NFC North Midway Through 2019

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Duane Burleson / AP Photo

At the quarter-way point of the season, we took stock of the NFC North. Now that all four teams in the division have played at least half of their games, it felt like another appropriate opportunity to look back at the season so far. Here is the NFC North Midway through 2019.

NFC Standings

Green Bay Packers (8-2)

Minnesota Vikings (8-3)

Chicago Bears (4-6)

Detroit Lions (3-6-1)

 

Green Bay Packers

After starting off the season with a 3-game winning streak, the Packers ran in to, and got run over by, the Eagles. Following that loss, Green Bay earned victories over Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and Kansas City.

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One of the elements to characterize most of those wins are turnovers. So far in 2019, the Packers defense has produced 16 turnovers. In all of 2018, their defense only had 15 total takeaways. It’s not just the amount, but also the timing of these turnovers that have contributed to Green Bay victories. In the Cowboys game, Amari Cooper, on his team’s opening drive, tipped a perfect pass right to Jaire Alexander. The Cowboys had the chance to get an early lead with the score was 0-0 at the time of the INT. Instead, the Packers took advantage and Aaron Jones scored the first of his 4 TDs on the day during the 34-24 win.

During this 4-game win streak, the Lions match was the only one where the Packers did not force any turnovers. On the contrary, Green Bay gave away the football 3 times to Detroit. If not for undisciplined play (more on that in the Lions section) then the Packers likely would have lost this contest. Instead, Aaron Rodgers led a late FG drive and Green Bay won 23-22. It was an important victory in this division rivalry. The Lions were riding a 4-game win streak over the Packers entering that game. Detroit had also won 3 of the previous 4 games in Lambeau Field.

In the Raiders game, Derek Carr fumbled the football right on the goal-line. This was just before halftime and Oakland was trailing 14-10. Any points for the Raiders would have been key but the drive ended with Carr fumbling throwing the end zone for a touchback and Packers ball. Green Bay would score during the very next drive on route to a 42-24 victory.

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Next week against the Chiefs, the Packers once again got a timely turnover. Right after Green Bay tied the game at 17-17 in the 3rd quarter, running back LeSean McCoy fumbled the football. McCoy was carrying the ball away from his body, but it was nonetheless, a great play by Tyler Lancaster to force the fumble and recovered it himself. The Packers took a lead and never looked back in the 31-24 victory.

Facing a 3rd straight AFC West team, after the Raiders and Chiefs games, the Packers finally hit a wall. The Chargers dominated in all phases of the game and earned a 26-11 victory over Green Bay. The Packers Red Zone defense helped keep the score low as the Chargers kicked 4 FGs after lengthy drives. 12-0 could easily have been 28-0. However, the Packers offense could not take advantage of this situation as they were held scoreless for the first 44 minutes of the game. When they did get into FG range and on the scoreboard, all of that momentum was erased as the Chargers drove down and capped off that possession with a Melvin Gordon TD run to put the game out of reach.

The Packers responded well to such a poor performance by getting back into the win column the next week against the Panthers. The Packers defense (after a disappointing performance on their part) came back and produced 2 turnovers in this contest. While Carolina was able to move the ball well enough, Green Bay still won 24-16.

The Packers just had their bye in week 11. For their sake, hopefully, the players get a recharge. They will certainly need it right away as they take on the 49ers in week 12. If Green Bay gets this road victory, they will certainly help their chances of a first-round playoff bye. Their schedule gets temporarily easier before they finish the season with 3 straight divisional games.

Minnesota Vikings

After a 2-2 start, the Vikings rallied off four straight victories against the Giants, the Eagles, the Lions and Washington. Naturally, that winning streak coincided with improved play from the QB position. 2019 began with Kirk Cousins throwing 3 TD passes in his first 4 games combined. During Minnesota’s next four matches, Cousins combined for 10 TD passes. It was not just scoring, however, but also Cousins’ efficiency moving the ball that helped his team succeed. During the first four games of 2019, Cousins averaged 183.75 passing yards per game, but that improved to 315 yards per game over the next four contests.

After beating Washington 19-9 on a Thursday night, the Vikings got some extra time to rest before taking on the Chiefs.  This highly-touted matchup between Minnesota’s defense and the reigning league MVP. The Vikings defense has disappointed on their lofty expectations and Patrick Mahomes had dislocated his knee cap only 2 weeks beforehand. Nonetheless, we still got a classic matchup that went down to the wire and ended in a 26-23 Chiefs victory.

The following week, the Vikings faced off against the Cowboys in another prime time contest. While Cousins threw 2 TD passes, it was Dalvin Cook who was the real hero. He produced 97 yards on the ground and 86 yards through his 7 receptions, both of which were team-highs. Cook has been the Viking primary offensive weapon throughout the season. He is actually 2nd in the NFL for rushing yards (1,017) and is tied for the league lead TDs on the ground (11).

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For their part, the run defense of the Vikings did their job. The usually productive Ezekiel Elliott (who already has 5 games of 100+ rushing yards this season) was held to only 47 yards on the ground. The passing defense, however, left a lot to be desired as Dak Prescott threw for almost 400 yards and 3 TD passes. When push came to shove, the Minnesota defense succeeded in holding the Cowboys to 3 points in the final quarter. This allowed the Vikings to secure the 28-24 win.

In their most recent contest, Minnesota got a victory against the Broncos. Considering that Denver had only won 3 other games this season, this should have been an easy task for the 8-2 Vikings. However, a 20-0 Broncos lead at halftime opened quite a few eyes. Where did this vaunted defense go? How did they allow a QB making his 2nd career start to constantly make plays and move the ball downfield? These are questions that need to be answered during this upcoming by week. The good news for the Viking was that they held Denver to 3 points in the 2nd half.

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Entering the 4th quarter down 23-7, the Vikings needed to capitalize on every opportunity. And they did by scoring 2 TDs in the first 5 minutes of the quarter. That includes a game-high 54-yard pass TD to from Cousins to Stefon Diggs. A catch and run TD by Kyle Rudolph gave Minnesota a 27-23 lead and the comeback was complete. It was the first time in 5 seasons that an NFL team erased a 20-point deficit and win the win.

While there were struggles throughout 2019, this comeback must certainly give Cousins confidence heading into the stretch run. With only half a game separating the Vikings and the Packers, that week 16 matchup is ever-so-important in determining the winner of the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

When we last looked at the Bears, they were 3-1 with their only loss coming in week 1 against the Packers. However, since then, Chicago has endured a 1-5 stretch.

The negative momentum began in week 5 with a London game. Getting overseas late in the week, the Bears clearly had a hard time adjusting to the time zone change. Their opponent, the Raiders, ran out to a 17-0 halftime lead. While the Bears mounted a 2nd half comeback and even gained a 21-17 lead, Oakland succeeded in scoring a TD in the final minutes of the game. Chicago returned to North America for their bye week coming off of a 24-21 loss and with a 3-2 record.

After their bye week, the Bears visited the Saints. Considering the recent history of that team, it is quite a feat that the Bears defense held New Orleans offense, at home, to 7 points in the 1st quarter.

Chicago’s offense, however, kept getting stalled and even committed a couple of turnovers. The only points that the Bears scoring during that 1st quarter came courtesy of a Cordarrelle Patterson kickoff return TD. Eventually, the offense got going and Mitchell Trubisky led a FG drive. With a 10-9 lead early in the 2nd quarter, things were going as well as one could have expected. However, the vaunted Bears defense could no longer contain the Saints offense who exploded to score 35 unanswered points.

The main issue for the Bears has been the poor play of Mitch Trubisky. On the season, Trubisky’s numbers have regressed from last year. His completion rate (62.4%) TD rate (3.2%) and yards per attempt (5.6) are all lower than his 2018 totals. In 5 of the 9 games that he played this season, he failed to throw even 1 TD pass. His personal lack of scoring continued over the next two losses after New Orleans.

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Against the Chargers, the Bears could only muster up 16 points. It was a shame for Trubisky because this was a game that they could easily have won. The Bears demolished the Chargers’ time of possession 38 minutes to 22 minutes. Still, with all of the time holding the football, and even forcing a turnover from the Chargers, Chicago lost 17-16.

Against the Eagles the following week, things did not go much better. Trubisky finished the game under 50% completion and he only threw for 125 passing yards. Another disappointing performance for the QB, especially considering that the Eagles secondary had been struggling.

However, the Bears would have somewhat of a bounce back. Following their 3-game losing streak, Chicago would get a win against their division rival Lions. To his credit, Trubisky led a TD drive to take a 7-6 lead at the break. It appears the offense utilized that momentum by scoring TDs on their first two drives of the 3rd quarter. Trubisky threw 3 TD passes for the second time in 2019 and it was enough. The Bears defense held the Lions to 7 points in the entire 2nd half as Chicago claimed the 20-13 victory.

However, Trubisky could not maintain that momentum into the next game against the Rams. Much like Chicago, the Rams were a playoff team in 2018 that has not lived up to their success from last season. Both defenses dominated this 17-7 contest. While Trubisky did lead the team in FG range a couple of times, Eddie Piniero missed both attempts. Eventually, the Bears would score a TD in the 3rd quarter to get within 3 points. But time after time, offensive drives stalled. It got to the point where Chase Daniel came into the game at QB.

We shall see who will be under center for the 4-6 Bears next week. Still, this a big question for the offseason.

Detroit Lions

The Lions had a decent start to the season with a 2-1-1 record. Since then, they have gone 1-5, the same record as their division rival Bears. That includes a loss to Chicago that we have already covered. This stretch also featured contests gainst both of Detroit’s other division opponents.

First, after their week 5 bye, the Lions visited the Packers for Monday Night Football. Detroit came out firing by gaining an early 13-0 lead. It was almost halfway through the 2nd quarter before Green Bay finally got on the board.

While the Packers would eventually tie the game at 13-13, they never held the lead until the very end of the game. Truthfully, the Lions had this game in their grasps. Aaron Rodgers was naturally a major factor in Green Bay’s comeback win, but his influence was second to Detroit’s lack of discipline. In five different instances, the Lions took a penalty while the Packers were on 3rd or 4th down, and all five extended drives. Yes, that included a couple of questionable calls against Trey Flowers, but nonetheless, penalties certainly cost the Lions a likely victory. Instead, they suffered a heartbreaking 23-22 loss that had major ramifications on the standings. Had Detroit won, they would have been leading a tight NFC North at that point. Instead, they fell to 4th place.

The momentum from that loss in Green Bay continued as they dropped the very next game to the Vikings 42-30. A 31-19 victory over the Giants gave some reprieve to the team before they lost the next three games.

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The downhill trend for Detroit began with yet another close loss, this time to the Raiders. Matthew Stafford looked great against that Oakland defense and found J.D. McKissic late in the 4th quarter for the equalizing score. However, Detroit’s defense could not hold up their end of the bargain and allowed the Raiders to get into the end zone with just over 2 minutes left and win the game 31-24.

While loosing to the Raiders was bad, the biggest loss for the Lions was that of Matt Stafford. His back injury has held him out of the previous 2 games – both losses to the Bears and Cowboys respectively. In his place, Jeff Driskel did quite well. Against Chicago, Driskel only threw 1 TD pass, and did have 1 INT, but he kept his team in the game. This is impressive considering the stature of the Bears defense and the fact that, as mentioned earlier, this was one of the few times this season that Mitchell Trubisky actually scored multiple TDs for Chicago. Driskel made it a 1-score game late with as he threw a 47-yard TD pass to Kenny Golladay. Ultimately, the Lions lost 20-13.

Against Dallas, Driskel continued that momentum from the end of the Bears game and led the team on an opening drive TD. This time the defense broke down as the Cowboys scored 21 points in the 2nd quarter to take a 24-14 lead at halftime. While Driskel did throw two TD passes to Marvin Jones in the 2nd half, they bookended an FG and an Ezekiel Elliott TD. Detroit ended up being defeated 35-27.

Football can be a cruel game. If a few things went different in each of their games, the Lions could easily be 9-1. Other than the 12-point loss to the Vikings, every defeat that Detroit has suffered was by 1-score. Instead of massive success, the Lions are currently in a 3-6-1 season.

Thank you for reading NFC North Midway Through 2019. Be sure to check out Full Press Coverage for all sorts of great NFL content.

– Kyle Senra is the managing editor for Full Press Coverage Packers. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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