Make no mistake about it, the Lions offense begins and ends with Calvin Johnson. This is true if the offense is totally healthy, and it’s even more true when the Lions’ receiving unit has taken a heavy toll of injuries and stupidity. But that doesn’t mean that Johnson is the last man standing for options Matthew Stafford can throw to on Sundays. There is one other option that may cause a problem for the Packers in Brandon Pettigrew.
Pettigrew is a former first round pick for the Lions who has had mixed results. Pettigrew, unlike Jermichael Finley and teammate Tony Scheffler, is not a receiving tight end. Rather, he is a tight end who can block and catch passes in equal parts, which makes him a critical component of both the passing game and running game for the Lions. Then again, the Lions aren’t exactly running much so it might be more apt to look at his contribution to the passing game alone.
Pettigrew is a good underneath target for Stafford and he is a player who can help the Lions move the chains when Megatron is facing double and triple coverage. Pettigrew is also a good target near the endzone where he can use his size and strength to his advantage. What is concerning for Lions fans though is his drops. Pettigrew has been inconsistent in this regard so far this season, for example in the last meeting between the two teams Pettigrew had 7 targets but only 4 catches. If Pettigrew can get back to more sure handed ways he may be trouble for the Packers defense.
The player mainly responsible for stopping Pettigrew is going to be Brad Jones. There are two ways we can look at Jones and his play so far this year. On one hand he’s a third string LB who is playing his first year converted to the inside after playing the first few years in Green Bay as an OLB. Since coming into the starting lineup he has played strong against the run and appears to be an upgrade over D.J. Smith and A.J. Hawk in coverage. On the other hand Jones has not been as consistent a tackler as Hawk and does get lost in coverage at times (most glaringly against Kyle Rudolph this past week against the Vikings).
If Jones can have a good bounce back game against the Lions then the Packers defense should be able to all but shut down the Lions passing attack, but if Jones struggles expect lots of underneath passes to Pettigrew which could extend Lion drives and kill momentum for the Packers.
The Packers host the 4-8 Lions on Sunday Night Football in Week 14 (Green Bay Packers tickets).