38 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

If Robert Griffin was as physically large as Cam Newton, I'd likely agree with you. He ain't. You can't get fixated on position, even the qb position, to the detriment of evaluating what a guy's prospects are in and of themselves. I was pretty confident about Newton given his physical attributes, with my only concern being his willingness to prepare to be great, given his problems in college. Luck may not be quite as physically gifted as Newton, with regard to running ability, although Luck is pretty fast. Luck has no obvious areas of concern however, which is why he grades out as high as he does. Griffin is a very, very, attractive prospect. He has not run an offense like Luck has at the line of scrimmage, however, and he simply isn't as big as Newton, which for a qb whose running ability has a lot to do with his value, is a real area of concern. You could easily be looking at a guy who missses significant time every year due to getting pounded.

39 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

IMHO Griffin would still be a top ten pick even if he couldn't run. Fast release, strong arm, great touch and accuracy. He's a diligent worker and seems to be a class individual. The negatives are occasionally sloppy footwork and a slightly side arm release that's compounded by him only being 6'2". After a few years I'd expect him to be a pocket passer who can run. He's not Vick.

41 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Hey, I'm not trying to rip the guy. He may be great. He just has a significantly higher chance of not being great than Luck does, if, for no other reason, he has yet to demonstrate, in the manner that Luck has, the ability to get his team into the right play on the line of scrimmage, in a pro-style offense. I liked Newton better than Griffin simply because being three or four inches taller, and 20 or thirty pounds heavier in muscle, is a real advantage in the NFL. Yeah, shorter, lighter, guys can still be great, such as Brees. There is less room for error, however. Put Brees behind the Packers or Colts offensive lines of the last five years, however, and I don't think the Packers or Colts would have had as much success as they have had with Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. I think the Giants with Brees this year don't win a championship. Put Griffin behind a mediocre to bad offensive line, and he is going to likely turn into a runner, because he is good at it, but he may not have the frame to hold up while doing so.

If Griffin were to fall to three, I agree the Vikings would have a hard decision. I don't think he is going to however, and the Vikings have too many holes to consider trading up for Griffin. If the Vikings could trade up to get Luck, I'd suggest they do so.

17 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Does this mean that Mike Kurtz is going to be writing the NFC North chapter of FOA?

26 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

What happened to Gabe Carimi? I thought Tice literally splooged all over the draft room when the Bears took him in the draft?

31 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Carimi may be the best OL on the Bears. But I don't think he'll be all that great. Highly drafted OL from Wisconsin tend to be overdrafted. (Though the same was true until JJ Watt for WI DL, so I'll hold my final judgement.) The Bears OL is still pretty mediocre, only looking good against the Packers mediocre 2011 defense. Even with Williams and Carimi coming back, that still leaves 3 OL positions that need serious upgrading.

52 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Joe Thomas is a glaring exception to what justanothersteve wrote. Just look at the starting O-linemen on NFL rosters. Not too many of them came from Wisconsin, compared to typical O-line producers like Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, and more recently Boston College and Mississippi.

53 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Is Boston College really "recent?" Seems to me they have a long tradition of producing NFL caliber linemen. Go back to the 90s and you find Doug Brzeznski, Pete Kendall, Tom Nalen, Ron Stone, Damian Woody. In the 80s you had Joe Wolf, Widdell (can't remember if his first name was Doug or Dave), Steve Trapilo, etc. They've been an OL factory at least since Flutie was there.

33 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Bears: The Bears WRs are so bad, the Packers #4 and #5 (Jones and Cobb) would probably start for the Bears. Not sure if they need OL or WR more, but both need to be high priority. Then they need to look at LB in the mid-rounds as Urlacher and Brooks are both getting up there.

Lions: My Lions fan buddy is hoping this year his team finally replaces the sieve known as Backus is replaced. I agree. Stafford is pretty darned good. Megatron is the best WR (except arguably Fitzthulu, plus he's younger) in the NFL. They also have decent TEs, RB depth once Best returns, and an excellent young D core. They really need a LT. Put together a great O and it'll cover a lot of D deficiencies.

Packers: I always have a difficult time evaluating my own team. But even the pundits agree that they need either a pass-rushing 3-4 DL or ROLB. Don't care which. Just somebody that can generate a pass rush. They might also need a FS if Nick Collins doesn't come back. Peprah is a replacement-level SS. Burnett is more a hybrid safety. In today's NFL, you need a true FS like Collins. Or, at least, the Packers do.

Vikings: If RG3 drops to #3 and scouts believe he can be great, I honestly think the Vikes have to consider him. Ponder looked ok, but I'm not sure if he was worth the overall #12. Otherwise, like the Lions they really need a LT. Especially when one may be worth it and available for them.

34 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Then they need to look at LB in the mid-rounds as Urlacher and Brooks are both getting up there.

That's an amusing Freudian slip. When people talk about the "Tampa-2", they usually mention how important it is to have an athletic middle linebacker, and in the Bears' particular case, they wonder how they'll replace Urlacher. But the original Tampa-2 was built around Brooks as the weakside backer (I had to look up who the mike was on that team), and you can make an argument that Briggs is as vital to that defense at will as Urlacher is at mike.

51 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Quarles was a good system fit on a great defense, Nickerson was a top LBer in Pittsburgh and then helped build the Tampa2 into the unit that we all remember but was no spring chicken when he arrived in Tampa.

40 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Griffin is extremely unlikely to drop to three, if the scouts determine that he can be great. Somebody will trade up to get him, but the Vikings have way too many holes elsewhere to consider trading up.

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I'm sure the Vikings would be the Rams first or second choice of trading partners. If they only move down one spot, they gain extra pick(s) and still get their choice of Kalil and Blackmon. You could argue that Cleveland would be a better spot because they'd still get one of the two and more/better picks, but at worst the Vikes would be the Rams second choice as a trading partner.

Once you get into Washington, Miami, etc, the deals get harder to consumate due to the larger compensation, and the player you get in that slot isn't nearly as attractive a prospect.

46 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I think the Bears have to look at WR first in FA/draft. There is a better chance of the disparate parts of their OL + Cutler's escapability + Tice's willingness to protect his QB making a functional offensive line than there is of Johnny Knox growing 3 inches.

OK, that's not fair, you don't have to be tall to be a good WR. But I think the raw talent in the Bears' OL has a better chance at being refined into something usable than at the WR position.

47 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

As much as I would like to see the Bears draft Floyd the most pressing need on the team right now is CB. Corners currently on the Bears roster for 2012; Charles Tillman, DJ Moore and Josh Moore on the practice squad......that is all. Josh Moore got cut mid season and no one else was interested, there is every chance he is terrible.

Yeah they might be able to re-sign Jennings but he is very limited in schemes he plays well (ie cover 2 or bust) and may want a pay raise. The Bears could really use an upgrade at corner either through free agency (where I would rather they used the money on a pass rusher) or the draft. The problem with the draft this year is that the CB class seems a little thin so may get picked over quickly meaning that if the Bears have to try to find a guy to compete for a starting spot they can't wait too long.

35 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I like Kurtz, but he was totally off-base in his Packers section and I have to wonder if he watched enough of them this year to do this article.

1) The Packers do not run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 front. The only time they ever have more than 3 guys on the line is when they're in their rarely-used "Hippo" package or in short-yardage.
2) The interception numbers are just wrong. The Packers led the league with 31 this season, and the consensus is that this saved the defence.
3) Raji did not have a good year. Pickett, on the other hand, had a great year, and missed very little time to injury, so I'm not sure where the line about him playing infrequently came from.
4) C.J. Wilson is NOT an endbacker (never played a snap in a two-point stance), and has not been asked to replace Kampman, who actually played OLB in the 3-4. They're totally different players, and I don't think you draft someone in the 7th round expecting them to replace one of your best players. Wilson is 100% a 3-4 end, just not a starting-quality one.

Basically my point is that this article was disappointing and far below what I've come to expect and look forward to from this site. It's also puzzling because I feel like the sections on the other teams have been decent; definitely nowhere near as bad as the Packers section.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

36 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Yep to all of that. Also, although Matthews' sack total was down, I seem to recall that he had almost as many hits and pressures as in 2010.

48 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

There may be something to Tice's endorsement of Webb. He was drafted as a project, and when he played as a right tackle in the 2010 preseason, he looked like he had never even played football before. I thought he wouldn't even make the team as a rookie. Using that as the yardstick, he has improved mightily in two years, although he is probably still a bottom five LT. Tice may be endorsing him based on the player he expects him to evolve into (under his tutelage), and not as the player he has been.

Lance Louis was up and down as a right tackle, but should make a solid right guard. Carimi looked fairly solid when he actually played last year (pre-season included).

The other important thing to consider is that Martz is no longer calling plays. Reportedly Tice called the run plays last year (maybe only after the 1st Detroit game), and the pulls and counters he called played into the strengths of the Bears o-line, as their weakness in the run game was getting a straight ahead push. That, combined with a general reliance on the run game, will help the o-line considerably. So, if the line is relatively healthy, it's not crazy to think they can be adequate (not great, mind you) next year without having to add anyone.

Even if Johnny Knox comes back 100%, he is still only a soft deep threat receiver who refuses to even come back to the ball, let alone fight for it (although he is very fast and is a pretty good route runner). If the Bears want an elite receiving core, they'll still need a #1 and #2, with Bennett, Knox, and Hester as your #3, #4, #5 respectively. If they are serious about giving Cutler someone to throw to, they'll probably have to sign a free agent and also draft someone in the 1st three rounds. Thankfully, both WR pools look pretty deep this year.

54 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

thanks for this very nice