NFC North Recap: What did we takeaway from week two?

With week two of the 2021 NFL season officially in the books, how did the NFC North, the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, and Minnesota Vikings perform? For the first time all season, the NFC North finished with two wins and two losses, as Chicago and Green Bay secured their first wins of the new year while Minnesota and Detroit lost for a second straight week.

1) Chicago Bears

What more could you ask for if you’re a Chicago Bears fan? Sunday saw the Bears get their first win of the season with rookie quarterback Justin Fields getting extended playing time after veteran quarterback Andy Dalton left the game with an apparent knee injury. Fields was explosive as a runner but also showcased the ability to throw wide receivers open, as evidenced by dropped passes that should’ve been touchdowns to Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson.

The Bears’ defense was also fired up, after sacking Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow four times, forcing a fumble and three interceptions. Sitting down with Maxx Smith, my co-host for the Fireside Bears YouTube channel, I mentioned how Cincinnati was the perfect opponent for the Bears defense to turn everything around.

What’s next for the Bears? Well with Dalton’s future uncertain, the Fields show has officially arrived and a new energy has descended upon the Bears locker room as the team looks to stack wins between September and October, laying the foundation for a potential playoff run over the final two months of the season.

2) Minnesota Vikings

Someone needs to figure out what’s wrong with the Minnesota Vikings and quickly if possible. Kirk Cousins tossed three touchdowns but it wasn’t enough to beat the Arizona Cardinals, who scored 34 points, including 17 points in the second quarter. For the entire afternoon, outside of one sack, the Vikings’ offensive line did keep Cousins upright but when the game mattered the most, the Vikings failed to capitalize.

Switch over to the defensive side of the ball, traditionally a strength of the Vikings under Zimmer and there are mixed reactions. Two interceptions and three sacks weren’t enough to propel the Vikings past the Cardinals either, despite one interception being returned for a touchdown. Minnesota lost this game because Kicker Greg Joseph failed to missed a 37-yard field goal as time expired after Cousins and the offense marched down the field on a nine-play, 58-yard drive that took 2:09 off the clock.

What’s next for the Vikings? Three straight home games against the Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions gives the entire team an opportunity to get some wins at home. Zimmer knows the Vikings need to win at least two of these three games, maybe even all three to stave off the hot seat, which could get hot quickly.

3) Green Bay Packers

Well, the Packers are officially back. If you watched Green Bay on Monday night, Aaron Rodgers and the offense started slow but picked up steam as the game progressed. Major credit goes to running back Aaron Jones, who scored four touchdowns while Rodgers connected with wide receiver Devante Adams eight times for 121 yards, averaging 15.1 yards per reception.

One name that stuck out on the Packers’ defense was rookie cornerback Eric Stokes. The 29th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft had two pass breakups and one tackle, shutting down Lions wide receiver Quintez Cephus on a key play to force a Lions punt. Green Bay’s defense as a unit did improve as the game progressed with defensive coordinator Joe Barry proving he can get the whole unit playing at a high level.

Up next for Green Bay is a primetime matchup in the Bay Area against the San Francisco 49ers, who’ve won two straight road games. With the 49ers’ defense playing at a high level, San Francisco’s defense will present Green Bay’s offense with another great test to see if Rodgers can get Green Bay clicking even more.

4) Detroit Lions

The Lions haven’t looked as bad as many expected and while flaws do exist, Detroit’s offensive line has looked more than solid so far. Penei Sewell, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Matt Nelson gave quarterback Jared Goff more than enough time to throw. With wide receiver Tyrell Williams out, Quintez Cephus stepped up, catching four passes for 63 yards, including one touchdown. Cephus averaged15.8 yards per reception, proving he could be a big-play threat in Detroit’s offense.

The Lions’ defense did do enough to remain in the first half of the game but big plays throughout the second half helped break the game wide open in Green Bay’s favor. Having a banged up secondary, with Jeffery Okudah, the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft sidelined for the year doesn’t help Detroit’s case but the defensive line did look solid, sacking Aaron Rodgers on three occasions.

What’s next for Detroit? The Baltimore Ravens will come to town with a road trip to Chicago in week 4. It’s very much possible that the Lions start the 2021 season winless through the first quarter of the season but credit head coach Dan Campbell for continuing to have his team fight on every play, even when the game seems out of reach.

 

Chicago Bears: NFC North Week One Recap

bears, matt nagy

With week one of the 2021 NFL regular season officially in the books, it’s time to recap how the Chicago Bears and their NFC North counterparts performed.

 

1) Chicago Bears

Well, the Bears lost to the Los Angeles Rams and are now 1-3 in season openers under head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears did too little too late and struggled to limit big plays, allowing Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense to score points. Chicago did look solid in the running game, where David Montgomery had a 41-yard run on the first possession of the game.

Bears QB Andy Dalton was efficient throughout the evening and while Justin Fields did see some action, Chicago’s first drive ended in a redzone interception. The Bears also failed to convert on fourth down, going 0-for-4, a stat that Nagy will likely want to forget. Chicago ran 69 plays and had the ball for nearly 35 minutes but still failed to score in both the first and fourth quarter.

It’s a long season and with 16 more games to go, the Bears have an opportunity to turn this ship around. Nobody in Chicago is panicking just yet but the Bears did flash some positives in week 1.

2) Green Bay Packers

Um, what just happened. The Packers playing the New Orleans Saints was America’s Game of the Week but it looked more like a Super Bowl contender (New Orleans) playing against a team that’s heading towards a full-scale rebuild Green Bay struggled all afternoon. The offense couldn’t move the ball and the defense couldn’t come up with any stops.

The bigger issue here is the play of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who tossed two interceptions, zero touchdowns, and had just 15 completions. This could be rust that Rodgers is shaking off after being absent from the Packers offseason programs but reporting to training camp on time. Or it could be that Rodgers’ absence has led to trust issues among players, the coaching staff, and front office.

It’s only week 1 but the Packers’ performance isn’t encouraging. Time for head coach Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff to reflect hard about what just happened.

3) Minnesota Vikings

One minute it seems like the Vikings are ready to win, the next minute, Mike Zimmer’s squad looks like a young team that’s learning how to play football. The Vikings are all over the place, it’s that simple. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow sliced up the Vikings defense all afternoon, winning by three scores at one point.

Minnesota also had 12 penalties on the afternoon. Wide receiver Adam Thielen had two touchdowns but the quarterback Kirk Cousins was unable to capitalize in key situations, once again proving that the Vikings need to get better at the quarterback position if a deep run in the playoffs is to be made.

4) Detroit Lions

Despite being down by 21 points at halftime, give the Lions credit. Head coach Dan Campbell, who’s been made fun of by NFC North fans this offseason for his passion and enthusiasm coached hard on Sunday afternoon. Detroit battled back in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 points, losing by eight just points.

Running backs Jamal Williams and D’Andre Swift combined for 16 receptions, averaging 7.5 yards per reception. Up next for the Lions is the division rival Green Bay Packers, meaning that some NFC North team will be in the win column next week. By the way, credit to quarterback Jared Goff, who was traded to the Lions this offseason for tossing three touchdowns in his Lions debut while posting a passer rating of 92.6.

BREAKING: New York Jets trade TE Chris Herndon to Minnesota (Report)

Herndon’s once-promising New York Jets career has reportedly come to an end, as a deal has been reached with the Minnesota Vikings.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the New York Jets have traded tight Chris Herndon to the Minnesota Vikings for an undetermined draft pick compensation. Minnesota recently lost primary tight end Irv Smith Jr. for the season due to a meniscus injury.

Thus ends Herndon’s New York Jets career, which began with such promise in 2018. He was chosen in the fourth round out of Miami (107th overall) and developed a strong connection with fellow rookie and camp roommate Sam Darnold. Herndon ranked second on the Jets and led all rookie tight ends with 502 yards on 39 receptions, four of which went for scores.

However, Herndon was never able to replicate his freshman success. His sophomore season was a lost cause thanks to a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy and a rib injury that limited his participation to a mere 18 snaps. He regained the Jets’ primary tight end role last season but earned only 287 yards on 31 receptions, dropping four passes in that span. This summer, Herndon lost the primary training camp snaps to veteran newcomer Tyler Kroft, making him expendable as league rosters trickle down to 53 players. His preseason participation was mostly limited to second half reps, earning a pair of receptions good for 14 yards.

Upon Herndon’s departure, only two of six players (Nathan Shepherd, Foley Fatukasi) remains from the Jets’ 2018 draft class. Herndon was also called upon to model the Jets’ new uniforms during the ensuing offseason after his breakout rookie campaign, joining Darnold, Jamal Adams, Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Leonard Williams in a reveal party hosted by Curb Your Enthusiasm star J.B. Smoove. None of those veterans remain with the team.

The Jets open their regular season in Charlotte on Sept. 12 against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

[[[UPDATE: 7:00 p.m. ET]]]: In officially announcing the trade, the Jets will also send over their sixth round pick in the upcoming draft to Minnesota in exchange for a fourth-round choice in the same selections.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets add to offensive line through waivers

New York Jets

The New York Jets have claimed former Minnesota Viking Pat Elflein, who was released from his NFC North squad on Saturday.

The New York Jets have called for reinforcement to their offensive line as they return from their bye week, claiming veteran blocker Pat Elflein off the waivers list.

Elflein, 26, has worked as a center and guard on both sides. The interior lineman was chosen in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings (70th overall). He went on to partake in 44 games with Minnesota, starting all but one, though injuries have reduced him to a single game this season, starting at right guard and sharing snapping duties with Garrett Bradbury in the Vikings’ opening weekend loss to Green Bay.

A thumb injury suffered in practice has since kept him sidelined. Elflein was placed on injured reserve short after the ailment. He was activated last Friday but was placed on waivers the next day.

The Jets (0-9) are currently working with offseason free agents signees veterans Connor McGovern and Josh Andrews at center while Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten respectively flank the left and right interior roles. Their offense is coming off a season-high output of 322 yards in their last tilt, a 30-27 last-second defeat last Monday night against the New England Patriots. The latest defeat came with a bit of a hefty casualty on the offensive line, as starting tackle and first-round pick Mekhi Becton left in the first half with a chest injury and did not return.

New York will once again roll out Joe Flacco at quarterback in their next contest on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS) as head coach Adam Gase said that Sam Darnold was still nursing a shoulder injury, per notes provided by the team.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Giants’ Defense Will Have Its Hands Full Against Minnesota

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The New York Giants are on a two-game win streak and are looking to make it three today against the Minnesota Vikings. New York sits with a 2-2 record. If the Giants win today, they will have their first winning record since 2016. It is a crucial game for the Giants.

But this will be no easy matchup for the Gmen. The Minnesota Vikings have been struggling this season, but their offense has enough talent to create some trouble for the Giants’ defense.

The Vikings’ Strong Running Game

The Vikings have been dependant on their running game so far this season. Third-year running back Dalvin Cook is having a breakout season and keeping the Vikings’ offense together. Dalvin has received 20 or more touches in each of the Vikings’ first four games this season.

Through these first four weeks, Cook has accumulated 410 rushing yards, good for second-best in the league. Dalvin is also leading the league with 5 rushing touchdowns so far.

The Giants will have a tough time matching up against the Vikings’ run game today. They are incredibly thin at linebacker after losing Ryan Connelly, Alec Ogletree, and Tae Davis to injury. The Giants will start David Mayo at linebacker. He had a solid performance in week four, but the Giants will need him to build on that in order to defend Dalvin Cook.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Dalvin Cook’s dominance has not led to many wins. The Vikings are 2-2, just like the Giants. This is obviously not Cook’s fault. The Vikings’ passing attack is to blame for their even record.

The Struggling Passing Game Ready To Break Out

The Minnesota Vikings are 2-2. They can thank Dalvin Cook for those two wins, but could also blame Kirk Cousins for those two losses, as many fans have. Fans have given Kirk criticism for missing open receivers:

https://twitter.com/SkolBros/status/1178829219666780160

This had led to a lot of frustration within the Vikings’ locker room. This frustration has leaked out to the public. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs has been open with his frustration via social media and the Vikings’ other primary receiver, Adam Thielen, expressed his frustration in an interview.

Thielen criticized the Vikings for being “one-dimensional” on offense. The Vikings’ offensive struggles have been surprising because Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were one of the league’s best wide receiver duos in the NFL last year, combining for 2,394 yards and 18 touchdowns. So far, however, the Vikings’ receivers have not lived up to expectations.

Many expect this to change in week five against the Giants. The Vikings are expected to open up their offense and try to get Thielen and Diggs heavily involved in order to fix their offensive inconsistency. The Giants’ defense is a favorable matchup for Minnesota’s offense.

The Giants’ defense allowed their opponents to have huge offensive performances in each of the first three games of the season. New York allowed the Cowboys to gain 405 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air, then allowed Josh Allen to throw for 237, and then allowed Jameis Winston to toss an impressive 355 and 3 touchdowns. The Vikings are aware of this and will look to be the next offense with a breakout game against the Giants.

Fortunately for New York, their defense stepped up big in week four. The Giants allowed the Redskins to gain only 121 yards through the air. The Giants also forced the Redskins to throw 4 total interceptions. In week five, it will be interesting to see which side prevails: the improving Giants’ defense, or the struggling Vikings’ offense.

How the New York Giants can beat the Minnesota Vikings in week 5

While the New York Giants have had relative success against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones at the helm, the Minnesota Vikings present an entirely different challenge. Concerning the Vikings, the Buccaneers own the 21st ranked defense, and the Redskins the 28th ranked defense.

Minnesota sits at number six, allowing just 312.75 yards per game, but they do allow a 72.1% completion rating to opposing quarterbacks, ranking 27th. That should give Jones an advantage considering his accuracy thus far and efficiency on third downs.

Where the New York Giants might find it difficult to succeed is when they throw the ball downfield, as the Vikings rank seventh with a 5.9 pass yards per attempt. They also rank incredibly high in rushing yards per attempt with just 3.7. The Giants will, unfortunately, be without star running back Saquon Barkley to handle the load, so they will look to Wayne Gallman to supplement his loss.

Fighting for extra yards against a tough Vikings defense will be incredibly difficult, so we should expect to see Jones throwing the ball a lot and moving the chains on short completions.

Here are three New York Giants players than need to step up:

1.) Evan Engram

There is not a single linebacker in the NFL that can cover tight end, Evan Engram. The third-year player has totaled 167 receiving yards with Jones at the helm. His yards per reception skyrocketed from approximately 9 to 15 after Eli Manning was benched.

His influence will be essential in beating the Vikings, especially in the middle of the field, and creating bad matchups for opposing linebackers. He will also be a security blanket for Jones in the passing game, and we should expect to see him featured quite often.

His blocking will be necessary as well, especially for Gallman, who will find it tough to run against a stout Vikings defensive front.

2.) Daniel Jones

Next on the list is inevitably Daniel Jones. The rookie passer has faced off against decent-to-bad defenses in his first two NFL starts, but the Vikings represent an entirely different beast. They are the number one team in spending on the defensive side of the ball and will utilize those assets to put pressure on Jones and force him to make mistakes.

Luckily, head coach Pat Shurmur is familiar with their defensive scheme. Hopefully, he can dial up some unique plays to get around their strengths. Jones must stay calm and prepared for this matchup.

We should expect to see the rookie under pressure a lot and need to utilize his legs. Ultimately, it comes down to third-down conversions, which he has been extremely advantageous with in the last two weeks. He has averaged over 50% on converting on third downs, where Manning was achieving just 21%.

3.) DeAndre Baker

DeAndre Baker is one of the highlights from the last two weeks as well, bouncing back from two terrible performances to allow just five catches and 35 yards. He completely shut down Chris Godwin, who thrashed the Los Angeles Rams defense for 173 yards and two scores only one week ago.

Baker will now have to face off against Stefon Diggs, who has publicly announced his displeasure with the Vikings team. That could cause him to feel a bit overwhelmed and underappreciated, giving Baker a mental advantage. The Giants need him to step up in this big game and lockdown his opponent as he is capable of doing.

New York Giants: Why Sunday is the Biggest Game Since 2016

The New York Giants head into week five with a winning percentage of .500 for the first time since 2016.  They have won two straight games for the first time in three seasons. They finally have some momentum. Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings will test if that momentum can carry them for the rest of the season, or if it’s just a mirage. Rookie starting QB Daniel Jones is 2-0 to start his career, but neither of those wins came against elite teams. The Vikings present a challenge to both Jones and the rest of Big Blue. Winning this game would prove that they’re for real and that the playoffs are realistic this season. It would also give a major confidence boost to the locker room before they play New England next week.

Why Sunday’s game against Minnesota is the biggest game since 2016:

The first strong opponent in the Daniel Jones era

Rookie QB Daniel Jones has played exceptionally thus far. Through two games, he has a 69.0% completion percentage, has thrown for 578 yards, and has accounted for five touchdowns. All of those numbers have come against rather mediocre opponents though. His first start was against Tampa Bay, a team that sports the same record as the Giants. His second start came against a Washington team that is yet to win a game this season.

Minnesota will be Jones’ first major challenge. The Vikings boast the sixth-best defense in the NFL, allowing just 312.8 total yards per game. That is significantly better than his first two opponents, who both give up more than 377 yards per game. If Jones can put up impressive numbers against a stout Minnesota defense, it will be clear that he is the real deal.

An opportunity to prove the Giants are for real

As mentioned above, the Giants’ two wins have come against underwhelming teams. Beating a playoff-contending Vikings team would put the Giants on the map. They have the opportunity to be a game above .500 for the first time since that same 2016 season. A win on Sunday would be a major step towards playing in January.

A win would build confidence for New England

The Giants have a short week next week, as they travel to New England for a Thursday night clash with the Patriots. Assuming the defending champs beat the winless Redskins this week, it would be another David v Goliath clash. The Patriots would be riding high at 5-0 while the Giants would continue to prove the doubters wrong.

Beating a near-elite team in Minnesota would do wondrous things for Big Blue. Heading into New England with a 3-2 record, a big home win under their belt, and a locker room full of confidence sounds like a great recipe for success. A tough loss on Sunday could easily derail the team.

It is vital that the Giants pull out a win on Sunday if they wish to keep their season alive. There hasn’t been a bigger game for three seasons. While it may only be week five, a loss could send the team spiraling towards another year of disappointment.