NFC North Fillability Index

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 16, 2007

By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor
The glory days of the Black & Blue Division ended long ago, leaving us today with only the tattered remnants we and you know as the Black & Blow Division.
Despite a great history, this division has a 2-6 mark in Super Bowl play since Vince Lombardi roamed the Green Bay sidelines, including last season's loss by Chicago. The Bears could again be a powerhouse in the NFC, but like every other Black & Blow representative, it's a team with serious flaws.
CHICAGO (last year's record: 13-3)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
DT Anthony Adams (San Francisco)
S Adam Archuleta (Washington)
RB Thomas Jones (traded to NY Jets)
WR Justin Gage (Tennessee)
DT Alfonso Boone (Kansas City)
S Cameron Worrell ( Miami)
S Todd Johnson ( St. Louis )
Draft picks: 
1 (31) Greg Olsen, te, Miami
2 (62) Dan Bazuin, de, Central Michigan
3 (93) Garrett Wolfe, rb, Northern Illinois
3 (94) Michael Okwo, lb, Stanford
4 (130) Josh Beekman, g, Boston Collge
5 (167) Kevin Payne, db, Louisiana-Monroe
5 (168) Corey Graham, db, New Hampshire
7 (221) Trumaine McBride, db, Mississippi
7 (241) Aaron Brant, ot, Iowa State
The gap between the Bears and the rest of the NFC North is as wide as the one between Paris Hilton's legs in the prison shower. So the team didn't feel much pressure to retool their talented and deep roster. They added just a pair of veteran free agents, and should have the same nucleus in 2007 that brought them to the Super Bowl this past winter.
The Bears were the only team from the NFC to have near the type of balance, as evidenced by their stat package, that the top AFC teams such as Baltimore, Indy and New England did. And they had no glaring weaknesses. Sure, their offense was less than explosive (23rd in yards per rush, 14th in yards per pass), yet they were second leaguewide in scoring (427 points, tied with Indy) thanks to defense and special teams. They only significant addition was first-round TE Greg Olsen – they added Northern Illinois RB Garrett Wolfe in the draft, but he can be considered, at best, a wash for traded starter Thomas Jones.
But wait! There's more! The Bears did make one more big addition, converting return god Devin Hester to offense in a move that seems so brilliant you have to wonder why it took offensive coordinator Ron Turner an entire year to successfully lobby for the move. If the offensive line (just 15th on the Offensive Hog Index a year ago) bounces back, the Bears have a classic offense: deep receiver (Bernard Berrian), possession king (Muhsin Muhammad), pounder at RB (Cedric "Full Time" Benson), zone-busting TE (Olsen) and general superhero (Hester).
Oh shit. We forgot Rex Grossman is still the quarterback.
Oh well. There's always next year.
Chicago's biggest hole, last we checked, was the most important one on the field. Grossman failed miserably in his make-or-break Super Bowl game, and as we've seen before, the future isn't pretty for Super Bowl goats. Brian Griese is still in reserve, but QB will continue to be an issue in Chicago (Say it, Lovie: "Rex Grossman is our starting quarterback ..."). 
Defensively, the Bears reshuffled the front four, but still have a stable of capable rushers and run stoppers. The secondary got deeper with three rookie additions, and only the unknown status of Lance Briggs puts a damper on things. Don't forget, with S Mike Brown and DT Tommie Harris healthy, this D was incredible last year.
The Bears get high marks for retaining the core of a powerhouse (or at least what passes for one in the NFC), but can't be valedictorians because they've given their biggest problem a free pass.
Fillability grade: B 
2006 rankings
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
CB Frank Walker (N.Y. Giants)
RB Ahman Green (Houston)
TE David Martin (Miami)
Draft picks:
1 (16) Justin Harrell, dt, Tennessee
2 (63) Brandon Jackson, rb, Nebraska
3 (78) James Jones, wr, San Jose State
3 (89) Aaron Rouse, db, Virginia Tech
4 (119) Allen Barbre, ot, Missouri Southern
5 (157) David Clowney, wr, Virginia Tech
6 (191) Korey Hall, lb, Boise State
6 (192) Desmond Bishop, lb, California
6 (193) Mason Crosby, k, Colorado
7 (228) DeShawn Wynn, rb, Florida
7 (243) Clark Harris, te, Rutgers
The Packers have had one of the more puzzling offseasons of any team, which is probably why Brett Favre looks like he's five seconds away from driving up to HQ on a tractor to start blasting away with his double-barreled shotgun.
The Pack seemed like overachievers a year ago, going 8-8 despite dire predictions, but they achieved below their statistics. They were ninth in total yards and 12th in yards allowed, in the top 10 on both the Offensive and Defensive Hog Index and in defensive passer rating. But they couldn't turn all those positive statistics into touchdowns: they gave up a disproportionate amount of them, and scored too few. In other words, they were an inefficient football team. This inefficiency is highlighted in their terrible Scoreability (27th) and Bendability (29th) ratings.
On defense, the Packers can hope that maturing youth (and the addition of first-round DT Justin Harrell) will make them stop rolling over in the red zone like a bunch of God-dam women! (that's Lombardi talking, not us). The future seems to be bright there, with big numbers in key stats in the "rebuilding" year of 2006.
But offensively, the Packers lose two of their better players: RB Ahman Green, he of the 100 yards of total offense per game over seven seasons, and TE David Martin. Green was just OK last year (4.0 yards per carry), and the move to second-round rookie Brandon Jackson and/or RB Vernand Morency could be a push. But it doesn't appear to be an improvement.
And Favre was right in bemoaning the missed opportunity to get Randy Moss. The Packers were 31st in red-zone completion percentage (37.7 percent), barely beating out ... well, Oakland, which had Moss and the worst passing game in recent memory. But Oakland had other problems. The point is, Favre doesn't have a TD threat to go to inside the 20. In a draft filled with big WRs, the Pack took 6-1 James Jones in the third round. 
We've taken our shots at Favre before, but the guy knows what he needs to succeed. And while the Packers annually handle the draft as well as anyone, they will likely be hearing "I told you sos" from their QB in 2007.
Fillability grade: B-minus

DETROIT (3-13)
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
RB T.J. Duckett (Washington)
RB Tatum Bell (Denver)
WR Marcus Robinson (Minnesota)
G Edwin Mulitalo (Baltimore) 
T George Foster (Denver)
DE DeWayne White (Tampa Bay)
CB Travis Fisher (St. Louis)
QB Josh McCown (Oakland)
WR Mike Williams (Oakland) 
FB Cory Schlesinger (Miami) 
TE Marcus Pollard (Seattle)
G Rick DeMulling (Indianapolis) 
DE James Hall (St. Louis) 
DT Marcus Bell (New York Giants)
S Terrence Holt (Arizona)
S Jon McGraw (Kansas City) 
CB Dre Bly (traded to Denver) 
Draft picks: 
1 (2) Calvin Johnson, wr, Georgia Tech.
2 (43) Drew Stanton, qb, Michigan St.
2 (58) Ikaika Alama-Francis, de, Hawaii.
2 (61) Gerald Alexander, db, Boise St.
4 (105) A.J. Davis, db, N.C. State.
4 (117) Manuel Ramirez, g, Texas Tech.
5 (158) Johnny Baldwin, lb, Alabama A&M.
7 (255) Ramzee Robinson, db, Alabama.
Oh, Matt Millen. Sometimes we almost feel bad for you. Surely you can't be this bad at your job – surely it's mostly just bad fortune, like a good poker player who loses every night because he can't catch the cards.
Nah. Millen is the guy who just keeps going all-in with his pair of fours because he thinks he's due this time. This time. This time. This time.
The Lions did one thing pretty well in 2006. They passed the ball – lots of yards (seventh at 238.8 YPG), and a solid 18th in adjusted passing yards per attempt (5.80). But they were absolutely bottom of the barrel at everything else, especially on defense.
So, wisely, they used their first two picks ... ON THE PASSING GAME! The Lions think they'll be explosive with WR Calvin Johnson next to WR Roy Williams, and they might just be right. And becoming truly excellent at one thing is sometimes enough to win a few games, something the Lions don't do much of to begin with.
However, rookie WRs rarely succeed right away, and Millen should know that better than anyone. And, finally, as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have proven time and again, teams that are explosive in one area but suck in several others simply do not win consistently. And, right now, the Lions are set up to be explosive in one area but suck in several others.
For example, they did absolutely nothing to improve their horrible defense and, in fact, lost three of their most capable players (DT Marcus Bell, CB Dre Bly, S Terrence Holt). It's quite possible that the Lions' D can be even worse than it was a year ago, when it turned in a defensive effort reminiscent of Poland in WWII (surrendering 24.9 PPG).
OK, they did do a little something. They added second-rounders Ikaika Alama-Francis (DE) and Gerald Alexander (DB). And veterans DeWayne White (DE) and Travis Fisher (CB). But that's just standing pat, basically, and they needed to move forward.
The Lions had a golden opportunity – with the only appealing draft position atop the first round, they could have traded down, got 4-5 players, and built for the future. But Millen always thinks he's just a heartbeat away from greatness. 
He's not.
Fillability grade: D
2006 rankings
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
TE Vicanthe Shiancoe (N.Y. Giants)
WR Bobby Wade (Chicago)
WR Cortez Hankton (Jacksonville) 
LB Vinny Ciurciu (Carolina)
S Mike Doss (Indianapolis)
QB Brad Johnson (Dallas)
C Jason Whittle (Buffalo)
T Mike Rosenthal (Miami) 
WR Bethel Johnson (Philadelphia)
TE Jermaine Wiggins (Jacksonville)
DT Ross Kolodziej (Arizona)
LB Napoleon Harris (Kansas City)
CB Fred Smoot (Washington)
Draft picks: 
1 (7) Adrian Peterson, rb, Oklahoma.
2 (44) Sidney Rice, wr, South Carolina.
3 (72) Marcus McCauley, db, Fresno St.
4 (102) Brian Robison, de, Texas.
5 (146) Aundrae Allison, wr, East Carolina.
6 (176) Rufus Alexander, lb, Oklahoma.
7 (217) Tyler Thigpen, qb, Coastal Carolina.
7 (233) Chandler Williams, wr, Florida International.
Say this for Brad Childress and the Vikings: they have a plan, and regardless of how unsexy it is, they are going forward with it.
But it is quite unsexy. We're talking Barbara Walters with no makeup. We're talking shirtless Gilbert Brown. We're talking foreplay at a retirement home.
Minnesota's passing game was pretty terrible last year (5.36 YPA), given that the Vikes had a serviceable running game (113.8 YPG, 4.1 YPA). They couldn't get the ball downfield, and when they could, WR Troy Williamson was dropping the ball like it had anthrax on it (37 catches, 11 drops). They let sticky-fingered safety valve TE Jermaine Wiggins go without a fight, and added project WR Sidney Rice in the second round of the draft. That's bad math.
And their QB position is the only bonafide, complete mess in the NFL. They are currently putting all of their eggs in the precarious basket of second-year man Tarvaris Jackson. The Alabama State product looked OK at best in 2006 (58.0%, 2 TD, 4 INT, 62.5 rating in four games), and with no receiving corps he seems doomed to fail.
Minnesota added Adrian Peterson in the draft, and he does bring some glamour. Chester Taylor averaged 4.0 YPA (bolstered by a freakish 90+ yard TD run), while his backups averaged 5.2 YPA. This differential, plus the outlandish amount of money tied into the O-line in Minnesota, suggests that Taylor may have needed replacing.
The Vikes' played break-even in the passing game. But when you have a defense as good as the Vikings – best against the run in 2006 and one of the best ever in the Super Bowl Era, plus fifth best against the pass – break-even doesn't cut it. In a wide-open NFC, the Vikings needed to find a good starting QB and let Jackson watch another year. Until they do ...
Fillability grade: D

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