Re-Focused: Lions @ Packers, Week 17
Matt Flynn is a free agent in February and he and the coaches had other ideas about giving up a 22 year home winning streak against the Lions. Instead they gave him the opportunity to shop his wares to all the NFL teams struggling at the QB position and condemn the Lions to the playoff gig no one wants; away to the offensive juggernaut of the New Orleans Saints. Matthew Stafford together with Calvin Johnson played about as well as you can but still came up short in a game that had plenty of interest for interested parties and neutral fans alike. Here’s what I thought of some of the key players:
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
Living Up to the Hype
If there’s one question that keeps coming up on this site, it’s about Matthew Stafford’s overall grading. After this game it now stands at +6.7 (+7.9 passing) but for a while he was in the red and unfortunately conventional wisdom suggests that the sort of numbers he’s put up is more Pro Bowl worthy than anything else. Well in the last couple of weeks that’s certainly true but up until then he was pretty good deep but struggled mightily with the short stuff. He was sporadically inaccurate under 10 yards and skittish in the pocket for large portions of the middle part of the year. The truth is the finger injury was probably to blame but determining cause is not our game; we simply document what we see.
Whatever the rationale, what we are observing now is a far, far different beast. The quarterback who is emerging is a much more formidable player and one that could cause the Saints a lot of issues next week. For a guy who attempted some pretty tough throws, his ratio of good passes to errors was just under 4:1, which is excellent, and the touch pass between three defenders to Brandon Pettigrew (third quarter, 9:49 left) looked beyond him a month ago.
The only cause for concern is he didn’t face much heat from the anemic Packers pass rush; on only eight of 61 drop backs did he get pressure. Worse, his QB rating this season when not blitzed is 106.6, when blitzed than becomes 69.6. Guess what Greg Williams will have in store next week?
Best of the Best
There’s some great receivers playing in the NFL today but it’s almost impossible to argue any have played better than Calvin Johnson (+4.5) this year. His production is terrific and even being matched up one-on-one against a top cornerback like Tramon Williams (-1.5) hardly slowed him at all. In fact, Williams played reasonably well, defensed two passes but still gave up 178 yards and a 36-yard pass interference penalty to “Megatron”.
Unlike a lot of receivers, he doesn’t run a lot of come-backs or hooks (zero in this game) with the majority of his catches being on posts, nines and in routes; coming across the middle where his size/speed ratio makes him a particular nightmare for defensive backs.
Realizing the Fear
Before the season started, the weakness everyone highlighted for the Lions was their secondary. It was felt that they would be exposed if the front four didn’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback, but it never quite worked out that way. Sure the guys up front have done their bit but it’s hardly been the ’85 Bears and against this the corners and safeties have generally held up. This game was different in that, despite the defensive line getting an average amount of pressure, almost everyone on the backend struggled. Chris Harris (-3.4 coverage grade) had the biggest issues looking completely lost trying to track Donald Driver on a crossing route and gave up two touchdowns and 115 yards. Unfortunately it didn’t stop there as Alphonso Smith (-2.6 coverage grade) and Chris Houston also gave up over a hundred yards each and a further three touchdowns between them.
Its likely Louis Delmas will return next week and that’s just as well because the Saints have even more weapons and a far more sturdy offensive line to buy Drew Brees all the time he needs.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Well if Kevin Kolb can attract the type of offers he did with a far less intriguing CV than Matt Flynn (+5.5), I dread to think of the type of money the prospective free agent could draw. However, it’s important to note, that Kolb played exactly the same number of excellent games that Flynn did prior to his lucrative trade … one. Just as the ex-Eagle had his outstanding Week 6 outing against the Falcons on his resume, so now does Flynn have this game to point to. The difference was Kolb had an awful lot of dross to view as well whereas the Packers’ back-up has seen far less playing time. So without much else to go on was this performance as good as it looked on paper?
The answer is almost but not quite; 226 of his 480 yards came after the catch and, as usual, many will forget the awful decision he made with 1:56 left in the final quarter because Brandon McDonald failed to make what should have been a game winning interception.
That aside though, he made very few mistakes and threw some very accurate deep balls not least of which was the perfectly judged 40-yarder to James Jones (also on the final drive) down the right side line. He looked in command, unflustered when pressured and did little wrong. Would I give him $63 Million, or over, for five years on the basis of this? Probably not but if I had to give it to someone and the choice was only him or Kolb I’d be a lot more inclined.
Ready to Resume?
So now that Chad Clifton (-3.7) is back we can stop worrying about Marshall Newhouse protecting Aaron Rodger’s blindside? Not so fast. If this sporting vignette was anything to go by then perhaps it’s a case of better the devil you know. In the 25 snaps he played before leaving the game, it was obvious Clifton was off the pace. His first three plays read like a story of increasing embarrassment as he first gave up a hurry, followed by a hit, and then a sack; twice failing to anchor against a bull-rush. It got better, but only relative to this initial disaster, and by the time he’d left 22 snaps later, he’d given up one more hit and a 1-yard tackle to Lawrence Jackson.
While the Pro Bowl is now considered a universal symbol of inadequacy, certain selections go beyond poor and border on the surreal. In what world can a player as big as B.J. Raji (-3.5) play so poorly for so long and still make the trip? It’s inconceivable to think of a 350lb man as invisible, but despite playing 79% of all defensive snaps, his play is generally undetectable.
In 885 snaps he’s picked up three sacks, one hit, 16 hurries and 13 tackles. Thirteen. One-three. In almost 200 less snaps Brandon Mebane has 37. Thirteen is the same number as the following NFC interior linemen with their snaps in parentheses; Shaun Rodgers (301), Trevor Laws (315), Dan Williams (244), Matt Toeaina (401), Letroy Guion (508).
No doubt we’ll have some comments below about how “he was always double-teamed” or “he was standing up the center so someone else could make a play”. I hope not, because that would be rubbish; complete unadulterated nonsense. The truth is he’s been terrible, but no one with a vote watches enough football to either do the right thing or care. If one of the 50 souls with an All-Pro vote sees fit to waste it on him then they should have it confiscated immediately. If you are interested in what he contributed in this game then there is plenty of footage of him leaning on Detroit linemen and absolutely none of him helping his team.
– After a terrible first half to the year Jeff Backus has really upped his level of play. In the first eight games he gave up six sacks, three hits and 22 hurries. In the last eight he’s allowed only one sack, one hit and 14 hurries.
– All the Packers’ defense could manage in 61 drop backs was a paltry two sacks, a hit and five hurries.
– In this game Jordy Nelson put his average yards per pass route ran to 3.05 almost a full half yard ahead of last year’s top performer Brandon Lloyd (2.59)
PFF Game Ball
Matthew Stafford is now playing the way he needs to if the Lions have any chance of progressing beyond Wild Card Weekend.