Well, the offseason is finally drawing to a close. After months of heated debates in who we should draft, who we should sign, and who we should start, the season is right around the corner and football season is about to begin. Preseason officially kicks off today with Dallas and Cincinatti facing one another at the Hall of Fame Game. With that said, lets take a look at how we match up against our bitter rivals in the NFC North.
The Lions have made tremendous strides to improve a porous defense. They traded for former Packers DT Corey Williams. Most of us remember him as the man that grabbed 8 sacks in a single season, which is rather impressive for a DT in a 4-3 defense. However, after trading him to Cleveland, which runs a 3-4 defense, he quickly fell off the map. Once again, he will be returning to the 4-3 in Detroit and looking to forget about his days in Cleveland and play like he did in Green Bay. Ndamakong Suh was also recently signed and will be lining up next to Williams. Suh was considered the best DT in the draft this year and perhaps the best DT to enter the draft in the past decade! Anyone who watched him play at Nebraska knows how beastly he is. Whether or not he plays to that level in the NFL is to be determined. Last but not least, they signed free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch. He's not the player he used to be, but he still has a motor and veteran leadership that proves to be a tremendous asset for the young Detroit defense. He'll line up at RE with veteran DE Cliff Avril returning to play LE. This defensive line looks good on paper, but is definately not invincible. In a way, this defense reminds me of Indianapolis' defense. By that I mean they will frequently be in pass rush mode. Detroit doesn't have a true NT. A force that will be immovable. A body that will clog the line. This line will attack together in full pass rush mode, and they will get their sacks. That alone is an asset and flaw at the same time. If Green Bay can run the ball consistently, we will have no problem in handling this defense. By establishing the run, it will not only slow down the pass rush, but it will allow us to burn their terrible secondary with the playaction. I didn't see any noticeable changes in their offense. They added WR Nate Burleson to their group. He'll help, but is not a serious threat by any means. Their offense should be good, but not elite by any means.
Chicago also made several big moves to change their team. They signed an elite DE in Julius Peppers and signed 3rd down RB specialist Chester Taylor. However, they did lose both Ogunleye and Alex Brown. Tommie Harris and Brian Urlacher will be returning and are expected to be healthy. Peppers and Harris should be a formiddable force, when they put the effort in. If they are contained early, I expect them to dissapear from the game. I expect this defense to be decent overall, but not as intimidating as some may think. No major difference in their secondary, other than drafting Safety Major Wright in the 3rd Round. Their offense may or may not be better with the hiring of offensive guro Mike Martz. Martz is a genious behind an Air-Coryell style of offensive system. Expect the offense to utilize a lot of 3-4 WR sets with Greg Olsen as a WR and Manamaluena as the TE. In Martz's system, the TE usually acts as a blocker and does a delay pass route. He'll try to get Olsen involved as much as possible, and given they way Chicago used him in the past, I expect Olsen to line up as a WR if not on the line in 2 TE formations. Former 1st Round Pick Chris Williams was moved to the LT position from RT. That's all they did to shape up their porous OL. That added in with the fact that Martz system does tend to allow a lot of sacks will mean our defense should match up very well against Chicago's offense.
As for Minnesota, well, we all know Favre will probably return after Training Camp and before the season begins, so lets just take the assumption that he returns. If he does, Minnesota is our biggest threat to win the NFC North. The offense is complete with little holes, other than a decent but aging OL. Their defense should be about the same. No significant changes. I expect LE Rey Edwards to continue to improve, but Pat Williams is catching up in age. Their D wasn't as difficult to run against last year as opposed to previous years, so I expect Grant to be able to run against them. They signed CB Lito Sheppard who provides depth, but he was cut from the Jets because he didn't perform too well last year. Winfield is catching up in age, but he is still good. Overall the secondary will be about the same as last year. Not good, but not bad either. If Favre doesn't return, well, every Non-Viking fan knows this team is doomed. Yeah, Jackson and Guss went 10-6 in 2008. That was against a not so good Bears team and a not good Packers team where we went 6-10, and a winless sorry Lions. Jackson's confidence is probably worse. Even with Jackson though, this is still a good team overall. Who knows though, maybe Jackson did develop sitting on the bench and studying game film.
With all that said, I am optimistic about this season. Our defense has its own question marks regarding the pass rush and secondary, so hopefully they play solid, develop, and the couple games we did get blown out in last year is a distant memory. Our Offensive Line should be fine with Clifton and Tauscher returning healthy. Bulaga will provide quality depth, and TJ Lang has a year under his belt. I expect our offense at its best under the Singleback Formation that features 3 WR's and 1 TE. Even 2 WR's and 2 TE's. This will allow us to effectively run the ball and set up the playaction, which will be dangerous with the quickly emerging star in TE Jermicheal Finley. Having 1 and 2 TE sets will help eliminate our opposing speed rushers in Jared Allen, Rey Edwards, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avrill, and Julius Peppers (which is a little of both). The TE's will be able to chip at them each time they run their route. All in all, this should be a good season for us. Go Pack Go!