The Green Bay Packers are off to a slow start once again under Mike McCarthy, after losing 19-7 at Detroit and dropping to 1-2 on the season.
12:10, 1st Quarter – This week the Packers offense waited until the second play to turn the ball over.
Surprise, surprise, the Packers started the game on defense in their old base 3-4 defense. That used to be the Packers’ preferred defense against the run, but it didn’t work here. The Lions ran Reggie Bush and then Joique Bell right at Jamari Lattimore and got 11 yards. A.J. Hawk wasn’t blocked on either play, but failed to make a tackle short of five yards. On first down, Reggie Bush saw Hawk coming and chose to run on the wrong side of his blocker and right into Lattimore. No matter. Bush ran right through him for six yards.
The Packers switched quickly to the 4-3 and stuffed Bush for a 2-yard gain on the following first down. After a Matthew Stafford wild throw for an incompletion, it was 3rd and 8. The Packers had their amoeba pass rush package in with only Datone Jones with a hand on the ground. Mike Neal let Stafford slip through his grasp, only to throw wide right of Golden Tate, who was well-covered on the play by Tramon Williams.
Randall Cobb took the punt return 22 yards to give the Packers pretty good starting field position at their 37.
On first down, the Packers started with their regular three receiver set with Eddie Lacy in the shotgun. As would be the norm for the game, the Lions played a two deep zone with six in the box. Seeing this, Rodgers handed it to Lacy who did well to get three yards after David Bakhtiari lost track of Stephen Tulloch and Corey Linsley failed to block DeAndre Levy. On second down, facing the same defense, Rodgers handed it to Lacy again who tried to shoot through a closing gap between Josh Sitton, Bakhtiari and Linsley. Lacy ran right into the backside of Linsley and spilled it, right after Nick Fairley got a hand on the ball to knock it loose. The ball lay on the ground, unbeknownst to the Packers, until Lions’ safety Don Carey picked it up and ran 40 yards for the score.
That’s essentially the same as spotting the Lions seven points.
10:50, 1st Quarter – To make matters worse, the Packers offense then followed with a three and out.
James Starks entered the game with Lacy on the bench. Starks took what was there on first and second down to give the Packers a very manageable 3rd and 3. On third down, the Packers ran a very familiar route combo with Cobb running an out and up from the slot while Jordy Nelson runs a dig from the outside. Nelson was open easily for the first down, but as we have seen several times before, Rodgers threw to Cobb instead, who was well-covered by Danny Gorrer. To Rodgers’ credit, he threw perhaps his best pass of the game and placed it perfectly over Cobb’s shoulder. Cobb just flat dropped it.
The Lions followed with a three and out of their own. On 3rd and 8, Julius Peppers got into Stafford’s face and forced another errant throw.
The Packers took over from their 28. The Packers began to spread the Lions out more by placing their tight end, Richard Rodgers, in the near slot. Eddie Lacy was back in the game and took a pitch up the middle for 6 yards. Rodgers then picked up an easy first down with an out to Cobb for 8 yards. That would be the end of the party for the Packers. After a pitch to Lacy got nothing because no one blocked anyone, Rodgers threw a backshoulder to Jarrett Boykin that was dropped. This stuck the Packers in 3rd and 10. Rodgers got sacked by Tulloch, who was covering Lacy on the play, but seeing Lacy stay in the backfield to block, he charged through and got the sack when Rodgers tried to run out instead of dumping it to Richard Rodgers over the middle.
Comically, Tulloch then tore his ACL by way of discount double check.
3:50, 1st Quarter – It was at this mark when the interception drought for the Packers safeties mercifully ended.
The Lions appeared to have something going on their next drive when Golden Tate ran a simple hook route between the Packers linebackers and Stafford found him for 17 yards. The foray into Packers’ territory would end abruptly however, after the Lions tried an end around to Jeremy Ross on second down. For the first time all year, the Packers reacted quickly to the play with Peppers and Lattimore both taking away the edge. When Ross tried to pull up, Matthews caught him from behind and dropped him for a 5-yard loss. What do you know?
On the following 3rd and long, Stafford tried to fire into a hole in the Packers zone, the ball went off the hands of his receiver and into the arms of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Packers started with the ball at their 41 after a personal foul penalty was added to the end of the return.
Hilariously, the broadcast play-by-play announcer called the pick like this — “Incomplete! Off the hands of Porter and now picked up by Jarrett Bush.” Haha… good work, sir. That is a trifecta of announcer ineptness.
Aaron Rodgers would then lead a sharp, nine-play, 59-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 7-7.
Rodgers first found Nelson on a simple square in between defenders. Nelson burst upfield for 14 yards. Three plays later, facing 3rd and 10, Rodgers made his best play of the game when he scrambled to his right and fired on the run to Nelson along the sideline for a 16-yard gain. Starks cut off Bryan Bulaga for a 9-yard gain on the next play. Facing 3rd and 1 from the Lions’ 10, Rodgers threw a bullet over the middle to Andrew Quarless for the score.
Not exactly my ideal 3rd and 1 play. If it was supposed to fool anyone, it didn’t. The safety was all over Quarless, but Rodgers threw a hard and high pass and Quarless made a great catch. Touchdown.
13:20, 2nd Quarter – An interception by the Packers turned into a huge play for the Lions.
We all know how the Packers typically play defense after a touchdown drive, but not this time.
The Lions got a first down and a 26-yard completion down the sideline on Calvin Johnson’s first catch of the game. However, 3rd and 10 would follow. Facing pressure from Peppers again, Stafford did what he does and threw it up for Johnson. Megatron was running the out and up on Davon House. House played it perfectly and outran Johnson for the ball, even using a little push off to gain some extra momentum. House made a nice diving interception that we all briefly celebrated.
It was 3rd and 10, meaning the Lions would have been punting from midfield if the ball falls incomplete. Instead, thanks to a great catch by House, the Packers had to start from their own 1. Stupid rule by the way. If your momentum carries you into the end zone on an interception, it should be a touchback.
Regardless, the Packers had not had a run for a loss yet in the game. When the Packers lined up with seven blockers on the line, double tight end set, the Lions answered with seven. With five defenders on the line to block and two linebackers three yards back, there was exactly no reason why the Packers couldn’t or shouldn’t run the ball on this play. One could take issue with the particular run called, however.
The Packers have the easy option to double team both defensive tackles and release Linsley on a linebacker, which should at least get a couple yards. Instead, they ran a sprint draw that telegraphed the play and required both guards to execute pulls. DeAndre Levy saw Rodgers holding the ball out for Lacy and immediately shot the gap that T.J. Lang was pulling into. Lang over shot Levy and gave him a straight line to Lacy. Lang either thought Levy would cheat to the outside or that he would be where you usually find Packers linebackers — sitting back, waiting for the play to come to them, rather than shooting upfield.
It’s understandable if Lang thought Levy would be more likely heading to the outside, because if Lacy got out there, it would have been a big run. However, that avenue was pretty much shut off when Richard Rodgers was shoved back two yards by Lions’ end Jason Jones. Lacy saw Levy coming and tried to shuffle right and ran smack into Rodgers. The result was the second safety of the season for the Packers in three games. That puts the Packers on pace for 10 safeties by season’s end. Impressive.
It also made the score 9-7 with the Lions’ defense having scored all their points.
6:20, 2nd Q – The Lions capitalized more on the safety by getting a short field and then driving for a field goal.
Tim Masthay punted it 70 yards off the safety. Unfortunately, that means he well out-kicked the coverage. Plus, someone apparently thought simply booming it down the center of the field was a good idea. Jeremy Ross followed blockers to his right and returned it all the way to the Lions’ 45.
From this point forward, the Lions seem to have figured out something about the Packers defense, namely, throw the ball to Reggie Bush against the Packers linebackers. Unable to convert on third down so far in the game, the Lions convert three on this drive — once on a pass to Johnson under the coverage of Shields and twice on dumps to Bush.
Fortunately, after a dump to Bush got to the Packers’ 6-yard line, Peppers dropped Bush in the backfield for a 4-yard loss. On 3rd and goal from the 10, Peppers whiffed on tackling Stafford but forced him to his right, where Mike Neal tracked him down for a sack.
The Lions still got a field goal to stretch their lead to 12-7.
The Packers appeared poised to respond when they cobbled together a halfway decent drive of their own.
The Packers moved from their own 19 to the Lions’ 37 with all of it being on the ground except for one short pass to Cobb that went for 13 yards. The Packers switched to pitches and designed cutbacks and it worked. Lacy had two runs for seven, and then Starks cut back on third and 1 for a 15-yard gain right up the middle.
Unfortunately, from there, the Packers would put on a display on how to ruin a promising drive. On first down, Rodgers runs to his right out of a pocket he doesn’t need to leave and then fires towards a double-covered Nelson to be nearly picked off. On second down, Josh Sitton false started, making it 2nd and 15. With plenty of time to do whatever, Rodgers then fired to Nelson for a 4-yard gain. On 3rd and 11 from the 38, the Packers didn’t even need the first down. In a 12-7 ball game, a field goal would be huge and the Packers were borderline in range. A mere short gain here would have been a positive for the Packers.
Rodgers drops back and has Quarless on the out for probably at least 8 yards, but for some reason, Rodgers wanted to run to his right again, though no one was pressuring him to do so. By stepping right, Rodgers moved right into the path of an otherwise blocked Nick Fairley. Rodgers stopped and ran back to his left, only to get caught and sacked by Ndamokong Suh, who knocked Lang flat on his ass. Punt.
The Lions would miss a field goal to end the half after Corey Porter pushed off on Sam Shields to put them in range.
12:40, 3rd Q – Long gone are the Sundays of the fall of 2011, when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense regularly shredded teams coming out of the half. Now, the Packers are as likely to go nowhere after half as they are at the start of the game.
The Packers did try something different on their first drive of the second half. They played Quarless in the single tight end set, and they asked him to catch passes instead of blocking. Aaron Rodgers also appeared to realize that throwing short passes works just as well as running the football against the two deep shell.
Rodgers started the half with a 7-yard pass to Quarless, an 8-yard pass to Quarless, and then a 7-yard pass to Nelson. That gave the Packers 2nd and 3 from their 42. Lacy got the next carry, and he took it to the outside of Bryan Bulaga. Once outside, Lacy did what we’ve seen him do a couple times in every game so far this season. Seeing Levy closing fast, Lacy stopped in the backfield and tried to juke him. Levy slid off the tackle, but several other Lions quickly closed in and buried Lacy for a 2-yard loss. That brought on 3rd and 5 from the 40.
If Rodgers went back to Quarless, or Nelson in the left slot, he probably had a first down. However, he was looking for Boykin along the sideline. It’s covered. As happened repeatedly in this game, Rodgers then saw the right side of his line being pushed back towards him and abandoned a safe pocket to run to his right. Rodgers fired for Cobb on the sideline and threw too high, off Cobb’s hands. Punt.
5:40, 3rd Q – The Lions figured something out about the Packers defense. They realized that the Packers typically play zone on perceived rushing downs. The Lions repeatedly play faked and then threw into the gap between the linebackers and the defensive backs. Both Sam Shields and Davon House gave plenty of room to Calvin Johnson, allowing easy completions of 17 and 15 yards.
When the gaps weren’t there, Stafford merely threw it to Reggie Bush out of the backfield, who the Packers still have no answer for. Lattimore was off the field with cramps, but his replacement, Sam Barrington had no better luck against Bush. A dump to Bush running left got 8 yards, down to the Packers’ 10.
From there, Julius Peppers saved the defense. On 2nd and 10, he beat the right tackle and mugged Stafford in the backfield. Peppers knocked the ball loose and recovered it, completing the sack, fumble, and recovery triple play. Packers’ ball.
The Packers finally had DuJuan Harris in the game. With short passes to Cobb and then Boykin, they advanced to near midfield. On 1st and 10 from midfield, Harris got the pitch on the same play that Starks took for 15 yards earlier in the game. It was a pitch right that is a designed cut back to the middle. The Lion’s right end, Ziggy Ansah, was unblocked on the play. John Kuhn was supposed to cut him. Comically, Kuhn dove at him and missed, falling flat on his face. Ansah forced Harris to the outside where he was gang-tackled for a 3-yard loss.
After throwing low for Cobb, Rodgers faced 3rd and 13 from the 45. The Lions rushed four and played their shell. Rodgers had all sorts of time. Nelson was double covered, but Davante Adams ran a slant and was open in the middle of the field. A simple dump to the running back would have probably gotten at least 10 yards. Rodgers shot for Boykin on the comeback route and threw it miserably short, with Boykin falling down as well.
10:45, 4th Q – The Lions took control of the game by taking nearly six minutes off the clock while driving for a touchdown to take a commanding 19-7 lead.
The clinching Lions’ drive was quite nearly a three and out. On 3rd and 3, Stafford rushed a quick slant to Calvin Johnson and threw behind him and incomplete. The referee crew for this game began the day averaging nearly 29 penalties a game, nearly 10 more than the average for everyone else. Obviously, they got the memo and decided to lower their average. The result was the third game in a row with nary a penalty being called. With all that true, the refs called a big one here and kept the Lions on the field. The call was pass interference on Tramon Williams, who played the ball and made early contact with Johnson. The ball was uncatchable, thrown well behind Johnson, but tell that to someone who cares.
Shortly after that, the Lions faced 3rd and 1 from just past midfield. Tramon Williams was on Golden Tate and just flat got beat. Tate gave Williams an outside move and Williams over played it. When Tate cut back inside, Williams had to do a complete 360. By time Williams found Tate again, Stafford had found him first for 9 yards and a first down.
Essentially, Stafford executed the same throw it short plan that Rodgers had tried and failed to make work since halftime. On 3rd and 2 from the Packers’ 26, the Lions did what every team should do, they use a combination of deception and quickness to attack the edge of the Packers defense. Once again, no one was there, and Bush scooted around the left end for a 26-yard touchdown.
The Lions fooled the gullible Packers by moving tight end Brandon Pettigrew to the left and then having him cross the formation to the right after the snap, as if for a shuffle pass or to lead Reggie Bush. Regardless, virtually every Packer in the front seven went with it. The man responsible for the left edge — Mike Neal — jumped to the inside and was easily hooked out of the play. Micah Hyde initially followed Pettigrew when he moved to the left side, but after the snap, A.J. Hawk appeared to pick up Pettigrew and followed him back to the right.
Though no longer responsible for Pettigrew, Hyde still watched him and appeared as convinced as everyone else that Bush would follow him. When Bush instead took off in the opposite direction, Hyde appeared to be stunned. Bush easily got the corner around him and was free down the sideline. If either Hyde had anticipated the play or merely reacted as soon as Bush was handed the ball, he could have sealed the corner. If Neal had held the edge, then Bush would have been forced inside, directly towards Hyde.
Instead, it was another big play around the corner on the Packers defense. The touchdown would end the scoring for the game.
In only their third, and last, offensive possession of the second half, the Packers moved the ball all the way to the Lions’ 16 before turning the ball over on downs to essentially end the game.
The Packers again seemed to benefit from Quarless being put into the near slot and releasing for passes. Not only did this loosen up the defense for some short passes underneath, including an 18 yarder to Quarless, but it also helped Eddie Lacy break a 17-yard run up the middle. Jordy Nelson also made a very nifty catch and burst up the sideline on an out that went for 18 yards.
However, after a dump to Lacy got 9 yards down to the 16, Lacy foolishly tried a corner that wasn’t there and lost 4 yards, making it 3rd and 5 from the 20.
Sharp on the drive until that point, Rodgers fizzled from there. On third down, Rodgers was again unsettled in the pocket, took too long getting off Cobb, who was well-covered and didn’t see Quarless until Levy had finally closed enough ground to make a play on the ball thrown late. On fourth down, four receivers released for passes, and at least three of them were open. Adams and Quarless were running short slants around the first down and both would have picked it up. However, the replay of Rodgers showed that clearly he was going to Nelson pre-snap.
The Lions were doubling Nelson with Levy in trail coverage and a safety over the top. Nelson gave Levy an outside move and cut in, breaking wide open, away from both defenders. All for naught. Rodgers threw the ball behind Nelson and only failed to have it picked because the defense was even further behind than the ball was.
There was seven minutes left in the game at that point, but the Lions actually managed to run the clock out. Remember how upset Mike McCarthy allegedly was last season because the defense was failing to get off the field at the end of games? Well, that is two out of the first three games where essentially the opposing offense ran the clock out.
Defensively, the Packers were able to continue their play from the second half of the Jets’ game into the first half of this game. That is especially a good sign considering that the Packers played mostly the 4-3 against the Jets, while playing mostly their normal nickel defense with some 3-4 base played as well.
They defended the run well all game, with the exception of the Bush touchdown, which was just more of the same thing we’ve seen from the last two games. They also defended Calvin Johnson pretty well. That combination really put the game on Stafford’s shoulders, and like Rodgers, he struggled to consistently make plays.
On the other hand, the Lions made adjustments in the second half and the Packers’ players and coaches failed to do anything about it. The Lions consistently threw under the coverage and no one stepped up to make a play. Everyone kept backpedaling and giving up ground. As a result, the Lions had the ball for nearly 20 minutes of the second half and didn’t punt once. Also as a result, the Packers offense only had the ball three times in the half.
Julius Peppers had a big game. His strip sack was exactly the kind of play that he was brought over for, and without him, the second half would have looked worse than it did. Altogether, the Packers pass rush continues to look good. Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and Clay Matthews when he was out there, all managed to get after Stafford and make some plays.
Davon House and Tramon Williams continue to ball. The Packers could get more from Sam Shields. He has merely been okay so far. Oddly, though the fastest guy on the team, Shields gives up more ground than anyone.
The Packers are still a work in progress at safety. Likely because he played the position in college, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix appears to be ahead of Micah Hyde at this point. Hyde is uncertain and appears afraid to make a mistake. Well, fear will cause hesitation and hesitation will cause your fears to come true — see Reggie Bush running past you. Morgan Burnett has been okay. He is the Packers’ best coverage safety, but his tackling will probably never be a strongpoint.
The Packers have nothing at middle linebacker. A.J. Hawk shouldn’t have lost the weight he did. Never an overly physical guy, Hawk is worse than ever at getting through traffic to ball carriers. Meanwhile, his weight drop hasn’t eased his limitations in the passing game. Jamari Lattimore attacks the line of scrimmage better than any other middle linebacker on the team, but he is small and every time he hits someone, they get another three yards before Lattimore can get them down. He also still blows assignments altogether.
Lattimore sat out some of the second half because of cramps. Sam Barrington didn’t flash in the time he was in there, but it was his first game time so he at least might have an excuse. Personally, I see no reason why Barrington or anyone else can’t get a shot at the position. The Packers aren’t getting much of anything from it right now. Oh, and have I mentioned it is a disaster in coverage?
The offense was 2012 all over again. The Lions sat back in the shell, with six defenders in the box, and dared the Packers to run. Unlike 2012, the Packers actually ran the ball with some intermittent success. Unfortunately, they also made some huge mistakes in the run game, including a fumble for a touchdown, a safety, and numerous loss yardage plays during inopportune times.
Someone should have noticed that when opponents play the two deep, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t even TRY to throw the ball deep. Obviously, the point of the two deep defense is to take away the long ball, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even try it, nor that it CAN’T be beat. By not even throwing the ball deep once, the safeties didn’t have to think twice about playing aggressive on the shorter routes.
When the long plays aren’t there, the offense relies on consistent execution to move the ball and score points. Since you can’t get it done in one great play, you need 10 good plays to get it done.
So, with that understood, throw together missed blocks, poor run decisions, dropped passes and inaccurately thrown passes, and you easily understand why the Packers couldn’t score more than one touchdown on Sunday.
The Packers wide receiver corps did not have a good day on Sunday. Randall Cobb dropped three passes. Jarrett Boykin dropped two. The Packers obviously need those guys to pick their games up. And where is Brandon Bostick? He is out there on special teams, but he can’t play offense? I totally don’t get what is going on. Andrew Quarless is clearly the best tight end option that the Packers have. Maybe the coaching staff was convinced that Richard Rodgers was the better run blocker, but I don’t see it. Play Quarless and throw him the damn ball.
Eddie Lacy is off to a slow start and James Starks has been clearly the better running back thus far. Lacy is running hard and flashes at times, but unlike the preseason, he isn’t finding the gaping holes that J.C. Tretter helped create for him. Facing oncoming defenders instead, Lacy is hesitant and trying to absorb contact rather than lowering his shoulders and gaining what he can.
Unlike last season at Detroit, the offensive line held their own against the vaunted Detroit defensive line. Corey Linsley missed some blocks, and T.J. Lang got dominated at times against Suh. However, did Ziggy Ansah play? You could barely tell because David Bakhtiari silenced him. He got nowhere near Aaron Rodgers. The Lions only got two sacks and Rodgers had time on both of those. The Packers might have actually unnecessarily handicapped themselves by helping Bryan Bulaga early on rather than letting their tight ends loose. Bulaga did fine.
Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are the central engine that makes the offense work and neither are getting it done right now. In fact, a good case can be made that they are regressing rather than improving. I see other quarterbacks, including Stafford in this game, hanging in the pocket, going through their reads oblivious to the pass rush and then delivering the ball right before getting hit. Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, has been making it through maybe two reads before looking to run from the pocket. And when he does get outside the pocket, the lethal accuracy that set Rodgers above everyone else appears to be gone. He now misfires from outside the pocket just as often as he doesn’t.
As much as Rodgers hasn’t seemed to improve against the two deep, Mike McCarthy amazingly also remains unable to come up with a game plan that can beat it, other than the simple answer of running the football. Yes, the Lions consistently left six in the box, and the Packers SHOULD have been able to run it. However, that ISN’T the only way to beat the two deep defense. That defense is vulnerable in the middle of the field, especially when the linebackers are playing aggressive to the line of scrimmage like Detroit’s were. Why did it take until the second half to start throwing the ball there?
The Packers under Mike McCarthy typically start 2-3, and looking at the schedule, that appears likely once again. On the bright side, one can easily argue that the three most difficult road games of the year will be done once the Packers leave Chicago. However, unless this offense begins to resemble the unit we expected it to be, it won’t matter who we play for the remainder of the schedule.