Chicago’s NFC North rivals went 3-0 Sunday, upping their combined winning percentage to .833 on the season. Here’s how they did it, plus a quick lookahead to Week 4:
Their upstart ‘D’ generated three more takeaways in the win vs. Denver, bringing its total to a league-leading eight — matching the Bears’ pace a season ago. Arguably no performer has impressed more than second-year CB Jaire Alexander, who helped stymie Emmanuel Sanders (2-10 receiving after compiling at least 5-86-1 in each of his first two games), notching two pass breakups in a third consecutive game, in addition to forcing his first career fumble.
The Packers are taking down quarterbacks in addition to taking away the football, with their 12 sacks — tied for third in the NFL — paced by the Smiths (team-high 4.5 for Preston, followed be fellow newcomer Za’Darius’ 3).
Although Aaron Rodgers and Co. have yet to produce the same gaudy numbers on offense, they did put up 27 points on Denver one week after the Bears mustered only 16, with Rodgers enjoying similarly outstanding protection. In fact, since being sacked five times by Chicago in the opener, Rodgers has only been brought down twice and was only hit once Sunday.
Perhaps the scariest part: With a rookie head coach and new system, after battling three terrific defenses, the 3-0 Packers likely have only begun scratching the surface on offense. Now, they’ll welcome a banged-up 1-2 Eagles team allowing 26 points per game.
Matchup to watch
The Eagles dropped the ball, repeatedly, in their upset loss at home to the Detroit Lions — including the great Fletcher Cox, their All-Pro defensive tackle without a sack this season and so much as a tackle Sunday. He’ll square off next against Packers’ new, high-priced RG Billy Turner, who acquitted himself vs. his former team after a rough start with his new one.
The last time the Lions entered Week 4 without a loss was in 2011 under Jim Schwartz en route to a 10-6 regular season and wild-card berth. Of course the ’19 incarnation under Matt Patricia has that Week 1 tie in the desert on its ledger but finds itself at 2-0-1 after stunning Philadelphia Sunday.
One could argue the many dropped balls from an Eagles’ pass-catching corps missing its two best receivers, much like the pair of missed kicks by the Chargers last week, is a continuation of luck finding Patricia’s Lions. And that might be true. But credit the team for grinding out a tough road victory over a conference heavyweight by making most of the plays it had to, like Matthew Stafford and Marvin Jones hooking up twice — including on a 12-yard TD — immediately after the Eagles cut their deficit to three early in the fourth quarter, and nickel Justin Coleman (three PBUs) helping the ‘D’ stiffen after a blocked field goal that appeared momentarily to be the tide-turning play.
The Lions likely must be much closer to perfect, particularly running and kickiing the football, with Patrick Mahomes’ 3-0 Chiefs touching down Sunday. But they’re showing tangible signs of growth early in Patricia’s second season.
Matchup to watch
Suffice to say, the Lions will need all hands on deck defensively to slow Mahomes, who’s on pace for a cool 6,373 passing yards and 53 touchdowns early in his MVP encore. Problematically, CB1 Darius Slay and interior disruptor Mike Daniels left early Sunday with hamstring and foot injuries, respectively, perhaps shifting the secondary spotlight to formerly undrafted Mike Ford vs. Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson outside opposite Rashaan Melvin.
Still unsure whether Dalvin Cook is among the NFL’s best backs? Minnesota’s new offensive centerpiece finds himself in this Hall of Fame company as only the fifth back ever with at least 110 rushing yards and a touchdown in each of his first three games: Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith.
Indeed, Cook was spectacular yet again in Minnesota’s destruction of the Oakland Raiders, as was rookie RB2 Alexander Mattison for the NFL’s top-ranked traditional run game (Nos. 1 and 3 on the list, Baltimore and Dallas, are byouyed by mobile QBs). The bigger takeaway has to be Kirk Cousins’ first clean and efficient start of the season, even incorporating Adam Thielen (35-yard TD) and second-round TE Irv Smith (team-high 60 receiving yards) in his 15-of-21 passing day.
Mike Zimmer’s ‘D’ got a boost from the debut of 2018 first-round CB Mike Hughes, replacing injured nickel Mackensie Alexander, and continued to receive dominant play off the edges with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen recording sacks.
Matchup to watch
Can it be anything but Cousins against the Bears defensive front? He was a deer in headlights for the majority of both outings last season, and is likely to be again without much more help from new RG Josh Kline against Akiem Hicks and RT Brian O’Neill, who’ll again get all he can handle from Khalil Mack (2 QB hits, 1 PD, 1 strip-sack in last meeting).