Detroit Lions 19
The Packers entered Ford Field on Sunday looking to put together a complete performance and establish themselves as one of the NFC’s elite teams in this young season. By Sunday evening, they were left with more questions than answers heading into a rivalry week with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. We are now less than 24 hours from kickoff in Chicago, so I must apologize for the late edition of my Pick Six. A long week of late nights on call at work didn’t allow the complete viewing of the coach’s tape to complete until this morning. Let’s not waste any more time. Here are my Pick Six for Packers-Lions, week 3.
1. Who’s At Fault? – To break it down into simple terms, every football game is affected by two components: Individual match ups (winning one on one) and scheme (putting your best players in position to make plays, masking your weaknesses) On the offensive side of the ball, neither of those components tilted in favor of the Packers on Sunday, but I’m willing to put the majority of the blame at the feet of Mike McCarthy.
I’ve never been overly critical of play calling because hindsight is always 20/20, but sometimes the tape shows that a coach can outsmart himself so completely that it hurts his team’s chances of ultimate success. The Lions came into the game with three of their five preferred defensive backs out of the game. To counter, the Packers ran on nearly every first down in the first quarter against a stout Detroit playing in front of a loud home crowd. The results were as expected. Green Bay tight ends allowed quick edge rushers to blow up plays, behemoths Suh and Fairley drew double teams in the middle, and linebacker DeAndre Levy was quick to close on Green Bay running backs to prevent significant gains. McCarthy went against the grain with a golden opportunity staring him in the face, and needs to isolate opponents’ weaknesses better in coming weeks if the Packers hope to turn their fortunes around.
2. Separation Anxiety – One shocking item that stood out on film is the lack of separation from Green Bay wide receivers against a make shift Detroit secondary. This ties in with the point made above, and I attribute McCarthy’s over commitment to specific route combinations as a large part of the culprit. The passing game is currently predictable and is forcing Aaron Rodgers to have to consistently hit tight windows. From a talent perspective, it’s clear that Nelson, Cobb, Boykin, Adams, Quarless/Rodgers simply aren’t Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Driver, Finley. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a group you can’t win with, but it does mean you can’t be complacent with simplifying the operation and knowing one of your five will win the one on one match up nearly every play.
The X factor here, as always, is Randall Cobb. We’ve established that Nelson is a top flight WR1 who can win in the air and is consistent in just about every facet of his game. Getting Cobb in position to create yards after catch will be integral to Green Bay’s success going forward. I hope to see him bunched on both sides of the formation, deployed in motion, and in the backfield. McCarthy is doing him no favors right now by sticking him in the slot and running him on flat and seam clear out routes snap after snap.
3. The Turning Point – The Packers had a tough draw early in the second quarter when Davon House’s interception pinned Green Bay on its own goal line. The resulting safety drew the ire of arm chair quarterbacks everywhere who established that passing would have been the right decision in that situation. I don’t disagree with the run, but it was the nature of the run called that resulted in McCarthy losing me for the rest of the game.
The first quarter results had already established that Suh and Fairley were stout in the middle of the D, Green Bay tight ends could not handle Detroit’s edge rushers, and allowing Levy to run free without a blocker on him immediately was a recipe for disaster. As the screen shot below shows, McCarthy choosing to pull a guard on a power play at his own goal line allowed all three of those circumstances to happen.
4. Stuck In The Middle With You – I’ve been keeping a close eye on AJ Hawk and Jamari Lattimore over the past weeks. I must admit, I really like Lattimore. He’s not perfect, but brings energy and is always around the football. As he gets more comfortable, the game will come to him and turnover plays will follow. As for Hawk, I have no issue with his play in run support and think he should stay as SSLB in the base defense. However, playing him in nickel and dime is a monumental mistake. Looking at the screen shots below, Hawk is acutely aware of a slot receiver with a full head of steam coming into his zone. He remains square to the line of scrimmage and lets the receiver by. That guy is going to come open ten of ten times, as the next screen shows.
The Packers have a talented safety on the bench in Sean Richardson that needs to find a way onto the field. We’re seeing innovative things down in Arizona with them playing four safeties in one formation, including Tony Jefferson at linebacker in pass packages. Richardson is bigger, stronger and as fast as Jefferson, and Dom Capers would be wise to use Richardson in place of Hawk immediately. If he doesn’t, expect to hold your breath on 3rd and 6+ all year long.
5. Defensive Revival – Despite my frustration with Capers above, the unit looks much better than it has all year. The secondary is rounding to form, we’re seeing better play from Guion up front, and the edge rushers are beginning to find their groove as made evident by a beautiful strip sack and recovery by Julius Peppers. If they can figure out how to consistently get off the field of third down (hint hint, proposed solution above), there’s plenty to be encouraged by here.
6. A Look Ahead – The Packers head to Soldier Field in less than 24 hours looking for answers against a long time rival. Jay Cutler is looking as good as he ever has in Mark Trestman’s offense. The Bears have three big, physical targets in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellius Bennett. Playing in a hostile environment, Green Bay needs to iron out the inconsistencies from the first three games or they will dig a deep early season hole that is historically almost insurmountable.
Here’s to a rebound performance and a positive outlook heading into a short week with a Thursday night battle against the Minnesota Vikings. Go Pack!