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Analysis: Green Bay Packers Sneak By Lions, 28-26

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Before I get into this I wanted to point out something: the Green Bay Packers are playing very good this season. At 3-1, they are tied for the best record in the NFC. They've scored 106 points in their first 4 games, and they're the only NFC team to have scored over 100 points after 4 games. And they've outscored their opponents by 33 points, which is tied with the Atlanta Falcons for best scoring differential in the NFC. There is parity in the NFC. I'm not dumping on the team for failing to dominate the 0-4 Lions, which has now played 4 of the best teams in the NFC (Bears, Eagles, and Vikings before) and been within 5 points in 3 of those 4 games.

How good was the defense in this game?

The 40 yard scramble by QB Shaun Hill was ugly, but RB Jahvid Best was held to 4.2 yards/carry with no run longer than 10 yards. The defensive line isn't playing as well against the run as they did last season, but overall the run defense is doing pretty well against non-QBs.

While Hill threw for 331 yards, it took him 54 pass attempts to get all those yards, and they only gained 6.1 yards/attempt. The pass defense gave him the underneath stuff and they had success with the dink-and-dunk. The problem was on 3rd down, where the Lions went 10 of 17 (63%). They didn't have any magic potion, the Lions came into this game converting only 32% on 3rd down, and they converted only 36% of the time on 3rd down in 2009. Part of their success came from the fact that they were converting on passes to Best, TE Tony Scheffler, and TE Brandon Pettigrew, who were often covered by LB A.J. Hawk and CB Jarrett Bush, instead of the injured duo of LB Brandon Chillar and CB Sam Shields. If the defense always allowed their opponent to convert 63% of the time on 3rd down, then that would be a major problem. But coming into this game, the worst they had done all season was a 38% conversion rate against the Eagles. This really calls for an adjustment by the coaches, not a full-scale change to the defense.

How good was the offense?

The running backs combined for 18 carries and 72 yards, for an exact 4.0 yards/carry. Not splashy, but not horrible either. And FB John Kuhn ran for a bunch of tough yards on the final drive of the game that ate up the last 6:32 of the clock. And good job by RG Josh Sitton, who handled DT Ndamukong Suh one-on-one for most of the game. You might recall Suh had one sack, but he didn't beat Sitton. He ran a stunt around LG Daryn Colledge to collapse the pocket and record the sack.

It's not like QB Aaron Rodgers to throw 2 INTs, though the deep ball to WR Greg Jennings was not a bad throw: the defender just took the ball away from Jennings. If they see single coverage to him on a deep route, they'll take their chances on that pass every time. But the offense did seem out of sync, due in large part to the fact that the Packer defense couldn't get off the field. Still Rodgers wasn't happy with the way this game was approached. According to the Journal-Sentinel, Rodgers said they have to make sure "we've got our best players on the field." I did see a lot more of TE Tom Crabtree on the field then I would have expected, probably at the expense of WR James Jones and WR Jordy Nelson (who combined for only 2 pass attempts thrown their way). That might be the last public display of displeasure, but McCarthy and Rodgers have some things to work out this week.

How bad was the special teams?

Ugh. Two fumbles by Nelson on kick returns, and one 21 yard punt by P Tim Masthay in the 1st quarter. But since they didn't allow a blocked kick, or a return for a TD, it's still better than last week. Only one of the fumbles led to a field goal.

Overall, as I said in the first paragraph, I'm not going to dump on the Packers for failing to dominate an 0-4 team. This was not their best game, but still they never trailed and closed the game out in the end.