A Thirty Pack of Strohs..NFC North Preview by Steel Drama
1.) Less Filling Packers
Stout: The Packers don’t subscribe to the old saying, “The best offense is a good defense.” It’s all offense all the time in Title Town and why not when you have the top rated player in the NFL leading your team. Aaron Rodgers staggering body of work earned him the NFL MVP award and team records for completion percentage (68.3), passing yards (4,643) and touchdown passes (45). He set the all-time single season quarterback ranking of 122.5. When facing goal to go, Rodgers had a Touchdown:interception ratio of 19:1. Rodgers also led the NFL in yards per attempt at 9.3. The next closest was 8.6 from Tom Brady.
On the Hops: The Packers are extremely deep at the wide receiver position with their five main wideouts having at least 25 receptions, a first in team history. But perhaps the most dangerous weapon of them all is Jordy Nelson. When quarterbacks threw his way, they had a 150.8 QB rating. Nelson led the league in deep pass yardage (total amount of yardage on balls that travelled over 20 yards in the air) with 637 yards.
Tap a Keg for the Big Boys: New Packers’ center Jeff Saturday didn’t get a farewell press conference when he left Indianapolis, but he was a mainstay there for nearly as long as Peyton Manning. Saturday started 188 games for the Colts, including all 16 in 10 different years, and he hasn’t missed a week since 2008. There’s always an adjustment with a new guy under center, but the difference should be negligible as Scott Wells and Saturday were the fourth and fifth best centers in the league in 2011 according to Pro Football Focus.
Ice Cold Draft: One of the staples of a Ted Thompson draft is the trade down. In his seven previous drafts as G.M., Thompson made 16 tradedowns and only three tradeups. Moving down clearly has been his preferred trade mode. And what did he do in this draft? Trade up… Three times. One of those tradeups was for Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy who Gruden was critical of for being taken out so often in the Outack Bowl against UGA. Gruden jested, “If I would’ve taken Sapp out of the game on passing downs he would’ve killed me.”
Stale Ale: The Packers allowed 4,796 yards through the air more than any other NFL team last season. Losing 3 time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins for the season was a major loss, but some of that had to do with Green Bay’s offense constantly putting the opposition in a hole. Packers’ opponents threw 637 times, also the highest number in the league. The upside of all those passing attempts was that the opportunistic Packers secondary also led the NFL with 31 interceptions, 23 more than Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn threw combined.
Bitter Beer Face: The Packers finished the season with just 29 sacks, with only 11 from their outside linebackers. Clay Matthews looks more like he belongs in the movie “Magic Mike” than he does on a football field, but he’s the best the Packers have despite totaling a career low 6 sacks last season. The drafting of Nick Perry with their top pick should give the Packers a much needed threat opposite “Captivating Clay.”
Bartender: I love it when Pittsburgh boys make it big. I just wish that success didn’t happen at the expense of the hometown Steelers. Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy has only one losing campaign since taking command of the Packers in 2006. He of course has a Super Bowl ring and impressively led his Packers to an impressive 15 wins last year coming off a strike-shortened offseason. Unfortunately for Mike and his Packers, they’re the only 15 win team in NFL history not to win a playoff game.
Drinks are on Drama: An ice cold Miller lite in the Vortex bottle to John Kuhn for being ranked 92nd on the NFL Network’s list of Top 100 players. John must be really well liked by his peers since he’s played just 29 percent of his team's snaps over the past three years and is not even ranked on Pro Football Focus’ top-20 list of fullbacks for 2011. So here’s to John, may he live respected and die regretted!
The Hangover: I admire the Packers for their machine like passing attack and because they’re a team built through the draft much like the Steelers. However, without an improved pass rush I see their secondary once again really struggling unless their top three draft picks can really make a quick impact which is possible since Capers is the anti-LeBeau in that he isn’t afraid to start rookies. On offense, Chad Clifton’s replacement Marshall Newhouse is now being charged with improving the league’s 26 rushing attack and more importantly protecting Aaron Rodgers blindside.
2.) BADASS Lions
Stout: One of my favorite positions in the NFL to watch is middle linebacker. Few play it better than the underrated Stephen Tulloch who gave up 0.4 yards per snap he was in coverage, the lowest of all NFL interior linebackers.
On the Hops: While rival Aaron Rodgers can lay claim to the top player, I don’t think there’s a more talented player in the NFL than Calvin Johnson. To say that he is Matthew Stafford’s primary receiver is a huge understatement as Stafford had a quarterback rating of 125.8 when throwing to Johnson. “Megatron” led the NFL with 1,685 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He forced 14 missed tackles from defenders and gained 540 yards after the catch.
Tap a Keg: Giving up 36 sacks is actually pretty impressive considering the previously fragile Matthew Stafford dropped back to pass 46 more times than any other quarterback in the NFL last season.
Ice Cold Draft: The Lions ran the 2nd most plays from a 3+ wide receiver formation last season. Enter the man whose 329 receptions are the most in NCAA history, Ryan Broyles. Jon Gruden said Broyles reminds him of Tim Brown. High praise indeed from a man who is…well…known for giving high praise.
Stale Ale: The Lions’ inept secondary actually allowed less passing yards in 2011 than 10 teams, including the Packers, Saints, Giants and Patriots, all of whom went further in the playoffs than Detroit. Still, when the Lions needed a stop, the pass defense often let them down. They allowed 300-plus yards through the air nine times between the regular season and one playoff game.
Bitter Beer Face: The Lions have been working on a special package this offseason to take advantage of their depth at the defensive tackle position. Likely only to be used in short-yardage situations, the "DIESEL" package features Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the outside with Corey Williams and Sammie Hill inside. What the lions really need to work on however is keeping their players out of Jail. Six arrests this offseason? What in the name of Slim Shady is going on in Detroit?
Bartender: Greg Cosell had high praise for the direction the resurgent Lions are heading saying, “This team is built around arguably the best young passer in the NFL, Matthew Stafford. With that as the overriding principle, the offensive side of the ball can never be allowed to suffer due to neglect. If that happened, the Lions could not compete, no matter how much they fortify the defense. It’s a very similar philosophy to what Bill Polian employed with the Colts once he drafted Peyton Manning. You always make sure the offense has high-level players, especially at the receiver position. You take Broyles in the second round not only because is he a very good player, but also because he becomes another complementary piece that helps Stafford — and by extension the entire team — remain a playoff and Super Bowl contender. It’s the longer view, and the correct one.”
Drinks are on Drama: Real Men of Genius. Today, we salute you mister yell and scream but don’t actually punch him guy. Thank you Jim Swartz for shouting several words that start in F and end in U at 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh in front of millions of half-asleep red zone channel viewers like me. So crack open an ice cold Bud light oh spastic one and cure that fleeting case of the beer muscles.
The Hangover: Plenty of reasons of optimism for the Lions after their first playoff appearance since 1999. I mean when is the last time the Lions could say they are returning 21 of 22 starters? Matthew Stafford stayed healthy enough to lead the league with 663 pass attempts just 28 short of Drew Bledsoe’s single season record. Still, despite setting numerous franchise passing records including 5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns, Stafford is far from a finished product. Though not a terrible idea, too often I saw him simply heave it to Megatron when things broke down around him. For the Lions to snap their Pirate-like drought of not winning a playoff game since 1991, the Lions will need more balance on offense. They didn’t have a running back rush for more than 400 yards last season. Despite the obvious lack of discipline on this team, Jim Swartz earned his contract extension. Now he just needs to beat the good teams as the Lions were 0-5 against the NFC’s playoff teams last season.
“I will make it a felony to drink small beer.” - Shakespeare Henry IV
3.) DysfunctionAle Bears
Stout: Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said, “On paper, we look like a Champion.” Sorry Lance, it will take more than paper to stop the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
On the Hops: Should Lance Briggs be right and the Bears somehow reach the Super Bowl, I for one am glad the Steelers have some tall corners. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and tight end Kellen Davis have an average height of 6’5. Aim high Jay.
Tap a Keg: No team allowed more sacks per dropback than the Bears over past 2 seasons… 1 every 10.5 dropbacks. In light of that, newly promoted offensive coordinator Mike Tice reportedly has eliminated seven-step quarterback drops. The idea here is to help out the team's underwhelming offensive line and, in turn, protect Jay Cutler from taking hits. Cutler was sacked a league-high 51 times in 15 games in 2010 and Pro Football Focus ranked the team's offensive line 30th in pass protection after giving up 49 sacks in 2011. Despite those damning statistics, the Bears didn’t draft a single offensive lineman this year. “Brilliant!”
Ice Cold Draft: Bears first round pick Shea McClellin was the first of a school record six Boise St. players drafted this past April. Gruden liked the pick saying, “I like this Boise St football team. They’re 50-3 in 4 yrs.” Added Gruden, “Find the football and you’ll find Shea McClellin.” I too am impressed by the Boise St. program Jon as they had as many guys drafted as USC and Texas combined.
Stale Ale: Brandon Marshall’s 474 receptions ranks 2nd since 2007. Despite that impressive accomplishment, Brandon said he hasn’t received good coaching since DJ McCarthy coached him in college. Brandon said he wants a position coach that can teach him proper technique as he has always gotten by on raw ability. I’m no coach Brandon, but my personal suggestion would be to start by holding onto the football. Brandon Marshall leads all NFL wide receivers with 35 drops over the past three seasons including seven potential touchdowns this past season in Miami.
Bitter Beer Face: “Pay that man his money.” Matt Forte had 1,487 yards from scrimmage despite missing nearly a quarter of the season. Publically Matt Forte is saying he wants to finish his career in Chicago, but privately he’s saying, “Trade me right fucking now!” CBS' Jason La Canfora, aka “Peaches,” characterizes long-term talks between the Bears and unsigned franchise player Matt Forte as "Fruitless," and puts the odds of an accord being reached before the July 16 deadline as "weak." So basically what that means is Forte will be signed to a long term deal by tomorrow.
Bartender: Not having a quality backup to Jay Cutler finally cost highly criticized GM Jerry Angelo his job. Head coach Lovie Smith was spared but once again finds himself on the hot seat in Chicago. Usually when this happens he responds with quality results. Smith has only totaled three losing campaigns during his eight years in Chicago and made a Super Bowl appearance back in 2006.
Drinks are on Drama: An ice cold bucket of BADASS for Bears wideout Johnny Knox (provided he’s off his pain pills of course). Knox basically got bent in half against the Seahawks this past December. Thankfully, Knox wasn’t paralyzed and his rehab is reportedly going well. Get well soon kid!
The Hangover: Injuries are a reality in football and every team is negatively impacted by them, but perhaps none worse than the Bears who lost their two best offensive players in Jay Cutler and Matt Forte starting in week 11 of the season. The Bears were with 7-3 with Cutler and went 1-5 to finish the season. The Bears four best players on defense are over 30 so if Lance Briggs is right and the Bears are going to make a run at the Championship, this is going to have to be their year to do it.
4.) Surly Furious Vikings
Stout: With a team record 22 sacks, Jared Allen came within’ one half sack of the NFL record set by Michael Strahan in 2001. Allen was simply a beast last season leading the NFL with 1,044 defensive snaps among 4-3 defensive ends, 71 more than any other defensive end in the league. Allen had more defensive stops (46) and knocked the quarterback down (32 times) more than any other rusher in the league.
On the Hops: Before his scuffle in Houston over the weekend, all indications were that Adrian Peterson is ahead of schedule rehabbing the knee injury he suffered toward the end of last season. That’s good news for the Vikings, who rely so much on their standout running back. Peterson finished 30 yards shy of 1,000 last season despite playing just 12 games and that was his lowest rushing total by more than 300 yards, falling far shy of his previous low, 1,298.
Tap a Keg: Viking quarterbacks were sacked 49 times last season so it was hardly a surprise when the Vikings made USC’s Matt Kalil the 4th pick in the draft. The last two players the Vikings drafted in the top 5 are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Doleman and Yary). In fact, drafting offensive tackles in the first round has worked out pretty well for the Vikings with the last three they drafted in 1st round all reaching the Pro Bowl (McKinnie, Stringer, Steussie).
Ice Cold Draft: Vikings draft picks Greg Childs and Jarius Wright played at the same high school (Warren), college (Arkansas), and now the same NFL team. Pretty cool these kids don’t know what it’s like not to be on the same team. In a bit of further irony, their position coach with the Vikings is George Stewart who is on the Arkansas all decade team of the 70’s as a guard.
Stale Ale: Minnesota was terrible against the pass in 2011, allowing more than 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns (the latter was worst in the league). The Vikings also allowed 9 touchdown passes over 20 yards which was the most in the NFL. Help was added in the draft however with their 2nd first round pick Harrison Smith and corner Josh Robinson, who was the fastest player at the combine this past year.
Bitter Beer Face: Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder wasn’t very impressive last season finishing with a 2-8 record and completing just 54% of his passes to which Trent Dilfer opined, “I think the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder saying he’s good enough to be part of a good team then they went WHOA we’re not nearly as good as we think we are.” Thanks for the insight Trent.
Bartender: With a 3-13 record this past season, head coach Leslie Frazier matched his win total from 2010 when he went 3-3 as Vikings interim head coach. Frazier’s first full season as head coach was a disaster as the Viking 13 losses was the worst in franchise history and the teams’ 0-6 record in the division was a franchise first. GM Rick Spielman is another guy I never thought much of, but I have to admit I liked the Vikings draft this year.
Drinks are on Drama: “Victory!” A shot of Jack for Leslie Frazier. If you and Lions coach Jim Swartz made a bet as to which team would have the most players arrested this offseason, you won 10-6.
The Hangover: Unless Christian Ponder does a 180 and gets some much needed protection from his offensive line, the Vikings will be in the hunt for the top pick in the 2013 draft.
"I decided to stop drinking with creeps. I decided to drink only with friends. I've lost 30 pounds." - Ernest Hemingway