By Tom Pollin
CHFF's NFC North Reporter (@tjpollin)
The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears both played teams coming off Week 11 byes. In the afternoon game, the Bears spotted the Minnesota Vikings to a 3-0 lead before taking the control of the game and rolling to a 28-10 victory.
In the game on Sunday Night Football, the anticipated battle between the last two Super Bowl Champions, and Super Bowl MVP’s, turned into an early rout. The Giants traded touchdowns with the Packers before striking for 17 unanswered points on two Eli Manning touchdown passes and a Lawrence Tynes field goal to take command of the game 24-7 on the way to a 38-10 victory.
The Bears ended the weekend not only avoiding a fall into third in the NFC North standings within the space of a week, with their win they leaped over the Packers back into first place.
1. The revenge game became more of the same for the Packers.
The Packers strutted into the 2011 playoffs with a 15-1 record to earn a pass through the Wild Card round before hosting the “in by the skin of their teeth” Giants in the Divisional Round. The Packers’ playoff run came to a quick end by halftime in a 37-20 loss.
The Packers’ hold on first place in the NFC North lasted almost as long as their playoff appearance last season. As it was in the playoffs, the Giants had command of the game at halftime with a 31-10 lead.
As to the performance of both quarterbacks on Sunday night, they bear a striking resemblance to their playoff meeting. Aaron Rodgers finished with a 78.3 Passer Rating in the playoffs compared to an 81.9 on Sunday night. Manning’s playoff Passer Rating was 114.5. He finished with a 114.4 rating on Sunday.
After a bye week to rest his “tired arm”, Manning the younger’s effectiveness returned to elite status against a Packers’ defense that ranked no lower than No. 7 in any defensive Quality Stats category. He finished 16 completions in 30 attempts, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s and a Peyton-esque 7.8 Real Passing Yards per Attempt.
2. The Giants exposed the weaknesses in the Packers’ pass game.
After a slow start to the season Aaron Rodgers had raised back to the top of the Offensive Passer Rating rankings by Week 7 of the season. What hasn’t returned to its usual prominence is Rodgers’ position in the Real Passing Yards per Attempt rankings.
Rodgers led all quarterbacks in RPYA in 2011 with an 8.3 average. He was No. 3 in the NFL in 2010 with a 7.1 RPYA average. This season Rodgers ranks No. 18 with a 6.3 RPYA behind not only All-Pros like Drew Brees and Tom Brady but also Josh Freeman, Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco among others.
One issue behind Rodgers’ problems comes from not having wide receiver Greg Jennings on the field most of the season. The other issue is that after the game against the Giants, Rodgers has been sacked one more time in 2012 (37 sacks) than he was all of 2011.
The Packers are No. 19 in the Offensive Hog Index, mainly because of being No. 23 in Negative Pass Plays allowed. Opponents have recorded either a sack or an interception against the Packers 9.79 percent of the time that Rodgers drops back to pass.
Another part of the Offensive Hog Index is Rushing YPA. The Packers are No. 25 with a 3.7-yards per attempt average. Without the threat of a run game to scheme against, any defense that can bring pass rush pressure has the ability to force Rodgers into making mistakes.
3. The Bears welcomed back Jay Cutler.
Same as the Giants, the Vikings were also coming off their bye week. Unlike the Giants they never mounted much of a threat against the Bears in Soldier Field on Sunday, losing 28-10.
Cutler wasn’t spectacular in his return as the starting quarterback, finishing with an 86.5 Offensive Passer Rating on 23 completions in 31 attempts for 188-yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, but it was obvious the Bears missed his rifle arm and yes…his leadership. At one point in the game, Cutler even found the time to re-tie J’Marcus Webb’s shoe.
Cutler and Jason Campbell both wait until their targeted receiver has made his break before putting the ball in the air. The difference is that Cutler’s passes still arrive at their target before the secondary can react to those breaks. His throws appear as fired by a high-powered rifle compared to Campbell’s bow and arrow deliveries.
The Bears needed the kind of performance they received from Cutler considering their inability to generate a running game against the Vikings. The Bears rushed 39 times, mostly to help kill clock in the second half, but could only generate a 2.9-yards per carry average.
The one point in the game when they did run the ball effectively was after Julius Pepper’s field goal block in the second quarter. The Bears ran the ball eight plays and passed six in one of their most dominating drives of the season that covered 79-yards and took eight minutes off the clock.
Michael Bush finished by punching the ball in from one yard out to give the Bears a 16-3 lead, then punter Adam Podlesh took the snap and ran the ball in from two yards out on a fake extra point play to make the score 18-3.
4. No Percy Harvin means no options in the pass game for Christian Ponder.
It’s been an ongoing problem for the Vikings all season. Without Percy Harvin in the lineup the Bears could concentrate on stopping Adrian Peterson, who still managed to run for 108-yards in 18 carries, while bringing pass rush pressure on Christian Ponder.
Ponder could only manage 22 completions for 159-yards, 1 TD and 1 INT for a 58.2 Offensive Passer Rating against the Bears. Those numbers don’t reflect against Ponder as much as they reflect the Vikings’ lack of depth at receiver.
Without Harvin, sidelined with an ankle injury, tight end Kyle Rudolph becomes Ponder’s only other reliable pass catcher to target. Jerome Simpson, signed as a free agent from the Cincinnati Bengals, was supposed to be that deep threat the Vikings were looking for but, with only 11 catches and no touchdowns the entire season he’s the biggest bust the Vikings have seen since the Lake Minnetonka party boat.
If Percy Harvin continues to be out of the lineup the Vikings don’t have enough on the field to make a run for a playoff spot as a wild card this season.
5. Here are the latest playoff scenarios for the NFC North after Week 12.
Two weeks ago when we analyzed the playoff picture for the NFC North the Bears were in first place in the division had just lost to the Texans and also lost a chance to take over as the No. 1 seed in the division from the Atlanta Falcons.
At the same time the Packers were in second with a 6-3 record and were charging hard after opening the season 2-3, the Vikings had lifted themselves back into playoff contention with a 6-4 record after defeating the Lions and severely damaging their hopes for a second consecutive playoff appearance.
Here is the breakdown for the remaining five games of the 2012 season for the NFC North after Week 12.
|Opp Win %||Quality Opponents||Team Div. Record||Team Conf. record|
|Bears||8-3||27-28||.491||3 of 5||2-1||5-2|
|Packers||7-4||28-27||.509||3 of 5||2-0||5-3|
|Vikings||6-5||36-18-1||.655||4 of 5||2-1||4-4|
|Lions||4-7||36-19||.655||4 of 5||0-4|
The Bears are back in first place in the division after their win over the Vikings and the Packers’ loss to the Giants. It appears the Week 15 game when the Bears host the Packers at Soldier Field will be the one that settles the division title once and for all.
The Vikings have dropped into a tie with the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. They travel to Green Bay to face the Packers next Sunday before hosting a rematch with the Bears the following week.
The Detroit Lions were on precarious ground two weeks ago and have since been beaten by the Packers and the Texans on Thanksgiving Day that may have been the Lions best performance of the season.
The only people who think the Lions still have a shot at the playoffs are ones who are fans of complex mathematics. The best division record they could finish with is 2-4 which won’t win them any tiebreakers in the division. That won’t get them in the conversation within the conference for their second consecutive playoff appearance.
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