Sat, 03 Dec 2022

NFC NORTH: Where all four teams stand heading into Week 5

Detroit Lions
06 Oct 2022, 19:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

It's not officially the quarter point in the season because of the 17-game NFL schedule these days, but it's close enough. We're starting to learn a lot about the four teams in the NFC North a month into the season.

This week's NFC North column takes a look at where things stand in the division through the first four games.

Consider it a quarterly report.

MINNESOTA

Record: 3-1

Wins: Green Bay (23-7), Detroit (28-24), New Orleans (28-25)

Losses: Philadelphia (24-7)

Next opponent: vs. Chicago (2-2)

Most valuable player: This Minnesota defense has taken a big step forward in their first season under defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. The Vikings were one of the worst defenses in the league last year, but currently rank 13th in points allowed. Za'Darius Smith has been a terrific addition opposite Danielle Hunter on the edge. He's recorded 3.0 sacks, six tackles for loss and five quarterback hits in four games.

Key statistic: The Vikings are second in the NFL in scoring at the end of the half. Their 30 points in the last possession of each half is second to only the New York Jets' 40. When the offense needs a play late in the half or late in the game, they've shown the ability to step up and perform.

Area of improvement needed: Offensively, the Vikings have to be better on third down and in the red zone. Minnesota ranks 28th on third down, converting just 31.3 percent of the time. In the red zone, they are scoring a touchdown at just a 46.7 percent clip, which ranks 26th.

Impact rookie contribution: Rookie guard Ed Ingram earned a starting spot out of training camp and has played pretty well four games into the year. He's been flagged for just one penalty (false start) and given up just one sack.

Twentyman: It's a solid Vikings team that's found a way to win close games the last couple weeks. They are explosive offensively with wide receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook. Defensively, they can get after the passer. They beat Green Bay Week 1, so they hold the top spot in the division at the quarter point.

GREEN BAY

Record: 3-1

Wins: Chicago (27-10), Tampa Bay (14-12), New England (27-24)

Losses: Minnesota (23-7)

Next opponent: vs. New York Giants (3-1)

Most valuable player: Most years we just pencil in Aaron Rodgers and we're done with it, but early on it's been running back Aaron Jones, who's been a catalyst to Green Bay's early success on offense. He's averaging an incredible 6.8 yards per rush on the season with 327 rushing yards on just 48 attempts. He's also third on the team with 12 receptions. Defensive tackle Rashan Gary (5.0 sacks) is a very close second here.

Key statistic: There's been a lot of eyes on this Packers passing game with the young revamped receiver corps after Davante Adams was traded this offseason. It's been a quicker and shorter passing attack in Green Bay that relies on some of these pass catchers' run after the catch potential. Green Bay leads the NFL in yards after the catch with 496 yards. Their 253 air yards are the third fewest in the league behind only Carolina (199) and Chicago (145).

Area of improvement needed: The run defense could stand to be a little more stout moving forward. The Packers are allowing an opponent to rush for four-plus yards on 57.8 percent of their runs, which is the highest percentage in the league. The league average is 46.4 percent. Green Bay's allowed 14 runs of 10-plus yards in four games, and they rank 22nd in run defense overall, allowing 126.8 yards per game on the ground.

Impact rookie contribution: This was a close one between linebacker Quay Walker and wide receiver Romeo Doubs, but I'm going with Doubs, who has built a pretty nice rapport early on with a pretty demanding quarterback in Rodgers. Doubs leads the Packers in receptions (19), receiving yards (184) and is tied for the team lead with two touchdown grabs. Not a bad start for the fourth-round pick out of Nevada.

Twentyman: This team is only going to get better the more reps that young receiving corps gets. They're strong upfront along their defensive line, with some players in the backend that can turn the ball over. As long as Rodgers is under center, the division title still goes through Green Bay. That opinion hasn't changed through four games.

O'HARA: What we learned from Week 4KEY QUESTIONS: What changes are Lions looking to implement on defense?TIM AND MIKE: Week 4 observationsCHICAGO

Record: 2-2

Wins: San Francisco (19-10), Houston (23-20)

Losses: Green Bay (27-10), New York Giants (20-12)

Next opponent: at Minnesota (3-1)

Most valuable player: Linebacker Roquan Smith is averaging better than 10 tackles per game (46 in four games) and also has a sack, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, an interception and two passes defended. He's one of those linebackers who is just all over the field on any given Sunday.

Key statistic: Quarterback Justin Fields is completing just 50.7 percent of his passes with two passing touchdowns vs. four interceptions. He's been sacked 16 times in four contests.

Area of improvement needed: The Bears have just 390 passing yards through four games, which is the fewest in the NFL by a wide margin. They've done enough to win two games so far, but it's hard to find consistency in this league when you're as one dimensional on offense as they are.

Impact rookie contribution: Safety Jaquan Brisker has been a terrific selection by the Bears in the second round. He's started all four games and is second on the team behind only Smith with 19 solo tackles. He's also got a sack, a fumble recovery, a quarterback hit and two tackles for loss.

Twentyman: This team has found a way to win a couple games by playing pretty good defense and running the football. But can the Bears be a real contender with a passing game that's flirting with historic lows in yards and touchdowns?

DETROIT

Record: 1-3

Wins: Washington (36-27)

Losses: Philadelphia (38-35), Minnesota (28-24), Seattle (48-45)

Next opponent: at New England (1-3)

Most valuable player: Credit veteran quarterback Jared Goff with putting the Lions in a position to be able to win all four games they've played in this season. Goff has been terrific to start the year. His 11 touchdowns are tied with Patrick Mahomes for the NFL lead. His 1,126 passing yards rank third. His 99.9 passer rating ranks seventh. Goff is leading the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL after four weeks. He's been really good.

Key statistic: Opponents have reached the red zone 15 times this season against the Lions' defense. They've scored a touchdown 13 times and kicked two field goals. The 86.7 touchdown percentage ranks last in the NFL. Detroit, the Los Angles Chargers and the New York Giants are the only teams in the NFL that have allowed 100 percent scoring on all red zone drives. Detroit's defense has just two takeaways all year.

Area of improvement needed: The Lions had a historically bad defense in 2020, when they set franchise records for points and yards allowed. But through four games they're on pace to top those marks in 2022. The Lions are on pace to allow 599 points this season, which would crush the NFL record for points allowed in a season (533) set by the 1981 Baltimore Colts. Detroit currently ranks last in the NFL in total defense (444.8), third-down defense (52.8 percent) and red-zone defense (86.7).

Impact rookie contribution: Rookie sixth-round linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez has been the most consistent performer among Detroit's rookie class. He earned a starting job out of training camp and leads the team with 33 tackles (25 solo) and also has three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble. He's been one of the few bright spots on that side of the ball for the Lions.

Twentyman: It's pretty wild to think how explosive this offense has been through four games and yet the team sits at 1-3. If this defense was just average the first month of the season, this is a 4-0 or 3-1 football team. They've been that good offensively. Head coach Dan Campbell is taking a deep dive this week into how they go about fixing the defense. What answers they come up with will have huge implications on the rest of the season. Detroit can't play defense the way they've been playing and expect their offense to make up for it week after week.

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