NFL Thanksgiving Brawl: Green Bay Packers Beat Down Detroit Lions
The defending champions have a 3.5-game lead over the Chicago Bears and lead Detroit by four, with road wins against both teams and only five games to play (six for the Bears, who are without their starting quarterback for the rest of the season). But Green Bay was winning that division anyway.
What the Lions should be more concerned about is their own future. The loss revealed character issues and made their road to the playoffs uphill.
Even Ndamukong Suh's revised statement about his actions detailed in the link above does not address how he went from the sublime "didn't do it" to "went too far." A tacit admission is not enough after such a denial—a mature player would have to admit his denial was also wrong.
A team lacking in accountability from top to bottom will not win three games when at least one will have to be at New Orleans, Oakland or Green Bay. At least one of those wins will have to come without their best defensive player.
That means they likely finish outside of the playoff picture unless two teams between the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants lose three of their final six games (or one of those teams, plus Chicago losing four of six). It would be the second time in the last five seasons that Detroit started out 6-2 and missed the playoffs.
The Packers won this game because they were better prepared. Mike McCarthy even knew the tendencies of the referee crew. This was reflected in the play of each unit...
Aaron Rodgers: A-
Rodgers had a poor game by his standards.
He was off target as often as a pass was dropped, was sacked twice and fumbled once. He had no rushing yards (just a one-yard loss on a kneeldown) while completing 22 of 33 passes (.667) with two touchdowns.
But he still threw for over 300 yards and continued his NFL-record streak of games with over a 110-passer rating (116.6). He drew two defensive penalties and still did not turn the ball over, thanks in part to Bryan Bulaga's fumble recovery.
Running Backs: D+
Brandon Saine even got into this game. He had two carries for 10 yards and a nine-yard reception in garbage time.
Ryan Grant led the Packers with just 20 yards on six carries while catching three passes for 20 more. James Starks was able to play some through his sprained knee, but got just four carries and 19 yards. John Kuhn added five carries for five yards and a touchdown, plus a 10-yard reception.
A total of 93 yards on 22 touches (4.2 average) is low considering the Lions have a bad run defense, while their pass rush created the need for more dump-offs (five catches, 39 yards to running backs). Kuhn was also called for holding, but otherwise blocking was adequate and the touchdown allows this performance to be palatable.
James Jones led the Packers with 94 yards receiving thanks to turning one of his three catches (coming on a low pass) into a 65-yard touchdown. Greg Jennings had the other score among his five catches and 74 yards.
Jermichael Finley may have had a drop, but he also made a great catch over a defender to give him 38 yards on two catches. Jordy Nelson also had a drop, leaving him with just 26 yards on four catches.
Randall Cobb had two catches for 21 yards but obviously lacks the familiarity of Rodgers' other receivers, as evidenced by his inability to adjust to a back-shoulder throw that could have given him a touchdown.
Donald Driver's modest-production streak (three multi-catch games for a total of 126 yards) ended with him getting just one catch for 15 yards.
That adds up to 269 yards on 17 catches (15.8 average) and two scores. They were open all day, drew two pass-interference calls and generated a lot of yards after the catch. But Jennings, Finley and Jones each had illegal procedure penalties, and along with the two dropped passes that is enough to keep their grade from being an A.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line had a mixed-to-bad performance exemplified by Bryan Bulaga, who was penalized for illegal use of the hands but recovered a fumble to keep the Packers turnover-free. It was the unit's only penalty.
The line had a tough task in pass protection, made tougher by the injury to Josh Sitton during the game. Considering the line they faced, yielding two sacks for 11 yards was a solid performance.
The line bears most of the blame for the lack of holes against a defense that frequently does not maintain its responsibilities against the run. But the line also deserves credit for drawing the penalty on Suh that got him ejected, as well as an illegal use of hands by Kyle Vanden Bosch. Both penalties resulted in automatic first downs despite netting seven total yards.
Defensive Line: C
Another unit with mixed results. Four players on the defensive line combined for just six tackles and two assists, but added a sack and a pass deflection that resulted in the game's first turnover and score.
The sack belonged to B.J. Raji, his third of the year, but he had just one tackle. Ryan Pickett had the deflection but just one tackle and one assist. Most of the tackles were made by the rotation of Jarius Wynn (two tackles) and C.J. Wilson (two plus an assist), but that was because the Lions ran to that side a lot.
Overall, Detroit (one of the worst rushing teams in the league) had 17 carries for 105 yards (6.2) and a touchdown without Matthew Stafford's scrambles. On the other hand, they had three penalties for 35 yards due to illegal blocks at the point of attack.
Packers linebackers bear the brunt of the blame for Stafford's 31 yards on four runs, as well as the six catches for 40 yards to tight ends. They are almost solely responsible for the astounding 16 catches and 135 yards to the backs.
But they kept any plays from gashing them big, outside of one 22-yard scramble, and that is about all one can expect on dump-offs. They are nigh impossible to stop, and Stafford had to go to them because coverage was great.
More than that, the linebackers made plays. Clay Matthews (three tackles and an assist) had the first Packers interception by someone outside of the secondary, and reserve Rob Francois (three tackles) got another.
Francois was not the only reserve to get playing time, as both A.J. Hawk (four tackles, two assists) and Desmond Bishop (two, two) were hurt during the game. That gave rookie D.J. Smith (four, one) a chance to show that this unit still has depth on the inside.
Outside linebacker Erik Walden (five, three) continues to fill in admirably for Frank Zombo. Brad Jones got onto the field when Matthews went down briefly but did not make a tackle. That gave the unit a total of 21 tackles, nine assists and two interceptions with only one offside penalty for four yards.
Note: Erik Walden was arrested for felony domestic battery Friday and is spending the weekend in the Brown County jail. Expect the team to release him like they did Brandon Underwood if the evidence points to his guilt—Green Bay has too many options to put up with off-the-field issues.
Charles Woodson added another pick to his team lead and registered four tackles and an assist. Tramon Williams added four tackles but should have had a pick-six, and Sam Shields had three more tackles. Morgan Burnett led the unit with five tackles, and Charlie Peprah added three with an assist.
But that only tells a small part of the story.
Not only did the secondary hold all-world receiver Calvin Johnson to four catches for 49 yards and a single score, but they kept virtually every other receiver off the stat sheet: Nate Burleson had five catches but just 39 yards, Titus Young had one for 13 and no tight end had a reception net more than 10 yards.
The unit did not take a penalty or draw a hold. Even though the secondary had only one big play, the one score did not happen until the lead was 24 points. They are the main reason Matthew Stafford had just a 66.5 passer rating—his 71.1 completion percentage included half of his passes completed on dump-offs to the backs.
Special Teams: C-
Mason Crosby hit field goals of 32 and 35 yards and put five of his six kicks into the end zone, though only one was a touchback. Packers coverage units held Detroit to a 25.8-yard average on returns.
Tim Masthay had five punts averaging just 41.4 yards because he put four of them inside the 20, including the one return for a two-yard loss. But his one kick that was not inside the 20 was a touchback.
Randall Cobb also had a two-yard loss for his only punt return and averaged just 22.5 yards on his two kick returns, including one that started the Packers inside the 15. The other kick "return" was Donald Driver retrieving an onside kick.
Pat Lee was ejected for an unsportsmanlike conduct on what was an overreaction to a little liberty taken on him by a Detroit player through the whistle. It is enough to tip the grade to more bad than good.