Sunday was a tale of two halves for the Packers as they returned to the friendly confines of Lambeau Field and greeted nearly 80,000 cheering fans with Green Bay’s first win of the young season. Here are my Pick Six for the game.
1. The return of Mike Daniels – I was exceptionally hard on Daniels last Thursday for his lackluster play, as was the man himself who noted that he wanted to “spit on the way he played.” He redeemed himself tenfold with the best defensive performance of the day at Lambeau. According to Pro Football Focus, Daniels registered 5 tackles (all run “stops”), 1 sack, 1 QB hurry and 1 QB hit, which resulted in Tramon Williams’ second quarter INT that helped turn the tide.
Daniels utilized a violent rip/swim move that made life difficult for Jets LG Brian Winters all afternoon. Conventional wisdom looks to Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, and Tramon Williams as the Packers best defenders, but it’s not too bold of a statement to say that Daniels was their best defender in 2013 and would be in 2014 with more dominant performances such as this.
2. Changing of the guard – Those paying attention likely noticed two lineup changes that very well may be here to stay for Green Bay. It appears Davante Adams has supplanted Jarrett Boykin as the third WR, and burst on to the scene immediately to the tune of 5 receptions for 50 yards in 37 snaps (to Boykin’s 35). The best of the bunch was a 24 yard reception on Green Bay’s final drive of the second corner where Adams turned around Jets CB Antonio Allen with a nasty slant route lined up wide right in a 4 WR set. Adams is naturally more fluid and athletic than Boykin. Expect to see an uptick in his routes run and targets going forward.
The second sub was CB Davon House who appears to have taken the job of Casey Hayward in nickel/dime packages. Word out of the locker room is that Hayward’s problematic hamstring flared up, but House made the most of his opportunity allowing just 1 reception for 6 yards on 3 targets, including 1 pass defended, in 30 total snaps. I’d be shocked if he didn’t hang on to that role given that Hayward’s form hasn’t returned to 2012 standards.
3. Scheme or personnel? – Despite the positive signs after moving from a more 4-3 over base to a 3-4 base defense, there still exists problems in communication, defending the short middle of the field, and the perimeter outside of slant, curl, stick routes. The Packers are far from the most talented defense in the league and are thin at nose tackle and inside linebacker, specifically. However, my stance is that there’s enough on this roster to create a functional, playoff level defense if prepared correctly. The Dom Capers iteration of the fire zone 3-4 is not nearly as pressing as the defense can be when run at its best, most notably seen under Steelers legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
The version we’ve seen consistently since 2011 is more reactive than attacking, soft on third downs, and fails to use creativity to create pressure. Below I present two pictures to illustrate that first point. The first shows Bilal Powell with 20 yards of space in front of him on a gain of 12. The second, Jets FB Bohanon open in the right flat for 14. I can assure you, there is no defense, zone or man, that is designed to leave that space this open, and if the Packers wish to return to contenders as in 2010, they’ll need to flip the switch from reactive to attacking and force the issue in the pass rush, on the perimeter, in rugged run defense, and closing quickly on receivers after the catch.
4. The Lattimore factor – With ILB Brad Jones out, Lattimore was far from perfect, but did well enough in my estimation to keep the starting job moving forward. He was credited with 5 tackles (including 3 run “stops”), 2 QB hurries, and just 1 missed tackle. Those “stops” mentioned above are indicative of the athletic edge Lattimore has over Jones and his ability to diagnose edge runs, move sideline to sideline and close in time to turn a 5-6 yard run (with Jones/Hawk) into a 2-3 yard run. Unfortunately, despite the high ceiling for Lattimore, I see Capers continuing to ride Brad Jones until the wheels fall off. A man can dream.
5. Speed and timeliness of adjustments – A hallmark of my most respected coaching staffs (the Belichick-led Patriots, Sean Payton’s Saints, and more recently, Chip Kelly’s Eagles) is the ability to recognize, react and adjust to challenges on the football field in a timely manner.
The Jets were talent deficient against the Packers, but came out with a sound game plan and, after catching an early break, found themselves in the driver’s seat at 21-3. The Packers eventually realized that the Jets were selling out to stop the run, and Jordy Nelson could not be contained by the combination of Antonio Allen (4 targets, 3 receptions, 45 yards), Darrin Walls (6 targets, 3 receptions, 40 yards) and the self-proclaimed “best cornerback in football”, Dee Milliner (6 targets, 3 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD). By the time McCarthy threw in a few wrinkles like aligning Randall Cobb in the backfield on three snaps in the third quarter to keep the Jets on their heels, the Packers found their groove and there was no turning back.
On the defensive side of the ball, it took until early third quarter for the Packers to start consistently bringing 5 and 6 men on pressure packages, and the result was just 3 points on the board from a visiting QB that simply couldn’t handle the extra bodies moving around the pocket.
6. A look ahead – The Packers will take on the 1-1 Detroit Lions who are coming off a poor performance against NFC powerhouse Carolina. An early look at the team would suggest a dynamic offense led by all-world WR Calvin Johnson, a trifecta of talented tight ends, and two explosive RBs in Reggie Bush and Joique Bell who have yet to get going through the first two weeks. After week 1’s blowout vs. Seattle and a much better performance in week 2 against a weaker Jets offense, this game will serve as the barometer for the current state of the Packers defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions live and die by a defensive line that has already accumulated six sacks in this young season. The status of Bulaga will play a big part in Green Bay’s success, but if they can keep Rodgers upright, there will be room to abuse the Detroit secondary.
Sunday’s game will begin a three game divisional stint that will speak volumes, both on the long term potential of this team and their odds to take their fourth straight division crown. Here’s to a strong, clean performance and a climb to the top of the NFC North.