Sometimes you have to win ugly. That is exactly how the Green Bay Packers went about getting their seventh win of the season, and potentially a tie for the NFC North lead after tonight’s Monday Night Football in San Francisco.
In spite of a strong effort from their defense, the Detroit Lions came up short in a pivotal game for them which makes a second consecutive playoff bid look like an extreme long shot. The offense spluttered, stuttered and never got on track as the Packers’ pass coverage got the better of the Detroit receivers more often than not, while Matthew Stafford missed some crucial chances when the receivers did get open.
At 7-3 and on a five-game winning streak, the Packers can start to think about maintaining this form and challenging for a first-round bye. Here are some of the key performances that sent these two NFC North teams in opposite directions down the stretch.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Youngsters Shine in Coverage
After injury robbed the Packers of Charles Woodson they have been forced to go with a far more youthful secondary, and once again this coverage unit rose up with a fabulous performance led by two of its youngest players. Between second-year corner Davon House and rookie revelation Casey Hayward, the Packers’ two most-targeted defenders (House tied for second with four others) allowed only two completions for 14 yards. While House did most of his work preventing catches with positioning, recording a pass defense on just one of his four incompletions, Hayward was incredibly active playing the ball. The Packers’ second-round pick got his hands to four of Stafford’s passes, intercepting one and breaking up three more. In a season of incredible metrics this was one of Hayward’s best and for the second time this season he allowed an NFL Rating of 0.0 on passes targeted to his coverage.
Finley Back on Track?
For Jermichael Finley this was a game to put a relatively poor stretch behind him, to an extent. For the first time since the Packers’ Week 1 loss to San Francisco the hybrid TE recorded a receiving touchdown. For the first time since the Packers’ Week 4 win over New Orleans Finley forced a missed tackle and recorded 50 receiving yards. He also recorded no drops for only the fourth time this season and recorded his longest reception since the Packers lost their bid at an undefeated season in Kansas City last season. Outside of those two catches Finley contributed very little, but in a tight game like this big plays with no errors is a telling contribution when set against others who did so much to hurt their team in this game. Finley brings a physical presence to the Packers’ passing attack and Green Bay will hope that he can build some form and consistency as the season moves into its final six weeks.
Getting What They Need
Considering what little help he got up front from his offensive line this week, James Starks had a solid performance to provide the Packers just about enough from their running game to give their offense balance. Starks ran the ball relatively well in the Packers’ home victory prior to their bye week, but blotted his copybook with his first fumble of the season. This week, Starks was more secure with his ball handling as well as carrying the ball powerfully on the way to collecting 54 of his 74 yards after contact. Starks set his stall out early by driving DeAndre Levy for 5 yards after contact and a first down on his first carry of the game, a play on which Levy met Starks just across the line of scrimmage but was simply unable to arrest his momentum. There was no long run at any point, but in collecting 3 yards after contact on 11 of his 25 carries Starks ensured that the Packers’ running game was always moving further forwards than the blocking dictated it should have.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
Fairley Brings his A-game
Ever since his debut in a Detroit victory on Monday Night Football last season Nick Fairley has shown glimpses and flashes of being a destructive defensive tackle, but in recent weeks, and especially this week, he really put it all together for a full game. There wasn’t a quarter in the game where Fairley was kept quiet, as he proved to be a disruptive force to the Green Bay offense throughout. Fairley drew two hurries from Josh Sitton on the Packers’ second drive (one nullified), a sack and two pressures in the second quarter and then forced a fumble from Rodgers in the third stanza. In the past three weeks Fairley has an overall grade of +13.1, making him the form defensive tackle in the entire league. If teams are gravitating towards Ndamukong Suh, terrified of him making game changing plays against them, then they need to start realizing that the Lions have another defensive tackle who can easily make them pay in one-on-one situations as well.
Jekyll and Hyde for Peterman
This was definitively a game of two halves for Stephen Peterman who was as almost as good a run blocker (+2.6) in this game as he was bad in protecting Stafford against pass rushers (-4.5). Peterman allowed seven pressures (all hurries) in a game for the second time this season, and those two games (2 Sacks, 5 Hurries in Week 7) have accounted for half the hurries he has allowed all season. In allowing three of his seven hurries to Ryan Pickett, the Lions’ RG gave up the Packer’s best game as a pass rusher since Green Bay’s conference championship victory in Chicago back in 2010. Of concern for Peterman is that he was beaten in a variety of different ways, rather than just showing one glaring weakness. Pickett beat him inside, outside and via bullrush for his three pressures, while B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels also got the better of him on bullrush. Things were better in the run game, as Peterman consistently sealed defenders down inside, but showing such a weakness against a Green Bay interior defensive line that has not rushed the passer well this season should be concerning to Detroit fans.
It would be remiss of me to pass comment on performances of note from this game without lending some time to Stafford’s bad day. After a fine run of form in the last month (+10.6 in the Lions’ past three games) Stafford came crashing down to earth with his lowest graded game since the Lions last hosted Green Bay on Thanksgiving last season. The Packers’ secondary had the upper hand on the Lions’ from the first drive of the game, and Stafford didn’t help matters from there on in. Put simply, he forced passes that weren’t on and missed passes that were. Stafford turned the ball over twice and was biblically inefficient in collecting 22 incompletions on 39 pass attempts. The Lions’ got a handful of big plays down the field, one of Stafford’s more efficient regions of the field (3-of-8, 108 yards, 1 TD) but there were plays missed downfield that held the Lions back as well. The Lions and Stafford were teetering on the brink, but this performance and this loss may have tipped both over the edge to a bad season that will have to be consigned to ‘character building’.
— Intermediate passing was a struggle for Matthew Stafford in this game. Of his 15 pass attempts targeted between 10 and 19 yards, he completed only three.
— Of John Kuhn’s 16 offensive plays only two were pass plays. Only twice this season has Kuhn played less than the 24.6% of offensive snaps that he played in this game.
— After tying his season high with three missed tackles yesterday, Stephen Tulloch has already missed 12 tackles this season, matching his total from 17 games last season with six still to go for the Lions this year.
PFF Game Ball
He may have come out on the losing side this week, but in his fourth start of the season Nick Fairley was a one-man wrecking crew. After an inconsistent beginning Fairley is really growing into the season.