Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers: Takeaways from Detroit's 22-9 Loss
Playing without Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, the Lions' offense struggled to accomplish much of anything against a patient, disciplined Green Bay defense.
The loss leaves the Lions at 3-2 but still tied atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears, who lost at home to the New Orleans Saints. Next Sunday Detroit treks across Lake Erie to face the hot Cleveland Browns. Cleveland has won three in a row after dropping the first two games.
The Packers improve to 2-2, having played one less game because of their bye in Week 4. Green Bay hits the road to Baltimore for a date with the Ravens next Sunday.
Here are my initial takeaways from the loss.
Calvin Johnson Is Irreplaceable
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When we saw Calvin Johnson listed as questionable this week, few thought Megatron would actually miss the game.
Once he was declared inactive, this game totally changed. The bookies thought so too, upping the line significantly.
After announced Calvin Johnson was inactive (knee), Packers went from -7.5 to -10 http://t.co/ZLXLnAA3NQ— Sportsbook.com ® (@Sportsbook_com) October 6, 2013
The lack of speed at wide receiver is already an issue when Johnson plays. Without him, the Packers' safeties did not have to worry about deep coverage whatsoever.
The ripple effect was that the linebackers could all focus exclusively on Reggie Bush, and they bottled him up effectively.
Get well soon, Calvin Johnson, because the Cleveland defense is even more physical and fundamentally sound than what we saw in Green Bay today.
A Quiet Day for Suh and Fairley
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One of the keys to Detroit's 3-1 start was the dominating play of the defensive line. In particular, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had been outstanding, producing several impact plays and disrupting opposing offenses on a consistent basis.
In this game, the early ESPN box score credited Suh with three solo tackles and one tackle-for-loss. Honestly I was surprised to see the number that high. Suh was a decided non-factor in this game.
I'll have to study the film to really ascertain how much of that falls on Suh and how much should be credited to the Green Bay offensive line, but I noted several times that the Lions were trying too hard to get up the field right off the snap.
Fairley was even less effective than Suh. Other than trying to pick a fight late in the game, I have nothing in my game notes on No. 98 except "gets shoulders turned on run" and "a half-count late to find the ball". Oh yeah, he also committed an offsides penalty.
This duo will need a strong bounce-back game next week in Cleveland, which features one of the best centers in the league in Alex Mack but an iffy guard situation.
Get Reggie Bush the Ball Quicker
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Reggie Bush had very little room to run throughout the game. I alluded to one of the reasons why in the initial slide: the linebackers didn't have to worry about coverage responsibilities with the absence of the top two wideouts.
But the Lions did Bush no favors by continually using slow-developing run plays. The Green Bay defense is very good at reading and reacting. You beat that by attacking quickly, and by not giving them time to think about what they are seeing.
Far too often the Lions tried a delayed handoff or a straight handoff to Bush from a deep alignment in the backfield. That gave the Packers linebackers a chance to key on the play and attack the run. The initial run-blocking on many plays was solid, but because the run was so slow to develop it looked ineffective.
I noted the improvement later in the game. The handoffs to Bush, as well as Joique Bell, were quicker to get going and more effective. It was an adjustment made too late to impact the game, unfortunately.
Hopefully the coaching staff picks up on this as well and gets the ball in the hands of the lethal weapon more quickly going forward.
Brandon Pettigrew Just Might Be Turning the Corner
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For the second week in a row, beleaguered tight end Brandon Pettigrew turned in a very solid performance.
Pettigrew led the Lions with 59 yards on four receptions. Catching four of the five passes is real progress for the big tight end. This comes on the heels of a perfect 7-for-7 week against the Bears.
I gave Pettigrew an "A" grade last week, and this week he is likely to wind up with the highest score of any offensive player. There is a sentence I never expected to write.
There are not a lot of positives to take from the loss, but Pettigrew's improved play is a good sign as the season progresses. The Lions desperately need him to continue to make solid, reliable contributions as a receiver.
DeAndre Levy Continues to Play at a Pro-Bowl Level
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One of the biggest concerns entering the season was the Lions' linebacking corps. The unit made a lot of tackles last year but made few impact plays.
DeAndre Levy has allayed those fears. Once again the outside linebacker was sensational, even in a loss. Levy racked up 14 tackles, including 11 solo efforts. Three of those tackles came behind the line of scrimmage.
Last season, Levy made nine tackles-for-loss on the entire season according to teamrankings.com
Levy also broke up a pass at the line and played pretty well in coverage. He's been one of the most pleasant surprises in the entire league so far, and he is showing no signs of slowing down.
The Third-Down Defense Was Due for a Regression
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Detroit entered this game leading the league in third-down conversion defense, allowing conversions on just 21.6 percent of opposing chances. That number seemed too good to be true.
As with all things in life, if something seems to good to be true it probably is. Green Bay converted five of its first nine attempts on third down. They finished with seven conversions on 16 attempts.
The lack of a pass rush was evident on several of the conversions, but it's also worth noting the distance of the successful conversions. On its very first drive, Green Bay had third-down conversions of seven, three and six yards.
The subsequent drive produced a conversion on 3rd-and-3, as well as a fourth-down conversion with four yards to go.
The Lions leapt to the top of those third-down conversion standings in part because they were very good at not allowing short-yardage situations. That did not happen today.
Sacks Are Directly Related to Coverage
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Green Bay sacked Matt Stafford five times. That might lead you to believe that the pass protection by the offensive line was porous.
Other than one appalling effort by Riley Reiff, who ignored the presence of Clay Matthews on the edge and allowed him to attack Stafford unabated, the line was not the problem.
Four of the five Packers sacks are worthy of the "coverage sack" label. The line initially did its job, but the receivers could not get open.
Chalk this up as another ripple effect to not having Calvin Johnson or Nate Burleson. The receivers did not do a good job of getting open. While I did note that Rob Sims and Riley Reiff both had less-than-stellar games, the line generally gave Stafford enough time.
It's also important to give the Packers some credit here. They did a god job bringing extra pressure, knowing that the coverage behind them could handle its business. That's a smart adjustment by defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
It's Tough to Break History
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Detroit has now lost 23 straight games in the state of Wisconsin. Sometimes the weight of history is tough to overcome.
Even with Calvin Johnson, this was not going to be an easy business trip. Green Bay was a seven-point favorite before Megatron appeared on the inactive list.
The Lions proved earlier this season that they can overcome such historical ignominy. Winning in Washington for the first time ever was an important development.
It was probably too much to ask for the Lions to end two inglorious streaks in a three-week stretch. Sure, a victory in Green Bay would have tasted great, and the Lions did not play poorly, by and large. But sometimes destiny turns on the radio and the song remains the same.
Next week is a fresh start in Cleveland, a place where the Lions have had some success. They are 2-1 against the Browns since the franchise was resurrected in 1999. This record includes a win in Detroit's last visit to Cleveland in 2005.