At least offensively speaking, this was the R-E-L-A-X game that Packers fans were waiting for. In a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates, Green Bay defeated the Detroit Lions 34-27, feeding off the strength of a first half aerial explosion reminiscent of 2014. Though the points and the win were much needed (especially with Minnesota throttling the Panthers on the road), the Packers still have plenty to get figured out as the season progresses. As I’ll address below, next week’s bye is sorely needed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Offense, Rodgers get back on track at home
Green Bay stormed out to a quick lead in the first quarter, as Rodgers threw for touchdowns on the team’s first three drives. First Davante Adams won a one-on-one slant route for a 14-yard score on third and seven, then on the next drive Jordy found a soft spot in the coverage and Rodgers zipped it in for an 8-yard touchdown. #12 would go on to find Richard Rodgers on a 2-yard bootleg set up by a massive pass interference call on rookie speedster Trevor Davis, and Jordy and Rodgers would connect again for a vintage touchdown before halftime.
The big 28-3 first half lead meant Rodgers only threw the ball 24 times in the win, completing 15 passes to 8 different receivers along the way. The highlight was watching his rekindled connection with Jordy – who now has four touchdowns through three games – which has always been the most important part of this offense. As Jordy continues to get his game legs back, it creates more ways for Green Bay to stretch a defense vertically and to be successful in the red zone. It also seems to make everyone have a little bit more fun out on the field.
Remember that 14-game streak where Rodgers didn’t have a passer rating over 100? That came to an abrupt end on Sunday, as he ended with a 129 passer rating and made all the throws fans are accustomed to seeing. McCarthy frustratingly took his foot off the gas in the second half, letting the Lions slowly creep back into the game. But when it mattered most, Rodgers used his legs in that casual I’m-going-to-run-for-the-first-down-and-it-doesn’t-look-like-I’m-trying style of his, essentially icing the game with a big third down conversion scramble.
Eddie Lacy has quietly looked pretty solid this season, running for 103 yards on 17 carries to raise his yards per carry to a healthy 4.98 on the season. He ran with a mature combination of burst and patience, bouncing off would-be Lions tacklers throughout the day. He too iced the game with his legs, converting a big first down that allowed Rodgers to kneel the ball to end it.
Though it was mostly smiles in Green Bay on Sunday, there’s still plenty of work to do in the clubhouse. For one, Detroit was missing pass rusher Ziggy Ansah and middle linebacker DeAndre Levy, who are the team’s most effective players against the pass and run, respectively. Let’s not pretend that beating an average defense without its two best players – and at home – means the offense is fixed. It would still be nice to see James Starks be more effective with his touches, and McCarthy needs to find ways to get Randall Cobb much more involved. But after I called for a more up-tempo offense with quick throws and a more fluid personnel approach after last week’s loss, McCarthy responded with that and more, installing an effective offensive gameplan that harkened back to 2014. Rodgers got in a rhythm right away on some quick slants, which eventually opened up some deeper seem routes to Jordy, and Ty Montgomery and Trevor Davis were finally given more snaps. In the end, it was an effective day for the offense in need of a boost, and the upcoming bye week will give McCarthy and co. plenty of time to scheme for the Giants in two weeks.
Injuries pile up for defense
Speaking of the bye week, it couldn’t come any sooner for Green Bay’s defense. Coming into the game, Dom Campers’ unit was without outside linebacker Clay Matthews, safety and captain Morgan Burnett, cornerback Sam Shields, nose tackle Letroy Guion and outside linebacker Datone Jones to various injuries. These are all veteran playmakers who play key roles at nearly every level of the defense, and their presences were undoubtedly missed yesterday.
This defense is never the same without Clay’s wreckless playmaking, and it’s never ideal to play without a vocal captain that’s played in the system for many years. But the most significant injury appears to be Shields, as Damarious Randall has now been torched in consecutive weeks by Stefon Diggs and Marvin Jones. After Jones’ 205-yard two-touchdown explosion, Randall has now allowed over 300 yards and two touchdowns between the last two games (Jones’ 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown belonged to Josh Hawkins, not Randall). Shields is simply quicker than the young Randall, a converted safety, and has better technique that doesn’t get fooled as easily by double moves.
Randall’s technique will still improve in time, but the longer Shields is out the longer this becomes a serious position of weakness for the Packers. At defensive back alone, Green Bay gave significant playing time to two undrafted rookie free agents in Josh Hawkins and Kentrell Brice, with a third, Marwin Evans, sprinkled in as well. That’s in addition to the three starting cornerbacks (Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter) that are all sophomores, not to mention the three rookie linebackers who all logged plenty of snaps. As the offense took its foot off the gas, Matthew Stafford was able to lead a formidable comeback through the air. He hit Jones deep and outside the numbers for chunk gains, found tight end Eric Ebron up the seam for 69 yards, and Theo Riddick, Golden Tate, and Anquan Boldin were all effective on short and intermediate routes. Here’s to hoping Shields and the rest of the gang are able to get healthy over the bye with Odell Beckham Jr. and company knocking at the door.
Run defense continues excellent season
No need to cover much here, as it’s been a main takeaway from every game so far. This team’s run defense, a huge question mark coming into the season, has been the most consistent and best performer across three games. Even without run stuffer Guion, and Matthews and Burnett who typically make plays in the running game, Detroit had practically nowhere to run, gaining only 51 yards on 23 carries. Those numbers, inflated by a seven-yard Stafford scramble, don’t even tell the entire story, as Lions lead back Theo Riddick was continuously stuffed at the line throughout the game.
The unheralded linebacker trio of Joe Thomas, Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez continue to be quick at the point of attack and stuff holes before they appear, and it helps to have Mike Daniels continually winning his individual battles. Through two weeks Green Bay ranked first in footballoutsider.com’s comprehensive DVOA metric, and that rank is likely to stay put after swallowing up Detroit’s running game. Now through three weeks, opponents are only averaging a meager 1.8 yards per carry on the ground.
All of this comes without mentioning Nick Perry, who stepped up in Matthews’ absence and was Green Bay’s best defensive player yesterday. A former first round draft pick, Perry has never lived up to the bill thus far, with flashes of potential often marred by inconsistency and a slew of injuries. Finally healthy and in his contract season, Perry seems to be putting it all together at the perfect time. Perry stuffed Riddick in the backfield multiple times, batted a pass down at the line and recorded two of Green Bay’s three sacks. He finished the day with seven total tackles, two for loss, and was even held by Detroit’s rookie tackle Taylor Decker on a crucial holding penalty. Perry has quietly had a great start to the season and will be a key player to watch when the Giants come to Lambeau in two weeks.
- Green Bay didn’t punt until the fourth quarter.
- Ty Montgomery made an incredible heads up play on a kickoff, establishing his feet out of bounds while fielding the ball on the two yard line. The ball is considered out of bounds on the kickoff, resulting in a penalty that allows the offense to start its drive from the forty yard line. Montgomery continues to excel on special teams and has earned a larger snap percentage on offense.
- Lacy rushed for 100 yards for the first time since December 13th (7 games including playoffs). Green Bay is now 8-2-1 when Lacy runs for 100 yards or more.
- According to Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinal, Green Bay’s 128 rushing yards allowed is the lowest franchise total since the stat started being recorded in 1933.
- Randall Cobb didn’t line up in the backfield a single time.
- Tight end Jared Cook left the game early with an ankle injury; Full back Aaron Ripkowski saw his snaps increase before leaving the game with a back injury. Did I mention the bye is needed?
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.