Packers vs. Lions: Keys to the Game
Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving and while this past month hasn’t been what many had hoped, at least we only have to wait a short four days between games! That also means our schedule at ALLGBP.com is accelerated so this is our version of the two-minute drill.
The Green Bay Packers have been tabbed for yet another Thanksgiving Day showdown with the Detroit Lions. Since 2001, the Packers have faced the Lions in this matchup in every odd year with the exception of 2005. Green Bay has won all but one of those games, dropping the 2003 contest to the Mike McMahon-led Lions. Since then, the Lions are winless on Thanksgiving Day. So here we are, ten years later and the stage could be set for Detroit to break their Turkey Day slump.
The Packers made yet another quarterback change this past week, inserting Matt Flynn over Scott Tolzien, in order to spark the Green Bay offense. It worked. The Packers came back from a 23-7 deficit to tie the game and force overtime. Both teams managed only a field goal and the game ended in a tie. It was the first game, under the new overtime rules, that both teams kicked a field goal.
With the Lions falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (more like collapsing), the tie actually moved the Packers a half-game closer to the division lead. That makes this week’s matchup all the more important for both teams.
Let’s look at some of the major headlines that will likely emerge in this week’s contest.
Matt Flynn until Rodgers is Ready
After signing a free agent contact with the Seattle Seahawks, being beaten out for the starting job by rookie Wisconsin boy Russell Wilson, being traded by the Seahawks to the Oakland Raiders, losing his starting job to Terrell Pryor (Big 10 conspiracy?), being cut and signed by the Buffalo Bills only to be cut weeks later, Flynn is right back where he began his career.
What a carousel and through the process, Flynn made a lot of money but raised many questions about his ability and health. Why was he unable to maintain a starting role or stick with some of these teams who have not had much recent success? Even Reggie McKenzie, who was very familiar with Flynn from his days in Green Bay, pulled the plug on the experiment in Oakland.
All that aside, Flynn came in on Sunday and looked like he never left. Last time we saw him at Lambeau Field was in a Packers uniform slicing and dicing the Lions defense in week 17 of the 2011 season. He led the Packers to their 15th win of the year to the tune of 480 passing yards and six touchdown passes. In relief of Tolzien, Flynn rallied the Packers back and had them with a first and goal and a chance to go ahead late in the game. That drive stalled and led to a Mason Crosby field goal, but the offense was clearly sparked by Flynn.
That was exactly what Packers head coach Mike McCarthy wanted and frankly, what he needed. The Packers had been limping through the past four games and looked very uninspired. McCarthy and most of Packers nation has to hope that the team can rally around Flynn and believe in his chance to get them a win. . a single win, before Rodgers returns.
That return won’t come this week, as Flynn was officially named the starter on Wednesday and Rodgers has been ruled out.
Flynn’s ability to run the no-huddle is not something Tolzien can offer. While Tolzien’s arm appears healthier and he can throw the deep ball, which is more valuable overall to the Packers? Flynn also has some savvy that will likely allow him to avoid the costly turnovers that have plagued Tolzien during his last three games.
I stated on our No Huddle Radio podcast this week that the Packers are simply not playing sound football right now. The defense has tanked after starting off strong and the usual culprits are still lingering: bad to no tackling and breakdowns in coverage. It’s not likely to change and certainly not in just a short four days after their last game in which both of those issues were present.
Is it coaching? Is it the personnel? Did many of these players really smoke screen Packers general manager Ted Thompson into drafting/keeping them and thinking they were better than they really are? It’s probably a combination of all of that, but regardless, teams won’t win with any regularity in the NFL without sound fundamentals.
Lions receiver Calvin Johnson will play in this game after missing the first matchup earlier this season. By himself, CJ is arguably the best receiver in the league and a tough cover for any defensive player. Enter an undisciplined and confused secondary and that could become a huge issue in this game. He will rack up yards after the catch and the arm tackling that I keep seeing from the Packers defenders won’t get him down.
In addition to Johnson is Nate Burleson, a savvy veteran receiver who, on paper, has no business burning the Packers but is exactly the type of guy who tends to do just that. With as many communication problems that the Packers have had recently, Burleson can and will find the soft spot in the zone and gain chunks of yardage.
Tight ends have killed the Packers for as long as I can remember. Joseph Fauria has emerged as a threat in the Lions offense and he’s 6’7″. To say he needs to be accounted for and given no room to breathe is an understatement. How anyone can lose a guy that size is beyond me, but let’s remember that we’re talking about this year’s Packers secondary. Any short passes at the goal line are probably headed Fauria’s way. All I can hope for is that there is at least one body in a Packers uniform nearby to try and defend it.
Not much more to say here other than to borrow a line from Larry the Cable Guy: Get ‘er done! The Packers have to decide to play smart. This includes not taking any bait from the typically-chippy Lions. It’s no secret that they play with their own special brand of intensity and one aspect of their game is to try and intimidate their opponent. To quote San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, “if intimidation is your game plan, you need a better one”. The Packers are no strangers to these tactics by the Lions and they can’t afford to give Detroit any extra yardage with a shove after the play or a scuffle.
Play the Screen
I got quite a bit of flack for putting so much emphasis on Reggie Bush in the first meeting. He wasn’t a huge factor in that game but in watching how many times this season that an opposing quarterback has all day in the pocket, the underneath routes clear out and the check down is wide open for a 15 yard dump off, I’m thinking this game could be different.
The Packers pass rush has been inconsistent at best. If they aren’t able to get any pressure on Stafford, hopefully Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers considers dropping an outside backer into the flat or near the line to prevent this gut-wrenching scenario from playing out. I doubt he will. He hasn’t taken any of my other obvious suggestions this season, but at least it has been mentioned.
Bush is still a versatile and dangerous back. As I also said in the last matchup, the Packers can’t afford to miss tackles on Bush. More importantly, if the same play or scheme seems to be burning them, they need to make a quick adjustment. This is not something the Packers have done with any regularity or success this season, but their season could hinge on it if Detroit can rely on this high-percentage and easy avenue to 7-10 yards at a time.
With Johnson and Burleson on the outside and tight end Fauria in the middle, Green Bay can’t likely afford to sit a safety in this space near the line so the linebackers will have to elevate their play this week to try and take away the short pass.
Packers Offensive Line vs. Lions Defensive Line
Copy paste this from the first matchup. If the Lions can create pressure with their front four alone, it’s going to be tough goings for the Packers offense. From the run game to pass protection and Flynn’s ability to roll out, the offense will have a hard time moving downfield with a bevy of Lions in the pocket.
Detroit gave up just 22 rushing yards to the Bucs last week, which makes the loss all the more puzzling. 22 yards by Eddie Lacy & Co. won’t get it done this week. The Packers have to find a way to break through and prevent from having to throw 40-50 times. Stacking the front seven on top of that solid Lions interior up front is a daunting task for any offensive line.
That line has a good chance to see the return of right tackle Don Barclay, who is probable. That means their starting five are back together and we don’t have to see Marshall Newhouse out there. Win-win.
If the Packers run more no-huddle, and they likely will, this could benefit the offensive line as most pass plays tend to be short yardage. Quick throws means holding blocks for shorter time periods. With Flynn’s reported arm issues, I would expect most pass attempts to be inside of 15 yards.
Lastly, Flynn has to get the ball up and over the line. Week after week, Packers quarterbacks are seeing more passes batted to the ground or worse, in the air only to be picked off.
Against the Lions, this is always a huge accomplishment. It has to end sometime and time is running out. Before long, we’ll be saying “it never ended”. Injuries are not all preventable, but the Packers have to be keeping their fingers crossed that they don’t lose any more key players during this game. That’s really all you can do against a team that seems to be coached to gouge and eye here or elbow a gut there.
There are 10 days between this and the next game, but this team needs all hands on deck for the last month of the season for any chance (or whatever chance may be left) to make something out of the 2013 season.
Maybe they should consider keeping Rodgers closer to the bench so he doesn’t hurt a knee when an “inadvertent” collision happens near the sideline. I wouldn’t put it past the Jim Schwartz-led Lions.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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