Around the NFC North: Questions

In our final NFC North preview, we review the main questions each team must address on offense and defense. 

Just over 48 hours until the first game of the season. We're finally almost there. Let's try to boil down our previews for each team into a question that the offense must answer and a question that the defense must answer. 

Chicago Bears

Is Justin Fields a plus passer?

Notice that the questions specifically asks if Fields is a plus passer. We've discussed Fields' ability as a runner ad nauseum, and at one point, I even said it makes him the best QB in the North right now, his ability as a passer is what will make or break his NFL career. So far, he has been historically bad. 

There are caveats to that, of course. The best receiver he has played with, Darnell Mooney, is currently on the trade block. And he hasn't played with anything approaching a good NFL offensive line. This season he'll at least have DJ Moore, an average o-line, and some other weapons on offense. If he can put it all together, the Bears' offense will be a lot better than any of us think.

How many years away is this defense? 

The issue with the Bears' defense last year probably wasn't coaching. The new regime systematically dumped all of its good defensive players. They even proved this was their intent by keeping Eddie Jackson, who is not good but is paid like he is. 

The front office put a lot of energy into being able to evaluate whether Fields is a viable NFL passer, by adding weapons and other support; the real question is whether they've put enough energy into finding out if Matt Eberflus & co can run an NFL team with a great defense. They certainly invested a lot, making Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards a few of the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL. Edmunds was a disaster in the NFL and Edwards has a lot of NFL intelligence and not much athletic talent.  

Minnesota Vikings

Can Kirk Cousins win a big game?

If you just looked at Cousin's career stats, you'd think he was easily one of the ten best QBs of his era. The problem is that he's never won a big game. He's hardly even won Sunday Night Football games. 

I know QB wins isn't a real stat, but the QB is the most important part of the team, by far, the biggest contributor to wins and losses and when everyone knows there's a big game monkey on his back, it affects the team. Did anyone think the Vikings would win a playoff game last year? They went 13-3 and then lost to Daniel Jones and the Giants in round one. Gross. 

Can the secondary hold up in Brian Flores' scheme?

The Flores scheme in Miami was dominated by heavy blitzing and heavy man coverage. The blitzing was unique and generated a lot of pressure, but the corners were almost always on islands. The Vikings starting corners on the outside will probably be Akayleb Evans, a 4th round pick last year who had a sub-50 PFF grade in 2022, and Mekhi Blackmon, a third-round rookie. Manning the slot will be Byron Murphy, who was touted as a zone-only boundary corner coming out of college and has been just alright in the NFL. At safety, 57-year-old Harrison Smith is joined by Camryn Bynum, who wasn't graded among the top 64 safeties by PFF last year. 

It's an objectively rough secondary led by a pretty good coach. It will put Flores' schematic ability to the test. Flores' mentor, Bill Belichick, is widely known for his ability to change defenses. One week he plays a cover-2 heavy 4-3 scheme, the next it's all odd fronts in dime playing cover-1. Flores showed creativity bringing the "rain" blitz scheme to the NFL in Miami, he'll need to show some more devising a way to best use his "talent" in Minnesota this season. 

Detroit Lions

Who will help the Sun God on offense?

We could've asked something about Jared Goff, who is sort of a lower-middle-class man's Kirk Cousins, but let's make it interesting. The candidates are Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta, Jameson Williams (eventually), David Montgomery, and maybe Kalif Raymond. If you've read this page anytime recently, you'll know what I think about most of these players.

Gibbs is too small, LaPorta is a rookie tight end, Williams has been a disappointment, Montgomery is bad, and Kalif Raymond is Kalif Raymond. If the Lions' offense is going to keep the momentum it established as a top-5 offense with a top-25 QB last season, at least one or two of those players will need to step up and play at a pro-bowl level. It's possible, and Ben Johnson has shown he can make it happen, but I don't see it yet.  

Which defense will Aaron Glenn run?

Glenn's time in Detroit has been a story of two defenses: the press-man and pressure-heavy scheme and the 4-man-rush with umbrella coverage that Glenn started running last season after seeing basically every other team in the NFL run it. The defense was substantially better playing the latter scheme, but now Glenn has had several off-seasons to personally influence the selection of defensive talent. He was a corner when he played and most of his coaching history has been in the Gregg Williams tree, I'm sure it feels foreign to him to play a soft coverage-based defense. 

If he does decide to revert back to the Saints-style scheme, the next question we have is the same one that we're asking about Minnesota. The Lions have a few better players, namely Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Brian Branch, Cam Sutton, and Kerby Joseph, but can those guys hold up on islands? Most of Sutton's career has been in zone defense in Pittsburgh, CGJ is playing out of position, Branch is a below-average athlete, and Kerby Joseph is a box-safety. 

 

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Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan who recently moved form Utah to Stoughton (a Madison suberb). You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.

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3 points
 

Comments (22)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Bearmeat's picture

September 05, 2023 at 05:07 pm

1. Is Justin Fields a plus NFL Passer - NO
2. Can Kirk Cousins win the big game - NO
3. Will Detroit have someone other than St. Brown step up - Meh... probably? That OL is sick. It's more Detroilet's defense that will be bad. Again.

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Ima Payne's picture

September 05, 2023 at 08:23 pm

The NFC North could be a cluster f. The Lions need Goof to have another stellar year, good luck with that. The Vikes showed nothing they plan to do during pre season making everyone guessing whats on their plate this year.Fields will be better and the team too but they had the chance with 13 picks and a ton of money to really make this a competitive team and they did very little talent wise. They got bodies but did they get pro bowl players? Not! Pack can be right in the mix IMO.

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Bitternotsour's picture

September 06, 2023 at 09:29 am

Jared Goff is good. Discount that at your peril.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

September 07, 2023 at 08:16 pm

Lions are running tonight. Bears can probably run, too. We don't know what the Vikings can do yet but if JB let's Ja stick with Justin Jefferson both games and he shuts him down to one reception for some 13 yards both games, that'd help a lot.

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packerfanroy's picture

September 05, 2023 at 08:41 pm

A few years ago the Packers brought a little pop culture with the whole 'Winter is coming' GOT thing....this year the appropriate phrase for the NFC North might be "Mediocrity is coming"....

Not one QB you would trust in a playoff game.

No good Defenses.

It could be rough.

But if there is one thing the NFL is great at its taking the narratives coming out of training camp and smashing them to smithereens, for better or worse.

Every NFC North fan base, GB included (which is hilarious and ironic), thinks they can win the North because ARod is finally gone...

4 points
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Bitternotsour's picture

September 06, 2023 at 09:33 am

let the hilarity ensue.

goff got to a super bowl. that makes me think you can trust him to win playoff games. just saying. jared goff can spin the football and that line gives him time.

2 points
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packerfanroy's picture

September 06, 2023 at 05:15 pm

I gotta disagree. If McVay thought that Goff was good enough he wouldn't have sent picks for Stafford. Goff is a journeyman JAG stopgap QB. If the Lions make it to the playoffs Goff will get exposed and the whole off season will be spent asking what the Lions need to do at QB to go to the next level.

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GregC's picture

September 06, 2023 at 06:15 am

I hate to keep having to point this out, but Kirk Cousins has won big games, including a road playoff game. He is 5-4-1 against the Packers. Are Packer games big for the Vikings? I think so. He's won a lot of close games, and he's had his share of comeback wins. He's become a very good QB, and to suggest that Justin Fields is better at this point is a real stretch, to put it mildly.

5 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

September 06, 2023 at 06:43 am

Judging Fields as the best North QB based on his dynamic running ability is akin to judging a WR as the best due to his prowess running end arounds and jet sweeps.

He's better than Bobby Douglas and SF Kneeler...but Cousins and Goff are better because the lead their teams to wins and can, you know, pass.

Next season, the Week 1 experts will be loving Jordan as King QB of the North.

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dobber's picture

September 06, 2023 at 07:59 am

Kirk Cousins is on paper the best QB in the NFCN right now. I always say you need to win big games to get to--and through--the playoffs...the Vikings have had only two playoff seasons with Kark--they're 1-2 in those playoff games (fully recognizing that it's difficult to gain a winning record overall in playoff games because almost every team finishes with a loss).

We all put too much on W/L and the QB position, but Cousins has too many "Kark" games where he stinks it up. He'll always be one of those QBs where you look at his numbers and wonder why he didn't get further than he did. HIs supporting cast (read: OL, defense) has not always been great, he holds onto the ball too much, and he has crap games at the worst times.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

September 06, 2023 at 08:22 am

The similarities between Cousins and AR12 stack up: great accuracy, choke in big games. I'm surprised to see which came out the winner in that head to head matchup at 5-4 and 1.

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packerfanroy's picture

September 06, 2023 at 06:13 pm

AR12 chokes in big games???? Do you even watch football?? Every great QB has lost a few "Big Games". Its why pro football is so hard to win and dependent on the team as opposed to say Basketball where one guy can take a game over and make an impact on offense and defense.

As for Cousins vs. Rodgers I dont think there is a better way to get pro football players to roll their eyes and say "OMFG this is so retarded" than to start talking about QB's record vs other QB's. Go ahead, find me a highlight reel of Cousins vs. AR12 where they are both on the field at the same time. AR12 wasnt letting Dalvin Cook run all over the Packers historically bad run D, AR12 wasnt covering Justin Jefferson instead of "All-Pro CB" Preston Smith, AR12 wasnt dropping wide open Go balls like Christian Watson. AR12 was the biggest reason for the Packers success. Do Bears fans like AR12 at QB like Packer fans liked Jay Cutler??? No??? Probably a reason for that.... Other fan bases in the North are glad that AR12 is gone and its not because he chokes...

For the almost all of AR12's career the Packers have taken turns being HISTORICALLY bad at stopping the run or the pass. You can say that you hate AR12, its ok you're entitled to your opinion. Just dont let that hate blind you to the truth as to how good AR12 is and has been for the Packers.

"Cousins and AR12 are pretty similar but Kirk's just a little bit better"...SMDH....

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

September 07, 2023 at 08:23 pm

Maybe read what was said instead of maliciously misrepresenting it into what was not said.

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packerfanroy's picture

September 09, 2023 at 01:23 am

My understanding was that you said KC and AR are both known for choking and accuracy. "The similarities between Cousins and AR12 stack up: great accuracy, choke in big games."

Were you being sarcastic???

The other thing I gathered from your post was that KC and AR were responsible for their respective teams record when playing. " I'm surprised to see which came out the winner in that head to head matchup at 5-4 and 1"

Jared Goff led teams are undefeated vs Patrick Mahomes led teams. Is Goff the better QB or are QB head to head records one of the most meaningless stats out there????

Saying that the Packers needed to move on from AR12 because things got stale or GB needed to look to the future is one thing. Saying that AR12 chokes in big games and is similar to KC, is what Viking homers have been saying for years....

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T7Steve's picture

September 06, 2023 at 08:09 am

Looks like we're done losing games in this division.

We took last season off to get them complacent.

Now, let's get after it.

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dobber's picture

September 06, 2023 at 08:20 am

Realistically, as it stands right now the NFCN is a lousy division. Nobody plays good defense, the QB play is sporadic or unproven--there was one really strong W-L record in 2022, but that team won an unsustainable number of one-score games, couldn't stop anyone and bowed out in the WC round at home in a game where they got physically handled. The two divisions that played the NFCN got FIVE teams into the playoffs last season--their records fluffed in part by playing the NFCN (the Packers were 1-3 vs. the NFCE and 2-2 vs. the AFCE). This division is an open run for a playoff bid. I wouldn't be surprised if a 9-win team wins it. There's nothing close to a complete team in the division.

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T7Steve's picture

September 06, 2023 at 09:20 am

I think the Packers are close to being close, though. They just don't have a safety margin.

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dobber's picture

September 06, 2023 at 12:14 pm

"They just don't have a safety margin."

They barely have any safeties...

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T7Steve's picture

September 06, 2023 at 12:48 pm

I didn't even have to say "pun intended".

I really hope they have a plan. If the pass rush isn't as effective as it should be, they're going to be exposed, and the CBs will get overworked and not in the right places to be aggressive.

It all starts up front.

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dobber's picture

September 06, 2023 at 01:46 pm

100 mph with their hair on fire and let the chips fall where they may.

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stockholder's picture

September 06, 2023 at 08:49 pm

The Lions will take the Division.
And The Trench is what will win it for Them.
Goff is the best QB in the Division.
Who needs Wrs.? Rodgers only had Adams.
The Defense is young, improved and hungry.
And so are their Fans.

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stockholder's picture

September 07, 2023 at 11:13 pm

Lions 21- KC -20.
Blue Kool Aid anyone.?
They are for real.

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