One win. On a short week. Road game. Beating a team that leads the division. Winning a game against an opponent that had beaten Green Bay four straight times. A team that held the Packers to 3 points, 32 first half yards, and posted a 27-3 halftime score when they played them less than two months ago. You can’t blame Packer fans for feeling a bit giddy. Giddy being defined as: to make (someone) feel excited to the point of disorientation.
Stop pinching yourselves Packer fans, that Thanksgiving turkey basting of the Lions in Detroit actually happened. Before the game you weren’t hearing any betting experts predicting a seven-point Packer win or a QBR for Jordan Love over 125 points.
Even after a 20-point first quarter the Fox Broadcast crew of Kevin Burkhardt & Eric Olsen were singing the praises of the Detroit offense and their ability to mount a comeback. Never happened. The Green Bay Packers played four quarters of solid football. They won the turnover battle and their defense scored seven points. So, what changed in 7 weeks?
It starts with the offensive line. In the week four Detroit game the Packers offensive line was in shambles. Royce Newman started for an injured Elgton Jenkins and Rasheed Wallace subbed in for Bakhtiari. Love was pressured on over 50 % of his passing attempts. Detroit sacked Love five times. Green Bay rushed for 27 total yards, led by Aaron Jones who tallied 18 yards on 5 carries. Aiden Hutchinson was a wrecking crew, posting 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hits, and one TFL.
On Thanksgiving the offensive line was back on track. Jenkins, Meyers and Runyon on the inside while Wallace splits time at left tackle with Yosh Nijman. Last year’s bust poster boy Sean Rhyan subbed in for Runyon on 13 snaps (23% of the offensive plays) and played well.
Zach Tom has taken over at right tackle and had a stellar game. Tom held Aiden Hutchinson to 2 tackles, no sacks, no TFL’s, and one QB hit. The unusual step of subbing left tackles every series has worked for the Packers who are lucky to have two cable backups at that key position. The offense still struggles on run blocking, but often that is just as much a failure of the young wide receivers and tight ends who continue to miss key blocks on run downs.
The wide receivers in week four were still learning their craft. Love’s passing was focused on Romeo Doubs and Deguara in week four. Watson was just back from injury and Malik Heath was on the sideline. Musgrave and Kraft were afterthoughts. On Thanksgiving Love had four legitimate wideouts with three or more catches.
Watson, Doubs, Reed, Wicks and Heath all have the talent to produce at the NFL level. Add on Musgrave and Kraft and the Packers could be set at offensive skill positions for 5 years. Detroit can’t just focus on Doubs and Love has no problem throwing to a receiver who dropped a ball the play before. This group of receivers has really made strides and Love is showing leadership skills that bode well for the future.
The defense in week four was gashed in the run game to the tune of 121 yards at half time. Rashan Gary was still on a pitch count, only playing 20 snaps. They did get an early interception but after that initial victory could not get off the field.
After the Rudy Ford interception Detroit scored three touchdowns and two field goals in the first half. Rasul Douglass gave up two big pass plays, and the Lions averaged nearly 5 yards per rush. The defense could not create any turnovers after the first interception and Green Bay lost the turnover battle 2-1.
On Thanksgiving Detroit still averaged 4.5 yards a carry, but that stat is misleading. Gibbs had a 23-yard run and Montgomery a 15 yarder. Besides those two runs that occurred while Detroit faced a double-digit deficit, the Packers did a decent job of forcing Detroit runners to fight for yards.
Without those two run the average dips to 3.5 yards. The Packer defensive line is getting valuable positive production from rookie Karl Brooks, Devonte Wyatt, and T.J. Slayton. The improved line play is backed up by better tackling from Jonathon Owens (led the team with 12 tackles) and the rest of the secondary.
Owens tackling, except for the huge miss against the Chargers, may give the coaches pause as to how much playing time Savage will get when he is healthy enough to return. While the secondary is playing without three starters, four if you count Stokes, they have tackled well, and the blown assignments seem to be reduced.
They have been helped by improved play by the defensive ends/outside linebackers. Rashan Gary is now fully healthy and has the ability to change games with his disruptive play.
Enagbare is playing with more speed, anticipating better and making run stops at the line of scrimmage. And Lucas Van Ness is showing up in the stats. Van Ness was not fooled on the Lions fake punt, and he held his ground on a reverse to his side, stringing out the play, allowing defensive help time to arrive. He also had two quarterback hits.
All the improvement at skill positions was necessary for the Packers to be able to truly judge if Jordan Love has the tool set to win in the NFL. Pundits are already calling the Detroit win his statement game. While that bold statement will only hold value if Love continue his solid play, the needle is definitely pointing up when his game to game production and accuracy is scrutinized.
The poor play early was a team effort. To really evaluate Love’s talent the offensive line needed to give him time and receivers had to learn to run routes and make touch catches.
Even on the first touchdown pass against Detroit, a laser Love weaved through an incredibly small window, Love admitted after the game Watson ran the wrong route. With this team starting to learn their assignments and playing decent football, Love’s improvement is exactly what the Packers were hoping to see from Love. He is passing the NFL first season QB test.
This young Packer team is improving on both sides of the ball. The mistakes are reduced, and the execution is improved. Now, if you read the Detroit Free Press, they seemed nonplussed by the loss. They felt the Lions hadn’t “lost their magic” and the loss, due to turnovers, was, “fixable”.
So, was this just an aberration for the Packers? No. Even if the Packers struggle for a game or two down the stretch, they are improving, and Jordan Love is showing the faith of the organization was not wasted on a foolhardy misjudgment of talent. The kid can play. He has skills and his timing and accuracy are improving. Improvement is not linear in the NFL. Every player and team must fight through valleys to reach the peaks.
Love’s journey will not be different. Kansas City will be a big test. But right now, 11 games into the season, with all the injuries they have endured, you should be satisfied that this team showed enough improvement to beat the team that leads their division. It should keep you smiling for the next 10 days, until Sunday, December 3rd.