Packers’ Pass Defense Is on Everyone’s Mind
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is always among the league leaders in passing yardage, threw for 385 yards in the Lions’ 23-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers on September 25, easily his best production of the year.
Are there any reasons for Packers fans to think Green Bay’s defense can improve on that number on Sunday?
I think so.
Following the Lions’ 42-21 loss to the Cowboys on Monday night, Stafford’s favorite target, Golden Tate, is at exactly 1,000 yards on the year. He has just three touchdown receptions. I remember him as a highly dangerous receiver against Green Bay, but in his last five meetings with Packers, his receiving yards have been 51, 45, 52, 63, and, in week 3 this year, 40. That is acceptable containment.
Of all those yards given up by the Packers’ defense in that first game, 205 went to unheralded Marvin Jones. In his other 13 games this year, Jones has averaged under 50 yards per game, and he hasn’t had a 100-yard game since running wild against the Packers. The Packers need to, and should, do much better against Jones this time around.
At 17.1 yards per catch, Jones is Detroit’s primary deep threat.
Tight end Eric Ebron was Matthew Stafford’s primary receiver against Dallas, and he was also effective when he first faced the Packers, with five catches for 69 yards. In my mind, the 6’4” 253-pound 2014 first-round draft pick poses the biggest challenge for the Packers’ defense. Surprisingly, he has only one touchdown catch on the year.
Age has caught up with 36-year-old Anquan Boldin. He ranks 89th in receiving yards (527) in the league, and has yet to have a 70-yard receiving game this year. Green Bay held him to four catches for 22 yards in September.
The big unknown in Sunday’s game is whether fourth-year running back Theo Riddick will play. He was hampered much of the year with an ankle injury, and as soon as it healed he seriously injured his wrist. Though declared inactive at the last moment against the Cowboys, Detroit might have decided to rest him for the more important Packers game.
Though listed as a running back, Riddick caught a staggering 80 passes last year. In the 10 games he’s played this year, he has more yardage through the air (371) than on the ground (357). Despite playing injured, he still has managed to catch 53 passes in those 10 games. If Riddick cannot play on Sunday, that should tilt the odds by several points in the Packers’ favor.
How Detroit Looked Against Dallas
Tight end Ebron was the most effective receiver against the Cowboys, with eight catches for 93 yards. Golden Tate, with six catches for 58 yards, also had a decent game. After that, however, none of the other seven receivers used by Detroit gained more than 33 yards in the game. All three of Detroit’s touchdowns came on running plays.
Stafford threw for 260 yards on the night, five yards under his per-game average. Aaron Rodgers is now averaging 7.23 yards per attempt (14th in the league), with Stafford just behind him at 7.20. Based on these seasonal statistics, the upcoming game shapes up to be one filled with short passes and with rushing yardage of little consequence.
A big difference, however, is that Green Bay’s passing game is the best it’s been all year, while Detroit’s is trending downward. In each of Detroit’s last two games, both losses, Stafford has thrown for no more than 270 yards. Rodgers, meanwhile, not only has notched five wins in a row, he’s averaged 9.2 yards per attempt – meaning he’s been stretching the field with longer completions during the win streak.
It’s Up to the Cornerbacks
The adjective applied to the Green Bay’s pass defense all year has been “porous.” They rank fourth-worst in passing yards allowed per game.
The Packers have excellent safeties – Ha Ha Clinton Dix was just named to the Pro Bowl and Morgan Burnett is arguably having a better season.
Green Bay seems to have the most trouble with mid-range throws, so they might match up well against Stafford and his short-pass tendencies. Though Stafford has the middle finger on his throwing hand in a splint from an injury two weeks ago, it has not appeared to bother him.
The Packers’ fate on Sunday mostly rests with the cornerbacks: Damarious Randall, Quentin Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, and Micah Hyde, principally. No one needs to step up more than Randall, who is having a terrible second year in the league.
I view Green Bay versus Detroit as a good matchup for the Packers. Detroit’s passing attack is less formidable since Calvin Johnson retired at the end of last year. The Packers fare better against teams that seldom test the cornerbacks with deep throws. Stafford’s longest completion against the Cowboys was for 21 yards.
I don’t see another near-400-yard passing day for Stafford this weekend. In the earlier Lions’ game, the Packers had to empty the bench by bringing in Josh Hawkins and Kentrell Brice.
The Packers aren’t saying much about Randall’s shoulder ailment or Gunter’s elbow injury. Having two extra days (compared to the Lions) to prepare for Sunday’s game might be critical in whether the Packers have its best complement of defensive backs on the field come Sunday.