Each NFC North Team’s Greatest Weakness After the NFL Draft and Free Agency
Continuing a series that started by examining the AFC North, this post will flip over into the NFC and examine the greatest weaknesses of the NFC North sides. The Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions could all be considered playoff-challengers this year because of their strengths, but it’s their weaknesses that could cost them that post-season berth.
Ever since he arrived in Chicago, new head coach Marc Trestman has set about addressing the team’s most glaring needs. His first priority was to build an offense that was better suit to serve quarterback Jay Cutler’s needs. Cutler hadn’t worked behind a worthwhile offensive line since coming over from the Denver Broncos. Four of Trestman’s most notable moves were made to improve the protection for his newly inherited quarterback.
Martellus Bennett will not only be a good receiving option for Cutler, but he is also one of the better blocking tight ends in the league who can stay in to help the team’s offensive tackles. Both of those offensive tackles are new, at least J’Marcus Webb will move to the right side which is a new position for him after the arrival of left tackle Jermon Bushrod in free agency. Bushrod followed Aaron Kromer from New Orleans, as the Saints’ former offensive line coach became the team’s offensive coordinator. Finally, in the NFL draft, the Bears landed Kyle Long in the first round, a prospect who is expected to start at left guard as a rookie.
After all of those moves, the Bears’ offensive line could easily become an area of strength for the Bears this year. However, that would require two players who are changing positions to immediately improve to the level of reliable starters. J’Marcus Webb was developing as a left tackle, but his whole world has been inverted now on the right-hand side. If he has to adjust to that changeover, his performances will likely suffer. In a similar situation is new right guard Gabe Carimi, who was drafted in the first round a few years ago to be an offensive tackle. Injuries and production have curtailed Carimi’s development to this point.
Outside of the offensive line, the Bears’ other notable weaknesses could prove to be the coaching staff, which is essentially an unknown at this point, the linebacking corps, which has been rebuilt, or Jay Cutler, who for all his positives has developed a tendency to focus in on his best receiver too often. This is one of the more intriguing teams entering the 2013 NFL season.
Unless something drastic happens, the Detroit Lions’ culture is always going to be their greatest weakness. Ndamukong Suh quietly had a decent season last year and kept his nose clean in terms of suspensions, but again he wasn’t much of a factor against the run and the lack of discipline had permeated through the defense into the offense. Matthew Stafford set a record for pass attempts last year, something that shows off how the offensive coordinator falls in love with the pass without looking to keep the defense honest, and Stafford’s awful mechanics were on show more often than not.
Putting up big numbers and being a reputable player is what the Detroit Lions’ roster is all about. There is no character, leadership or winning mentality. If there was, Suh wouldn’t be giving up gap integrity on almost every running play and Stafford wouldn’t be consistently forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, throwing without his feet on the ground or side-arming passes for the sake of it. None of those things help you win, but they will help you bloat your individual statistics.
From a sheer talent point of view, the Lions have the clay that can be molded into a winning group, but the artist working with that clay needs to have an overall goal that works towards winning. That is not something that the Lions showed last year.
Green Bay Packers
Although they have had some major issues on defense in recent times, the influx of two drafts worth of talent on that side should help in 2013. Instead, it’s a familiar flaw that could prove fatal for the Packers this year. In order to try and address that flaw, the Packers have flipped faces around into different positions rather than signing anyone from the outside.
Young star Bryan Bulaga and all-pro talent Josh Sitton have been the right side of the Packers’ offensive line in recent years. However, just last week the Packers announced that Sitton was swapping over to left guard and Bulaga would follow him to become the team’s new left tackle. There is no question that both players can fill those roles with relative ease, but the transitions do highlight some questions that will need to be answered.
Will Bulaga and Sitton need time to adjust into the regular season? It only takes one bad hit on Rodgers to end the Packers’ season. How will all the upheavel affect the unit’s cohesion and communication when added to the fact that Evan Dietrich-Smith is a very inexperienced starting center. Will Marshall Newhouse regress now that he is going to be playing right tackle? Or does he lose his place to rookie David Bakhtiari?
Unsurprisingly, a team that has the best quarterback in the league and a defense that has received several influxes of talent in recent times doesn’t have any major question marks on paper.
The Vikings have been really aggressive this off-season, so much so that it appears they believe that their roster is worthy of making a deep run in the playoffs this year. The additions of Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes all epitomize what Leslie Frazier thinks of his roster, but more importantly they add play-makers who can continue the develop of the roster as a whole. Outside of a few veterans such as Chad Greenway, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, most of the Vikings’ roster is youthful.
Importantly, they are young at the quarterback position also. Important, but not impressive.
Many Minnesota Vikings fans were desperate for their team to add a deep threat or two to the offense last season for Ponder, but Jairus Wright, Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins weren’t exactly slow, it was more that Ponder isn’t a deep ball passer. Ponder is smart, athletic and accurate, but he doesn’t have what scouts call an NFL arm because he can’t make every throw in the play-book. On an offense that sees defenses over-commit to playing the running-game, Ponder simply isn’t set up for success from a statistical point of view.
Instead of Ponder, the Vikings really need a quarterback in the style of Joe Webb. The style, but not the ability. Webb is more athletic than Ponder with a stronger arm, but he simply doesn’t have the refined skill-set, poise or accuracy to be an NFL quarterback. The ideal quarterback for the Vikings would be a Robert Griffin III or a Colin Kaepernick, someone who can push the ball down the field and run hard play-action passes on the move. That’s not saying that they need a quarterback of the quality of Griffin or Kaepernick either. Simply one of Ponder’s ability with different stylistic traits would dramatically improve the whole offense.
Ponder will never be that guy and neither will Matt Cassell, who the team signed to be his backup this off-season.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf