3TFO: Lions @ Packers, Week 5
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the 1-2 Green Bay Packers. Injuries would have left them without Eddie Lacy, Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett and Jermichael Finley in Week 4, but all figure to be back and healthy this week. The Packers will be playing their first divisional game of the season and they’ve only lost one such game in the last two seasons.
The Lions are coming off of a huge home win against the Bears that put them atop the NFC North at 3-1. Detroit is now averaging over 30 points per game while gaining over 400 total yards per game. The most notable improvement over last season has been the play of Reggie Bush. He’s currently our fourth-highest graded running back and has been a nightmare for opposing defenses both through the air and on the ground. Bush has the sixth-most yards from scrimmage of any running back and has averaged 5.3 yards per carry, 1.6 yards greater than Mikel LeShoure’s yards per carry last season.
In their two meetings last season, the Lions were able to effectively shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack. Rodgers had grades of +0.2 and +3.0 and just 409 total passing yards. The problem was that Matthew Stafford was even less effective. Stafford’s passing grades of -5.6 and -3.1 were his second and third-worst games last season respectively.
Whatever the outcome may be, get ready for points to be scored. Sunday’s matchup features the second and fourth-highest scoring offenses this season as well as the sixth and thirteenth-worst scoring defenses (Packers and Lions respectively). While offenses should dominate, here are the matchups that I think will ultimately decide the game:
Packers’ Interior vs. Lions’ Defensive Tackles
With how dominant the Lions’ defensive tackles are, this matchup should be a weekly staple of Lions’ 3 To Focus On articles. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh directly impact both the run and pass so much that they must be accounted for to achieve success against Detroit’s defense. Just ask the Bears, whose only touchdown for the first 56 minutes of the game came on a 53-yard pitch play as far away from the defensive tackles as possible. Teams simply can’t run up the middle against the Lions. Opponents have run inside the tackles 32 times for 56 yards this season. Then there is the fact that Suh and Fairley are 1st and 12th in Pass Rushing Productivity and you have a scary proposition for the Packers’ center and guards. The Packers can ill afford a repeat of last year’s Week 11 performance where Fairley was a monster and came away with a +7.0 grade while the Packers’ interior combined for a grade of -8.3.
The Packers will counter this year with T.J. Lang, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and Josh Sitton who have all graded positively this season. All three have positive pass blocking grades while Packers’ running backs have averaged 6.5 yards per carry between the tackles. Against Geno Atkins, the Packers did everything they could to avoid him on the ground while using cuts and double teams in pass protection (Sam Monson had the full breakdown here). The problem now is the Packers have to figure out how to do the same thing but with two of those guys. In the passing game I expect a similar approach. Look for the Packers to utilize cuts, extra blockers (they’ve used 70 on 142 passes so far), and double teams when possible. In the running game, look for the Packers to run outside the tackles as much as possible. Teams have averaged 7.3 yards per carry on runs outside the tackles against the Lions and the addition of Jonathan Franklin gives the Packers the speed to do just that.
Stafford Playing Keep Away
Earlier I mentioned how poor Stafford’s grades were against the Packers last season; the prime reason for his -8.7 passing grade in two games was his five turnovers. Losing the turnover battle ultimately proved to be the difference as both games were decided by one score. For the Lions to win this game, he can’t make those same mistakes, and there are grounds to think that he won’t.
The first reason is that Stafford has done a better job as avoiding picks so far. His interception rate has gone from one in every 43 snaps last season to one in every 52 this season. The second reason is that the Packers’ defense will be without Casey Hayward. Last season, Hayward had the lowest quarterback rating against we’ve ever seen at 31.1 and in two games against Detroit he had an interception, four passes defended, and an overall grade of +6.6. His absence has been one of the main reasons the Packers’ secondary has picked off just one pass on the season and their pass defense has the fifth-worst overall team grade.
Guarding Randall Cobb and Calvin Johnson
In their two meetings last season, the majority of the Lions’ and Packers’ offensive production came from Calvin Johnson and Randall Cobb respectively. In those games, Johnson caught 15 of 24 targets for 261 yards and one touchdown while Cobb hauled in 16 of 19 targets for 176 yards and one touchdown.
Johnson is a tough matchup for any team, but a particularly tough one for the Packers because of his size advantage. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are both under 6-feet tall and 195 pounds. Shields has so far surrendered the highest Yards Per Coverage Snap of any corner at 2.7 while Williams has allowed 1.34. Against the Bengals, the Packers employed Shields to follow around A.J. Green for much of the game and it will be interesting to see if they go that route again.
Unlike Johnson, we know who will be in charge of guarding Cobb for Sunday’s game. Considering the fact that Bill Bentley has covered the slot on 90% of his snaps and that Cobb has lined up in the slot on 93% of his snaps, I think it’s safe to say that they’ll be matched up a lot. So far Bentley hasn’t quite lived up to his dominant preseason where he had an interception, two passes defended, and a grade of +5.5. The second-year corner has given up 1.95 yards per coverage snap out of the slot and has a pass coverage grade of -5.8. Cobb, on the other hand, has the fifth-best yards per route run from the slot this season at 2.3 and has a receiving grade of +3.1. Of course Bentley will have help from linebackers and safeties along the way, but this matchup is definitely one to keep an eye on.
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