Monday, September 26, 2016

Packers (2-1) Hold On To Beat Lions, 34-27

After the Green Bay Packers built up a 31-3 lead over the Lions, it looked like an easy, bounce back win. But with less than a minute to go in the first half, WR Marvin Jones ran by, and ran around, undrafted rookie CB Josh Hawkins for a 73 yard touchdown pass and the Lions made a game of it in the second half.
QB Aaron Rodgers might have felt like he was back, though it was mostly that WR Jordy Nelson was back. Rodgers targeted Nelson early and often, and those two led the team on five first-half scoring drives. But no one else really got going. There was talk of featuring Ty Montgomery and Trevor Davis, and Davis did draw a monster pass interference penalty but he also dropped his only recorded target of the game. Montgomery had a carry (filling the Randall Cobb backfield role) but he didn't have a pass thrown his way. The biggest change was that Rodgers didn't force it to either Davante Adams and Randall Cobb (only 5 targets combined) and instead spread the ball around to several receivers. But it was Rodgers to Nelson that was doing all the damage.

The Lions don't have a great secondary, also about half of their defense is currently injured, so this wasn't much of a test for the Packers' offense. RB Eddie Lacy had another strong game (he's at 5.0 ypc after 3 games) but he's not a big play maker. When he gets into the open field, there's no threat that he's going to outrun any defender. Maybe that's why the Packers kicked the tires this week on free agent RB C.J. Spiller; they could use another explosive player, especially a big play threat in the backfield.

This game was also another big lead at home that Mike McCarthy let become close. I don't disagree with the strategy to run out the clock with a big lead, when your team has nearly any other QB in the league. But Rodgers is so careful with the ball (Week 2 Vikings game excepted) that there's little risk in keeping the playbook wide open. The defense had a lot of trouble getting off the field, the Lions dominated the time of possession battle, and those two late game drives that ended in punts couldn't have come at a worse time for the defense.

As for the defense:
That unit is scrapping the bottom of the roster's barrel. That lineup was probably last used in the final mop-up, rest all the starters, preseason game at Kansas City. That's not a great NFL defense.

But that's where they are after all their injuries. I liked CB Josh Hawkins during the preseason, but he's a work in progress and Marvin Jones proved he's not ready. I've been up-and-down on CB LaDarius Gunter over the last year, but he's starting to look better with some more playing time. Both 2015 draftees, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, were terrible against the Lions (Randall was dealing with something) and no matter what happened against the Lions it's another bad game for both of them, and another sign that they're both regressing instead of improving. Randall at least made up for it some what with another INT.

But the run defense was once against outstanding (though the Lions have been inept at running the ball for the past few seasons) and the pass rush was strong even without OLBs Clay Matthews and Datone Jones. Nick Perry had 2 sacks in an expanded role (and a stupid 15 yard penalty) while rookie Kyler Fackrell had his first NFL sack against the Lions rookie 1st round LT. The run defense and the pass rush was still there, even while the secondary fell apart without CB Sam Shields. It looks like Shields will return later this season, but his retirement might be happening soon because of the severity of his concussions. What was looking like a strong position back in August is becoming a major concern in the short and long terms.

I dislike early bye weeks, but the Packers are dealing with so many early season injuries that they could use the week off right now. Their next game might be a match-up nightmare against the Giants, who feature three quality wide receivers while the Packers might not currently have a single, healthy cornerback who'd have any chance against WR Odell Beckham Jr. But it'll also be at Lambeau, a week after the Giants take on the Vikings in Minnesota, so the Giants might be worn out while the Packers are rested and had two weeks to prepare.

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