Green Bay had several things going for it this week. In no particular order, they were:
- Coming off the bye week
- Getting Chad Clifton and Atari Bigby back from injury
- Playing Detroit at home
- Playing against a team missing it's best QB (Matthew Stafford) and WR (Calvin Johnson)
All together, these things pointed to a dominant Green Bay victory. And, in the end, it was, if you consider only the final score (26-0). So then why did this feel like a letdown? Short version: we saw the same old problems surfacing again. Long version: after the jump.
13 penalties for 130 yards. Green Bay netted 435 yards. They allowed Detroit to gain 149. Their 130 yards lost to penalties were over 25% of their offensive gains and nearly 90% of Detroit's. That is absolutely unacceptable. Let's do a rundown of how many of what penalty there were:
5 personal fouls - 75 yards
3 false starts - 15 yards
2 holding - 20 yards
2 illegal formation - 5 yards
1 illegal contact - 5 yards
False starts happen, even though they shouldn't. Holding happens way more than it's called. Illegal contact happens almost as much as holding. Even illegal formation happens, even though it's a stupid penalty that you should get out of your system in high school. But personal fouls? Absolutely ridiculous. Unless there's a brawl, there's no way any team should get called for five personal fouls in one game. I have no idea whether or not these were legit penalties, but the fact that Packer players were in position to have these penalties called in the first place infuriates me.
You know what that says to me? On-field discipline is a major problem. In a way, that's almost worse than off-field issues. Personal fouls cost the team 3/4 of a football field, while the rest of the penalties combined for 1/2 a field. This will kill you against an opponent with a better offense. I don't care how young a team is; you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT be whistled five times for 15 yard penalties. I cannot express in a family friendly manner how angry I am over these penalties.
Of course, penalties have been a problem all year. The Packers have been flagged 43 times (4th in NFL) for 359 yards (3rd in NFL). Mike McCarthy said that it was something they would have to fix. You had a bye week, coach. And even that didn't keep the team from putting up a season-worst performance penalty-wise. Ugh.
Five sacks for 30 yards. If the penalty yardage wasn't bad enough, tack on the losses to Detroit's pass rushers. Now, I have respect for Julian Peterson and Cliff Avril. They are the best pass rushers on a team that doesn't perform well in this department. Still, they combined for 3.5 sacks, which is not good. But Turk McBride, a player who had one tackle all season before Week 6 and isn't even listed on Detroit's depth chart on NFL.com, had 5 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
I know Clifton was dealing with an injury. I know the offensive line has been all shuffled and jumbled around this season. I know Mark Tauscher isn't ready yet. But you cannot give up five sacks a game! Yet that's exactly what they're doing (5 games + 25 sacks = 5.0 sacks/game average)!
In other news, Aaron Rodgers' contract was renegotiated to include extended medical coverage, a personal chiropractor, yoga classes, and sleep therapy. Because if the season continues this way, he will end up more messed up than Ryan Leaf. If there was any debate as to whether the Packers' O-line is broken, I think this should settle it.
30 rushes for 107 yards. This statistic isn't even that bad. But then you consider that the majority of the yards were gained by Ryan Grant (24 carries for 90 yards), which still isn't that bad. But then you look at the drive chart for the game, and you realize that nearly half of his yards came on the game's final drive, when Green Bay simply took advantage of a tired Lions' defense for the final 7 1/2 minutes (where Grant totalled 41 yards on 7 attempts, including a 22-yarder, resulting in his final stat line). Before the 7:52 mark in the 4th quarter (when the score was already 26-0), Ryan Grant had 14 carries for 49 yards.
Again, I didn't watch the game. I don't know if the lackluster running performance was the fault of Grant, the O-line, or just good run defense by Detroit. But surely the Packers can do a better job establishing the run against a team that is less than notorious for it's run-stopping. Even with Jason Spitz as a surprise inactive, you have to take it to a team that boasts Grady Jackson as their primary run defender.
Again, this falls to Mike McCarthy. For someone who still uses a workhorse back approach, why didn't he give Grant more carries in the first three quarters of the game? Detroit was a team ripe for the pounding, and Green Bay desperately needs to foster some sort of momentum for their rushing attack to build off of for the remainder of the season. They certainly haven't developed any momentum in the first 4 games. Unless, of course, the season is destined to end on January 3rd, which I sincerely hope it does not.
Okay, so those were all the things that bothered me. Here's what impressed me:
Zero. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. As a former defensive player, nothing quite compares to the feeling you get when you shut out an opponent. I think the best analogy in sports is a no-hitter in baseball, where everyone from the catcher to the pitcher to the outfielders does their job just right. That's what happened today on defense for Green Bay.
The Lions' quarterbacking duo of Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton combined to produce this line: 11/25 for 105 yards and 3 INTs. While that might be a good day for Jamarcus Russell, that's a terrible day for an NFL quarterback, and that's exactly what Dom Capers' 3-4 defense is designed to do. It's fitting that Atari Bigby got the final interception in the end zone to seal the shutout, considering his absence forced the defense into a more conservative (read: more crappy) approach.
Clay Matthews. I know I already talked about how well the defense played as a whole, especially against Detroit's passing game. And of course Matthews wasn't the only one responsible, as Aaron Kampman, Al Harris, Nick Barnett, and Michael Montgomery all came away with sacks. But Matthews' 2 sacks were just another example of how dynamic of a player he is becoming. I barely knew who he was before the draft, and I was clueless as to why Ted Thompson would trade back into the first round to grab him. But I am glad he did. Now the question is: which linebacker has to lose snaps in order to get Matthews on the field more?
Another interception for a defensive lineman. Remember my whole tirade above about poor discipline? Cullen Jenkins' read of the screen pass was the exact opposite. When an end or tackle gets that much penetration with minimal resistance, that means he either beat his man beyond recognition, or there's something unusual happening. In this case, it was the latter, and Jenkins immediately halted his rush to disrupt the screen pass. A wonderful play.
Green Bay's receivers. I made a big deal out of the erratic and sometimes frustrating play of the Packers' receiving corps. Well, today they all came to play. Greg Jennings' one-handed grab in the first quarter was a beautiful play, as was James Jones' juke of Marquand Manuel for a 47-yard TD. Even Jermichael Finley continued his development, putting up 54 yards on 5 catches.
But the big story from Lambeau was Donald Driver's record-setting catch in the first quarter, leaving him as the sole leader in receptions in Green Bay history. Of course, his 7 catch, 107 yard performance on the day was nice, but there's something about the story of a 7th round pick becoming a franchise leader in a major category that makes you smile, win or lose. Congratulations, Donald. You're a class act both on and off the field, a true role model, and a top receiver in the history of one of the NFL's premeire franchises.
Aaron MF'ing Rodgers. Of course, someone has to get Donald the ball so he can break that record. And Aaron Rodgers did that, and so much more.
Now, let's not go crazy, because Rodgers wasn't perfect. His fourth quarter interception to former Badger LB DeAndre Levy was simply underthrown, and Jones was closely covered anyway. Rodgers also danced around too much when faced with a collapsing pocket, which led to his fifth sack and a fumble recovered by Larry Foote.
But there was little else Rodgers did poorly. He bought time when he had to, and met with thrilling success on two occasions in the third quarter (especially the play where he faked one way, started out the other direction, then went back in the original direction and, as he was falling backwards, fired a strike to Jermichael Finley off his back foot). All his throws were crisp, and he did an excellent job providing space for his recievers to work after the catch. His 78.4% completion rate and his 113.7 passer rating were stellar, despite his protection issues.
Altogether, this was a decent game all-around. Not great, because the offense surely could have played better. But the defense was outstanding, and even the special teams performed well after Jordy Nelson got hurt. There were things we can take away from this games as positives, but still significant flaws that must be addressed before visiting Cleveland. I'm torn between optimism and pessimism, but perhaps you could sway me one way or the other in the comments section.