The Bears' quarterback battle could set the course for this season
Each team in the NFL's NFC North division underwent some changes during this past offseason. Some changes were for the better, some were investments for the future, while some have created voids at certain positions. As we continue the march towards the 2020 regular season, each NFC North team has some concerns that they will need to address on the field. Whether it's a position that wasn't properly addressed in the offseason, or an ongoing need, each team will need to overcome these concerns by performing on game day. Here are the biggest concerns for each NFC North franchise.
Chicago Bears' quarterbacks
We all know that the game of football starts and ends with the player under center. And that is especially evident for the Bears this season, as their quarterback position is under a great deal of scrutiny. Because of the up and down career that Mitchell Trubisky has had to this point, the Bears traded for Nick Foles during the offseason to provide competition. There are pros and cons with both players in this situation.
Foles is a more polished and proven player than Trubisky is, but he's dealt with injuries a few times, he's never played a full 16-game season, and has had occasional bouts with inconsistency. Trubisky, on the other hand, was the No. 2 overall pick back in 2017 but hasn't lived up to his draft status. Tyler Bray is back to try and earn the third spot on the depth chart again. But the decision on who will start between Trubisky and Foles will go a long way towards deciding how successful the Bears will be this season.
Detroit Lions' pass rush
The Lions were ranked second to last in the league in sacks last year with 28. They got seven sacks each from defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Devon Kennard, who's no longer with the team. In order to improve in this department, the Lions drafted Julian Okwara (who will be used as an edge rusher in some packages), defensive tackle John Penisini (5 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss at Utah), and they lured Danny Shelton (14 QB hits, 14 TFLs) away from New England in free agency. Flowers is still on board, and the Lions hope to get more production from second-year lineman Austin Bryant (eight tackles in four games last year).
Considering both the stable of quarterbacks, and the type of offenses the Lions will line up against this season, they need to be able to get to the quarterback. The offense seems to have all of the pieces in place, now it's time for the defense to do the same.
The development of Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love
When this is your biggest concern that's an indication of how solid the rest of your team is. But in the case of Love, the team's first-round pick this year and the potential heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, his introduction into the NFL has been different because of the coronavirus-impacted offseason and no preseason games. Rodgers is firmly entrenched as Green Bay's starter, but he'll turn 37 in early December, and there already has been plenty of talk about his future with the team. Regardless of when the time comes for the Packers to move on from Rodgers, the coaching staff won't really know what they have in Love until they see him on the field. Barring an injury, game situation will probably dictate if this happens, but getting some regular-season snaps at some point will only help Love make the transition to the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings' offensive line
This group has allowed 68 sacks over the last two seasons combined, which means that Kirk Cousins has taken more than his fair share of hits. And because of that, the Vikings were forced to draft another offensive lineman this season. They chose Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland with the 58th overall pick back in April. The Bears and Packers are the two top defenses in the NFC North, mostly because of their ability to pressure quarterbacks. Having to play them twice a year certainly provides its share of challenges.
Since coming to Minnesota, Cousins is 1-6-1 against Chicago and Green Bay. After signing a two-year, $66 million contract extension ($61 million guaranteed) in March, it's clear the Vikings are committed to Cousins. How well he fares and if he can help lead Minnesota back to the playoffs will depend in large part on how well he is protected.
(Screengrab courtesy of Chicago Bears YouTube channel)