Green Bay coaches have yet to tip their hands on how they’ll approach what for them is a “glorified scrimmage” against the Lions. The guess here is they won’t be offering up many of their key starters as fodder for a hungry, and often reckless Detroit team that still has plenty to play for.
A victory for the Lions would assure them the fifth seed and keep them out of a first round visit to either New Orleans or San Francisco–teams they’ve already lost to this season.
Let’s take a look at how some Packers backups could fare in extended duty against the Lions starters.
Matt Flynn vs. the Detroit Secondary
With all the record-breaking stats and victories, and with Green Bay’s path to another Super Bowl secured through Lambeau Field, there’s absolutely nothing left for Aaron Rogers to play for. Instead, expect Matt Flynn to get a final audition for those losing out on the Andrew Luck derby. Flynn has shown considerable improvement during his four preseason campaigns, and his tutelage under Mike McCarthy is certainly a strong selling point, but potential suitors have only 124 meaningful snaps to sift through when deciding whether he is a starting-caliber QB. He looked decent-enough during last year’s two-game stint on the road against Detroit (-4.2) and New England (-0.7), but he threw one truly awful interception and came up short on final drives in both games. The interception came in the third quarter against Detroit when Flynn, after leading the Packers into the red zone, completely missed DeAndre Levy dropping into coverage. The Packers still had a shot at victory in the final minutes. On 4th-and-1, at the Detroit 32-yard-line, McCarthy put it all on Flynn’s shoulders with a go route to the left corner of the end zone. Greg Jennings had a step, but Flynn missed him with an overthrow.
The Lions’ secondary has slipped lately after a strong first half of the season. Injuries have been a major factor and will continue to be this week. The Lions’ top-graded performers in coverage are all questionable with injuries: Chris Houston (+3.6, hand), Louis Delmas (+4.7, knee), and Aaron Berry (+2.1, shoulder). Instead, Detroit will likely trot out Eric Wright (-8.1) and Alfonso Smith (-0.9) at CB, with Chris Harris (-8.2) and Amari Spievey (-1.2) at safety. Wright has started all season, and outside of a surprising Week 14 against Minnesota (+4.5), has had it rough the last two months. During last week’s victory over San Diego, he was targeted eight times, surrendering seven receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. Two plays in that game highlight Wright’s level of play this season. On 1st-and-10, with 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Wright appeared to short circuit in zone coverage on Malcolm Floyd. Without another receiver anywhere close to his side of the field, Wright is caught looking on as Floyd picks up 17 yards. Later, at the 8:43 mark of the third quarter–and with San Diego threatening–Wright so badly overplayed an inside fake that he nearly fell over, and allowed Floyd wide-open in the end zone for a touchdown.
Brandon Saine vs. Stephen Tulloch
Another young unknown likely to see more time this week is Brandon Saine. With fellow rookie Alex Green on IR and James Starks reinjuring his ankle, Green Bay’s RB stable is looking pretty thin. The Packers will likely limit starter Ryan Grant’s touches to keep him healthy for the playoffs. Packers’ coaches have been intrigued by Saine’s speed and pass-catching ability. He hasn’t had many opportunities yet this year (47 snaps), but some plays have caught our attention. On a 2nd-and-10 carry last week against the Bears (5:38 mark, fourth quarter), Saine gained the majority of his 8 yards with two defensive linemen draped on his back. During Week 14 against Oakland, first play of the second quarter, Saine was the target of a rare, off-target pass from Rodgers. He responded with a tough, twisting catch on the run and gained a first down.
Stephen Tulloch has been a beast at MLB for the Lions this year (+18.0), excelling not just stopping the run (+11.3) but also in coverage (+9.0). You could make the case that he was Pro Bowl-worthy with a coverage grade second only to Patrick Willis among NFC ILBs and his overall grade, run grade, stops (51), passes defensed (4), and interceptions (2) are all good for top-five NFC rankings.
Chad Clifton vs. Willie Young
One veteran that McCarthy does hope to give some snaps to this week is Chad Clifton. Clifton finally appears ready to return after missing the last 11 games with a hamstring injury. He’s not likely to play the full game, but the Packers want to see if he’s ready to replace a struggling Marshall Newhouse. While Newhouse (-20.7 pass blocking) has given up 21 total pressures in the past four weeks, his best game of the season did come in Week 12 against the Lions (+2.3) where he didn’t give up a single pressure. Some Packer fans might assume a healthy Clifton would be an automatic upgrade, but not so fast. Clifton wasn’t playing particularly well before his injury, and in fact shares the same Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating on the season as Newhouse–a subpar 91.8 that is among the worst in the NFL.
Whether it’s Clifton or Newhouse, both will likely have their hands full with a formidable Lions pass rush. Kyle Vanden Bosch has been handed 734 snaps this season, second only to Cliff Avril among Detroit D-linemen and we’re wondering why. Not only does he grade out as the worst lineman on the team (-16.5), he’s got guys like Willie Young (+11.5) behind him who have proven to be significantly more effective. Perhaps the Lions are finally figuring this out. Last week against the Chargers, Young was given about 20 snaps that would normally go to Vanden Bosch and responded with a quarterback hit and two pressures. Last month when we unveiled our Pass Rushing Productivity rankings, Young’s 13.09 rating would have been in the Top 10 among all defensive players, he just didn’t have enough snaps to make the list. Hmm.
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