- The Bears improved their offensive depth, so can Mitchell Trubisky take the next step? Can the Lions’ offensive line provide needed support for Matthew Stafford and the RBs? Will Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur get along? Is the Vikings’ defense still elite?
The MMQB is evaluating each team’s offseason, division by division. Find all the progress reports here.
Players added: WR Riley Ridley, RB David Montgomery, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, G Ted Larsen, RB Mike Davis, CB Buster Skrine
Players lost: RB Jordan Howard, S Adrian Amos, CB Bryce Callahan, WR Kevin White
In what areas did the team improve? Offensive depth, at least the at skill positions. The injury-prone Kevin White was rarely on the field so his absence does not leave a hole to fill. Still the Bears drafted a receiver for the second year in a row: Georgia fourth-rounder Riley Ridley (brother to Calvin), whom they can afford to bring along at a comfortable clip. Replacing Jordan Howard with tenacious inside runner David Montgomery is a wash, with the caveat that Montgomery might ultimately be a better fit in Matt Nagy’s misdirection-based scheme. On that note, Cordarrelle Patterson is an ideal player in that approach; he gives Chicago a fourth gadget weapon, joining incumbents Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller, last year’s second-round pick.
What area still needs help? The secondary doesn’t “need help,” per se, but it is worse than it was at this time last year. Buster Skrine is a downgrade from unheralded slot star Bryce Callahan, who blitzed well and also understood matchup zone angles. Unreliable ex-Packer Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is an even greater downgrade from steady safety Adrian Amos. The Bears will also likely employ more man coverage than matchup-zone under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. That’s not as ideal a fit for their secondary.
Biggest question heading into the regular season? Can Mitchell Trubisky take that next step? The Bears look complex offensively, but once the ball is snapped, their passing game can be very basic. For their offense to grow, Nagy must have more trust in his young QB.
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Players added: DL Trey Flowers, CB Justin Coleman, TE Jesse James, WR Danny Amendola, RB CJ Anderson, TE T.J. Hockenson, S Will Harris, LB Jahlani Tavai, QB Tom Savage, CB Rashaan Melvin
Players lost: DE Ezekiel Ansah, CB Nevin Lawson, TE Luke Willson, WR Bruce Ellington, DE Kerry Hyder, G T.J. Lang, S Glover Quinn, RB LeGarrette Blount
In what areas did they improve? The Lions feel they’re close to contending, based on the way the team spent big in free agency—namely on defensive lineman Trey Flowers and slot corner Justin Coleman. We already know Flowers, a former Patriot, fits Matt Patricia’s New England-style scheme. But does Coleman? He blossomed in Seattle’s predominantly landmark zone system. The Lions, however, employ a lot more man-to-man concepts.
On offense, Danny Amendola will propagate more of the quick throws and stack-and switch-releases that Patricia wants. (Again, more Patriots concepts.) T.J. Hockenson, it’s hoped, will play the Rob Gronkowski role, with ex-Steeler Jesse James providing depth. Going two tight ends can diversify Detroit’s offense while aiding the running game, which also gets a boost from C.J. Anderson replacing plodding veteran LeGarrette Blount.
What areas still need help? If Teez Tabor can’t be a solid No. 2 corner, Detroit has a weak spot in coverage on the perimeter. Hiding that can be costly, since it impacts how your safeties are deployed. No replacement was found for Lang at right guard, with the hope being that backup Kenny Wiggins can overachieve (which he has before as a fill-in starter).
Biggest question heading into the regular season? Can Detroit’s O-line improve? Besides the question about Wiggins at right guard, you’d like last year’s first-round guard Frank Ragnow and 2016 third-round center Graham Glasgow to be more consistent road-graders. An inept running game has hamstrung this team for years. With Anderson and incumbent starter Kerryon Johnson, the Lions are more than good enough in the backfield. Those guys need help from the men up front.
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Green Bay Packers
Players added: OLB Za’Darius Smith, OLB Preston Smith, S Adrian Amos, G Billy Turner, S Darnell Savage, DL/DE Rashan Gary, TE Jace Sternberger, C Elgton Jenkins
Players lost: OLB Clay Matthews, LB Jake Ryan, WR Randall Cobb, CB Bashaud Breeland, DT Muhammad Wilkerson, EDGE Nick Perry
In what areas did they improve? New edge defenders Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith are upgrades over a declining Clay Matthews and a disappointing Nick Perry, but neither is a pure edge bender. Fortunately, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme won’t ask them to be. Pettine believes in disguising and overloading pressure. Many of Green Bay’s critical edge rushes, in fact, involve blitzing cornerbacks. This means inside rushes for Za’Darius Smith, who has the quick hands and explosive hips to thrive in that role. Preston Smith is less of a fit; don’t be surprised if he plays fewer than 1/3 of the third down snaps. Rashan Gary, in fact, could soon prove to be a much better option.
More important in Green Bay’s scheme are the safeties, who are part of those pressure designs and also critical to Pettine’s staple presnap disguises. Adrian Amos and first-rounder Darnell Savage (whom Green Bay traded up to get) will be used in various ways.
What areas still need help? Davante Adams is a true No. 1 receiver but Geronimo Allison, Marqueze Valdes-Scantling and Equanimious St. Brown still carry question marks. Granted, those question marks might be getting smaller, given how those young receivers all have great size and have flashed in different moments. But it remains to be seen how this receiving corps fits together. Another concern (though small) is the lack of a natural slot weapon. Adams is the best fit for that role, and to influence coverages, the Packers will often want their best receiver aligned outside. Fortunately, though, first time head coach Matt LaFleur’s scheme features condensed formations, which can make a slot receiver’s job similar to an outside receiver’s.
Biggest question heading into the regular season? How will the LaFleur-Aaron Rodgers marriage work? LaFleur’s scheme is predicated on disciplined spacing and timing. Rodgers, a sometimes-unconventional dropback QB, has never had to run that sort of offense in the NFL.
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Players added: G Josh Kline, DT Shamar Stephen, QB Sean Mannion, C Garrett Bradbury, RB Alexander Mattison, G Dru Samia, TE Irv Smith, QB Jake Browning
Players lost: S Andrew Sendejo, QB Trevor Siemian, G Tom Compton, G Mike Remmers, G Nick Easton, RB Latavius Murray, S George Iloka, DT Sheldon Richardson
In what areas did they improve? Interior offensive line—the only area that needed notable improvements. Last year’s interior guards Mike Remmers and Tom Compton and center Pat Elflein simply could not move the line of scrimmage, which is why offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who was fired in December, did not run the ball as much as head coach Mike Zimmer wanted. New offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will run the ball, because it’s crucial for the Gary Kubiak-style outside zone running game the team has installed to better accommodate Kirk Cousins. Garrett Bradbury was considered by many to be the best pure outside-zone-blocking interior lineman in the draft. His arrival moves Elflein to guard, where he should be better. At the other guard spot, ex-Titan Josh Kline is very average, but that’s better than what this team had last season.
What areas still need help? Receiving depth. Starting wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are two of the game’s very best, but No. 3 receiver Laquon Treadwell has not proven reliable. In fact, don’t be surprised if ex-Bronco Jordan Taylor or quick slot receiver Chad Beebe (son of longtime Buffalo Bill Don Beebe) takes more of Treadwell’s snaps. Tight end is another area of concern. The newly extended Kyle Rudolph is not a threatening receiver, which explains why the team drafted Irv Smith in Round 2. With No. 3 tight end David Morgan being more of a blocker, the Vikings don’t have a lot of receiving flexibility at this spot. They also are hoping that a rotation of recent mid-round drafted players can fill departed 3-technique's Sheldon Richardson's role.
Biggest question heading into the regular season? Is this still a top-shelf defense? Stealing would-be free agent linebacker Anthony Barr back from the Jets was a big win, but it won’t matter as much if star corner Xavier Rhodes struggles like he did in 2018 and safety Andrew Sendejo’s exit proves damaging. The hope is Rhodes will stay healthy and Sendejo’s in-house replacement, undrafted fifth-year pro Anthony Harris, will continue to play aggressively. If they don’t, this defense falls off the league’s top shelf.
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