NFC North: The Bears and Vikings Take Care of Business
By Tom Pollin
CHFF's Black & Blue Beat Reporter
In the Week 5 battle between the NFC North and the AFC South teams not named the Houston Texans, the Bears and Vikings took care of business without much trouble.
The Packers had their game under control but couldn't stop the Colts once they let them get started.
As a reward for their efforts they get to travel to Houston to face the Texans next week.
Here are five other things we found out from Sunday's slate of Week 5 games.
1. The Bears buried the Jaguars.
Considering the Bears won 41-3 it’s hard to believe that the score was tied 3-3 at halftime. The Bears played with the Jacksonville Jaguars like a veteran tailgater plays with a pregame meal of ribs. You don’t dive in and finish within the first five minutes. You sit back, admire the sight of them on the plate, take in the aroma and enjoy a brief taste of the sauce, only then do you dig in and leave a pile of bones behind on your plate.
The Bears’ defense held Blaine Gabbert to 3.9 Real Passing Yards per Attempt and a 37.7 Offensive Passer Rating. Maurice Jones-Drew managed 56-yards rushing on 12 attempts for a 4.7-yards per carry average as the Jaguars’ only legitimate offensive threat.
The defense also set an NFL milestone in the second half when Charles “Peanut” Tillman (can we PLEASE find a menacing nickname for this guy) and Lance Briggs became the first teammates to return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive games.
Jay Cutler recovered from an inconsistent first half to finish with a quality 7.4 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average and an 88.8 Offensive Passer Rating for the game.
The Bears put together their best running game of the season led by Matt Forte’s 107-yards on 22 carries. Overall the Bears rushed for 214-yards and a 6.5-yards per carry average for the game.
Unlike the past two seasons, the Bears can feel pretty good about themselves heading into their bye week. Their defense is as good as it’s ever been under Lovie Smith and the offense of first year coordinator Mike Tice appears to be beginning to gel.
2. The Packers beat long odds to get beat.
The Packers jumped out to a 14 point lead and led 21-3 at halftime. At that point teams with a minimum 18 point lead at halftime had won 23 consecutive games. The last time a team came back from that large a halftime deficit was in week eight of 2011 when the Baltimore Ravens came back to defeat the Arizona Cardinals.
That ended when Mason Crosby shanked his game tying field goal attempt over the cheerleaders to give the Colts a 30-27 victory.
After the game’s final seconds ticked away, the victorious game ball left the stadium with Colts owner Jim Irsay to be delivered to hospitalized head coach Chuck Pagano, the Packers left the stadium wondering how another game that they seemingly had under control slipped away from them so quickly.
According to the Quality Stats Correlation to Victory records, the team that has the quarterback who records the better Offensive Passer Rating wins 87.3 percent of their games. Rodgers outgunned Luck by over 20-points, 103.5 to 81.0.
Correlation to Victory also shows that the team with the better Scoreability number (which measures how efficiently a team turns yards into points) wins 79.4 percent of their games. The Packers averaged 13.19-yards gained for every point scored, or 92.3 yards for every seven points, while the Colts averaged 15.47-yards per point, 108.29 per point.
For one last statistical measure, teams with a higher Real Passing Yards per Attempt average win 79.4 percent of their games. Aaron Rodgers averaged 6.5 Real Passing Yards per Attempt to Andrew Lucks 6.3 average, a slight difference but Rodgers finished with the better number.
You could say that the obvious difference in the game was that the Colts outgained the Packers 464-yards to 356 but you would be mistaken. Out of the 17 teams that gained 450-yards or more in a game so far this season 13 of them lost.
What hurt the Packers the most on Sunday was allowing the Colts to score 16 unanswered points in the third quarter to make the score 21-19 going into the fourth. From that point the Packers weren’t able to retake control of the game.
The turning point came when Jerraud Powers’ intercepted Rodgers on the Packers first possession of the second half to set up Andrew Luck and the offense on Green Bay’s 39-yard line. Five plays later Luck connected with Dwayne Allen for an 8-yard touchdown pass to begin the comeback.
The other edge that put the Colts over the top Sunday was in the Offensive Hog Index. The Packers out-rushed the Colts 6.1 to 4.0-yards per carry but the Colts held the edge in Third Down conversions and preventing Negative Pass Plays.
This is the second time this season that a rookie quarterback has registered a Fourth Quarter Comeback and Game Winning Drive against the Packers. The first was the controversial finish of the game against the Seahawks when Russell Wilson and Golden Tate connected for the game winning touchdown on the final play of the game.
The Packers are now 2-3 and two games behind both the Bears and Vikings for the division lead and the path doesn’t get any easier with having to travel to Houston to face the undefeated (at this writing) Texans next Sunday.
The Packers have let two of their last three games slip away from them at the end. If they can’t fix that trend their postseason will slip away before they know it.
3. The Vikings took care of business to keep pace with the Bears.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t the worst team in the league right now it’s only because the Tennessee Titans are fighting it out with them for that position. The Vikings joined the Bears in doing what they had to do this weekend by beating the Titans 30-7.
It’s not easy to figure out which is the biggest surprise this season, the Packers being 2-3 or the Vikings joining the Bears to tie for the division lead two games ahead of the Packers at 4-1. What the Vikings can point to is they've win more games after five weeks of 2012 then they did all last season.
Christian Ponder threw his first two interceptions of the season, on consecutive possessions at the end of the first half and to start the second but the Titans didn’t have time to move the ball after the first, and went three and out after the second.
Other than the interceptions Ponder had another good game at quarterback. He threw for a 7.4 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average, his best of the season, and an 87.6 Offensive Passer Rating.
Adrian Peterson, the Bionic Back, also had another excellent game, carrying the ball 17 times for 88-yards and a 5.2-yards per carry average. Toby Gerhart took over at running back in the fourth quarter and rushed for 41-yards and a 6.8-yards per carry average.
Defensively the Vikings kept the Titans under control all game. Tennessee only managed a 4.5 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average and 2.7-yards per carry with their running game. The Titans could only drive into the red zone on offense twice the entire game.
Next week Minnesota will travel to Washington D.C. to face the Redskins. Whether or not Robert Griffin III will be at quarterback will depend on how he recovers from the concussion he suffered Sunday against the Falcons.
4. If Matthew Stafford throws a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson next Sunday it will be their first hook-up of the season.
Considering that Stafford and Johnson combined for nine in the first five weeks of the season in 2011 and 16 overall that has to be one of the most surprising stats in football so far this season. It’s also a reason that the Lions are down almost 14 points per game in scoring this season compared to 2011.
Another statistical oddity from Johnson’s stats is, after four games this year, he’s on a pace to surpass his number of receptions from last season, 116 to 96 in 2011 and equal his yardage total which was a league leading 1,681-yards.
One main difference from last season through four weeks of 2012 is that Stafford has dropped from averaging 7.2 Real Passing Yards per Attempt last season to 6.6 Real Passing Yards per Attempt going into the bye week. If Stafford carried that average last season he would have ended the season with close to 700 fewer yards than the 5,038 that he finished the season with.
Stafford and Johnson are running into the same problem that has faced other quarterback/wide receiver combos this season. Defenses throughout the league are playing with deeper safeties to try and eliminate the deep ball.
If Detroit can’t find a way to counter that and play the style of game that was so successful for them last year they’ll find themselves watching when playoff football begins next January.
5. Week five NFC North game balls.
Brandon Marshall, Bears – Led the Bears with 12 catches for 144-yards and one touchdown. Cutler targeted Marshall 17 times, seven other receivers 22 times.
Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs – Became the first teammate combo in NFL history to return interceptions for touchdowns in two consecutive games. Tillman’s was the eighth pick-6 of his career to set a new Bears team record.
Percy Harvin, Vikings – Harvin led the Vikings’ receivers with 8 catches for 108-yards and a touchdown. He’s becoming the receiver that Christian Ponder looks to for key third down catches or when he takes a shot down-field.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings – It’s getting to be a regular thing for Peterson to get called out for recognition but he ran for 88-yards in three quarters of play for a 5.2-yards per attempt average. The “Bionic Back” strikes again.
Least valuable player for week 5 – Mason Crosby
Crosby missed two field goals against the Colts in a stadium where, even with the dome open there’s very little the elements can do to affect kicks. His 51-yard attempt to tie the game and send it into overtime was hooked so far to the right that stadium employees are still looking for the ball in the rough.
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