The Packers Hold On in an Injury-Riddled Shootout
The Packers came into this game without Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, and Morgan Burnett, and can be forgiven for surrendering much of the first half lead they built. The Lions were also in rough shape on the defensive side of the ball, missing Ziggy Ansah and Wisconsin alum Deandre Levy, and a depleted Lion defense was just what the Packer offense needed to get going.
Aaron Rodgers and company put on a show in the first half as the Packers scored early and often with strikes to Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, and two to Jordy Nelson, who finally looked like vintage Jordy Nelson, completing the Packers’ longest pass play of the year (49 yards) and abusing defensive backs on short routes. His footwork and ability to create separation remain unparalleled and he showed off the complete skillset on Sunday.
Nelson was only part of the story as the Packers showed much greater formation diversity, and incorporated some quick-hitting timing plays. Davante Adams only saw two targets on the day, but he did a good job shedding his man on a slant and powering into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
Eddie Lacy was also an unstoppable force, ripping off huge gains and reliably setting up the passing game in manageable situations. Lacy was still too hesitant in the backfield at times, but the Lion front 7 was no match for the Packer line and Lacy was able to get into the secondary all day even with less-than-stellar burst.
All of this is positive and there were definitely some things for Packer fans to be excited about in their 34-27 win, but I would take the offensive performance with a grain of salt. Lacy’s success was frankly too easy. The Lions can put a decent starting defense on the field, but they are severely lacking in depth and as a result this may be the worst non-Bear defense the Packers face all season. Moreover, the extreme conservatism of McCarthy’s second half play-calling almost cost them the game anyway, and if Eddie Lacy had not been as dominant as he was, the Lions may have eked out an additional possession and tied it up.
The defense was bad, but Nick Perry and Mike Daniels were outstanding yet again, and even rookie Kyler Fackrell chipped in with a sack. The secondary was repeatedly torched by Marvin Jones, but with no Shields or Burnett, something like this was bound to happen, and the defense did well to contain everyone else. With the bye next week the defense should have a chance to get healthy before the Giants game, where they will be severely tested.
The Packers’ Second Best Receiver
Jordy Nelson leads the Packers in receiving with 206 yards on the season. Coming in at a close second is…
“Pass Interference”. Rookie Trevor Davis drew the Packers’ fifth PI penalty of the season, a whopping 66-yarder on an unbelieveable 70-yard heave by Rodgers in the 2nd quarter. This penalty gave the Packers 177 pass interference yards on the season, 45 yards more than Randall Cobb, the official 2nd leading receiver on the team. The team is averaging over 35 yards per PI penalty thus far and it has been a major component of the offense, which has actually continued to lack a true deep threat. Jordy Nelson’s 49-yard reception is the longest of the season for the Packers, but it was a medium-throw that Nelson took a long way. Bombs have rarely connected, and only 7 of Aaron Rodgers’ attempts this season have netted 20-yards or more. On the other hand four of five PI penalties have netted more than 25 yards, filling in nicely for the deep passing game.
The penalties are nice to have, but they also remind me a bit of the Packers’ success in hitting plays after Rodgers draws a team offsides. It paid huge dividends early last season, but eventually teams stopped jumping and the free yards dried up. These free yards are also not sustainable, as referees are very inconsistent in making PI calls, and in the playoffs they tend to go away entirely. Eventually the Packers are going to have to actually hit on some deep balls, but until then, this fun little fact is keeping them afloat.
Special Teams Saves the Day
There were two huge plays on special teams that went a long way towards ensuring a Packer victory. The first was a brilliant bit of rule abuse by Ty Montgomery, who turned a touchback (or worse) into an illegal kickoff.
On a kickoff, if a player is standing out of bounds or touching any area that is out of bounds, that player is considered to be out of bounds. Since a kickoff that goes out of bounds results in a procedure penalty and the offense starting at the 40-yard line, the rule applies to a kickoff that hits an out-of-bounds player. Montgomery established himself out of bounds and stretched as far as he could to contact that ball, resulting in a very short field for the offense, and a touchdown to Jordy Nelson.
The second came from the much maligned Jake Schum. The new punter has not impressed as of yet, and his 41.5 average (on just two punts) looks quite pedestrian until you re-watch his game-saving catch of an errant snap and quick punt just in front of an onrushing defender.
Schum not only didn’t get blocked and didn’t fumble, he hit a halfway decent 43-yard punt. It was returned 15 yards but under the circumstances, with just 5 minutes remaining in the game and the Packers nursing a narrow lead, it was a huge play.
The Packers next face the Giants in two weeks. The Giant defense has been playing extremely well (despite a slump this weekend against Washington), but the big challenge for the Packers in that game will be their ailing secondary against Odell Beckham, and rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Beckham gets all of the accolades and justifiably so, but according to advanced metrics Shephard has been even better in this young season. He went into the weekend ranked 2nd in DVOA and put up an impressing 5 catch (on 7 targets), 73 yard, 1 touchdown performance. Shepard has the early lead on best receiver in his class, and will be a huge challenge even if Sam Shields has recovered from a concussion. If he remains out, which is entirely possible, we could be in for another shootout.