3TFO: Packers @ Lions, Week 11
In the 2011 regular-season finale between these two teams the defenses offered only token resistance while Matt Stafford and Matt Flynn combined for 971 passing yards and 11 touchdowns in a last-minute victory for the Packers. Detroit is back to scratching and clawing for legitimacy and its playoff hopes hinge on this week’s outcome. After a week of rest, the Packers hope to continue gaining ground on the Bears for the lead in the NFC North. Injuries will play a crucial role in some key matchups. Let’s take a closer look.
Ndamukong Suh vs. Josh Sitton
It’s not been a vintage 2012 for Ndamukong Suh. Our 34th-ranked defensive tackle isn’t the liability he was in the run game at times, nor is he the explosive pass rusher he’s been in the early portion of his career. Lining up nearly exclusively from the defensive left tackle spot in the Lions’ vanilla pass rushing scheme, the consistency just isn’t there, and it’s hard to see that changing this week when he goes up against Josh Sitton. The Packer is our third-ranked right guard currently and while he’s not a mauler in the run game, his work in pass protection remains some of the best of any interior lineman.
Last year in a Week 17 wrestling match with Suh, Sitton was a hands down winner when in 40 pass rushes he didn’t concede a single hurry to the Lion. Sitton did get some help early on but when injury forced T.J. Lang to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith in at left guard, the Packers began shifting the help in Dietrich-Smith’s direction. That left Sitton to handle Suh on his own for 25 of those pass rushes. Suh did score a decisive sack, but it was the lone time he lined up on the right and came against Dietrich-Smith. Look for similar dynamics this week with Dietrich-Smith and Lang back in the same roles after Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending hip injury.
Packers’ Outside Pass Rushers vs. Lions’ Offensive Tackles
For the past three years the Packers have been flummoxed in their attempts just to find a credible pass rushing threat opposite Clay Matthews. With Matthews likely sidelined with a hamstring injury, one has to wonder where the pressure will come from. The last time the Packers were without Matthews was in that final game with Detroit, and the results don’t bode well for the Packers. In that game, a four-man rotation at outside linebacker managed a mere five pressures on Stafford’s 61 dropbacks — and with all the time in the world, Stafford picked apart the Green Bay secondary.
With Frank Zombo back healthy in the lineup and Vic So’oto re-signed by the team midweek, the Packers will trot out nearly the same group this time around while hoping for different results. The lone new face will be rookie undrafted free agent Desmond Moses. So far he’s looked like the most promising sidekick to Matthews. His Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 8.6 on 86 pass rushing snaps puts him squarely in the middle of the pack for all 3-4 OLBs and much higher than what Zombo (4.7) and S’oto (4.6) managed last season.
The Lions hold down the No. 2 spot in our latest Offensive Line Rankings, due in large part to their success protecting Stafford. The interior pass blocking has been superb with guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola playing at elite levels. Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus are one of the better tackle tandems in pass protection – ranking 15th and 23rd respectively in our grading. While they’ve allowed their fair share of pressure, they’ve both been able to limit the sacks. Last week the pair held the Vikings’ Jared Allen and Brian Robison to a mere four hurries.
Anyone Not Named Johnson vs. Packers Pass Coverage
While Calvin Johnson has missed some practice time again with a knee injury, there’s little doubt he’ll be back on the field and gobbling up targets (he had a season-high 13 last week) come Sunday. Good things usually happen when the Lions throw the ball his way, but they’ve struggled to find a reliable complement. Titus Young hasn’t offered much outside of a big game against the Seahawks in Week 8. His 0.98 yards per pass route average is good for 80th among wideouts and demonstrates limited production. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has had trouble making catches with seven drops on the season for a 14 percent Drop Rate. Third-down back Joique Bell (+5.2 pass) has been the most productive alternative to Johnson and is seeing about four targets per game.
Some new faces on defense have helped reverse the coverage woes that plagued the Packers throughout the 2011 campaign. Casey Hayward (fourth in CB coverage grade and 38.3 NFL passer rating) and Jerron McMillian (three passes defensed and one INT) both earned spots on our Mid-Season All-Rookie Team. Brad Jones has provided an all-around boost for the defense during the last four games from the inside linebacker position. Quarterbacks haven’t tried thrown in his direction much, which suggests he’s not allowing many appealing targets. With more snaps under his belt, Jones’ 22 Coverage Snaps per Reception Allowed would lead all ILBs.
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