3TFO: Packers @ Lions, Week 13
The NFC playoff race has really picked up steam of late. With 10 different teams owning records of .500 or better, middling teams like the Packers and Lions need to get hot in order to make the cut. In a division where three of the four teams have a very realistic shot of finishing on top, this matchup may prove crucial.
Coming off a disappointing tie, Green Bay (5-5-1) has not lived up to expectations to this point in the season. Aaron Rodgers won’t be active on Thanksgiving, but in such a competitive NFC, the Packers may need to win out just to make the playoffs. Detroit (6-5) also happens to be fresh off a disappointment, as they squandered multiple opportunities to win last weekend against Tampa Bay. This figures to be a hotly contested matchup given the stakes and also the bad blood between these teams. Let’s take a look at some of the key areas that will impact the way this one plays out.
Megatron vs. Packers Secondary
When these two teams met back in Week 5, Calvin Johnson was inactive. Now back at full strength and dominating on a regular basis, Johnson should be a huge factor on Thanksgiving. Over the past five games he’s racked up a ridiculous 71 targets, catching 42 of them for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. Matthew Stafford does not hesitate to take deep shots his way. Stafford leads the league in Deep Passing attempts with 59, and 30 of them have gone to Megatron. Connecting on a few big plays would go a long way in helping Detroit move the ball consistently and open up running lanes.
For Green Bay, the secondary has been quite a mess with all the injuries. Ten different defensive backs have played 60 or more snaps, and what looked like an area of strength prior to the season has actually been a liability. The Packers’ cumulative grade for coverage is –29.9, ranking near the bottom of the league. Five different wide receivers have put up 100 yard games against them this year, including Anquan Boldin’s massive 208 yard performance in Week 1. Tramon Williams has held his own in coverage, but his counterpart Sam Shields has struggled a bit more than expected, and is now coming off an injury. Green Bay needs both to step up in order to prevent Johnson from going off, especially with the Lions intent on getting their first Thanksgiving win since 2003.
The Return of Flynn
As many know, the last time Matt Flynn faced off against the Lions was a shootout the likes of which we rarely see. Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns en route to a glowing +5.5 grade in the final week of the 2011 season. In that game, Flynn completed three of five Deep Passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. However, since then the knock on him around the league has been his lack of arm strength. Last Sunday, Flynn connected on both of his deep passes for 62 yards, while also registering an Accuracy Percentage of 82.1 on all his aimed passes. Could he possibly regain his form from the end of 2011?
One large factor that will come into play is pressure. In Flynn’s last matchup against the Lions, he faced pressure on just 12 of 47 drop-backs (25.5%). Against the Vikings on Sunday, Flynn was pressured on 15 of 39 drop-backs (38.5%), and he completed 4 of 14 passes for 33 yards on those plays. If you happened to catch our piece on Pass Rushing Productivity for Team Defenses, you saw that Detroit’s front four gets after quarterbacks at a very high rate, which could cause problems for Flynn.
Containing Detroit’s Interior Pass Rush
When thinking about Detroit’s defense, the first name that tends to come up is Ndamukong Suh. Right now, Suh ranks second among defensive tackles in pass rushing grade at +24.0. While he hasn’t racked up the sack numbers, he has generated 54 total pressures, placing him just behind Gerald McCoy’s 58 pressures. This is also head and shoulders above the rest of the defensive tackles in the league, none of whom have cracked 40 pressures. Nick Fairley (28 pressures) and C.J. Mosley (14 pressures) have also been enormous thorns in opponents’ sides. Mosley doesn’t get the publicity of the other two, but he currently has positive grades against the run and as a pass rusher. Detroit’s ability to create so much instability in the middle of the pocket causes quarterbacks to make hurried decisions, scramble, throw the ball away, or take sacks.
Attempting to keep this rotating trio in check will be guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, along with center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who has a history with Suh’s Thanksgiving cleats. All three of these Green Bay lineman have played well in pass protection this year, with Sitton standing out as the highest graded guard in the league at +14.1 as a pass blocker. In Week 5, they effectively quieted Detroit’s top three defensive tackles, allowing no sacks, no hits, and just two hurries all game. Green Bay clearly won that battle, but how they’ll fare in the rematch remains to be seen.
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