Early Bird Breakdown Week 3 – Lions @ Packers

Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown for week three of the regular season for the Packers.  This week is going to be a little different, as I am going to dive also into the Packers’ offensive woes. Before we dive into the matchups, let’s look at last week’s recap.

The Recap:

Last week Green Bay played in Minnesota and were shutdown offensively as the Vikings won 17-14. The Packers offense was held to under 300 total yards and looked miserable, though this has become something of a scary trend dating back to last season, which will be covered down below. Now, on to the breakdown.

The Breakdown:

Packers’ Offense vs Lions’ Defense:

Let’s first take a step back and realize Green Bay right now is an average offense at best. While this is something that at face value seems laughable, the numbers paint a very stark picture. Last season Green Bay was 23rd in yards per game & 15th in points per game. Now, most people dismissed last season as a fluke due to Nelson’s injury, but looking at this season through the small sample size of two games the Packers are 29th in yards and 18th in points. So what caused the regression from what was widely known as one of the league’s top offenses to this? Multiple things: the Packers’ offense was exposed on film last season versus Denver and the play calling has not adjusted, Aaron Rodgers has lost faith in his receivers and because of that is not throwing as precise, and the lack of a dynamic weapon on offense has caused defenses to cheat in on the Packers’ receiving corps.

Last season Denver gave the league the blueprint to exposing the Packers’, “smoke and mirrors,” offense. What I mean by this is that Green Bay used a lot of guile for big plays and not actual speed to generate yards in large chunks. Hard counts for off sides leading to free plays, double moves to the open end of the field, & back shoulder throws for first downs. This was the entirety of the offensive repertoire and it was done to perfection. Jordy Nelson was the best wide receiver in the league at executing the back shoulder play and using a double move to create space. Despite possessing average speed, Nelson became known as a top-flight deep threat, but what most of the camera angles (even on replays due to the perspective of the quarterback being shown) failed to show was exactly how Nelson got open. He did it with perfect cuts that threw off the corners, faking one way and going another which created enough space to go down field for 30-4o yard big gains. What Denver first realized that no one else really did was how physically the Packers do not possess any players that can naturally beat anyone one-on-one except for Nelson (who was out due to injury). So, Denver loaded the box daring Green Bay to beat them over the top, and they could not. They prepped their corners to not fall for any double moves, instead giving an extra foot of space because they knew as long as they were headed in the right direction, they could out run the Packers receivers to the ball and break it up or force a drop. Now, while Denver has the league’s best defense, other coordinators picked up on this too. Play the Packers short and dare them to go deep, which seems crazy on the surface since Rodgers can make the big throw but the receivers cannot make the big play. Now circle back to this season, and Nelson is back but the problem is not fixed. I alluded to this week one before the Jacksonville game, but I did not think Nelson was necessarily going to be the fix. Nelson is now 31 years old on a surgically repaired knee. As I said before, he was an average speed receiver who used impressive cuts, cuts he may not be able to do as well & defenses are more ready for since they ran the same plays with Davante Adams last year. The route trees are the same and corners are not being faked out. This leaves Nelson as effectively a short-to-mid sure handed guy, for clutch back shoulder throws. But that is not enough, as defenses have too many people lined up close. Mike McCarthy last week called out the team to run the ball more, but he is the head coach and play caller, he could have tried running the ball more at any point. The play calling not only is stale, but it is well scouted now by all 31 other teams and they have a good game plan for the Packers. Even Jacksonville week one held Green Bay to under 200 yards passing.

Due to the hardships last season of the Packers’ receivers being able to get open, Rodgers seems to have developed a lot of rust & become gun shy. He has the talent to succeed, we have seen it, but right now he looks lost out on the field at times. He could be hiding an injury to explain some of the erratic play, but I think it is more mental than physical. Rodgers looks pressured to carry the team because he had to last year when no one was getting open and so far this season there have been few wide open looks. While Rodgers needs to improve, the players on the roster need to play better, the real thing that needs improvement for the future is talent.

Green Bay has not had a dynamic wide receiver since Javon Walker. What I mean by dynamic is a physical mismatch, someone who is just so physically gifted defenses have to change game plans to accommodate. Jermichael Finley at tight end was the closest to that kind of a weapon Rodgers has had in his tenure as a quarterback. Look around the league and you can see what those options do for teams. Two years ago, New England without Rob Gronkowski got slaughtered so bad on Monday Night Football by Kansas City that there was talk of Tom Brady’s career being over. The following week, Gronkowski returned and New England went on a tear, they could do nothing wrong offensively and they won the Super Bowl. The Packers need someone bigger or faster than everyone else out on the field to change the way teams look at the Packers. Green Bay should do what Houston did when they acquired Will Fuller in this last draft, trade up aggressively for a top target for Rodgers, such as Alabama’s tight end Howard.

Having said all that, there is enough here to obviously get hot on a given week and score points but in the last 20 games dating back to last season, they have scored 30 or more points in only three games and scored under twenty in five. Last season against the Lions, the Packers split the series with both teams winning on the road, proving that either of these teams can win on the other’s turf. Detroit is incredibly thin at linebacker right now due to injuries, so while the blueprint may be out on the Packers trying to throw it short, the Lions may not have the personnel to cover those spots. The Lions also are missing their best pass rusher in Ezekiel Ansah, which should take a lot of pressure off of Rodgers.

Packers’ Defense vs Lions’ Offense:

The Packers defense has been the better unit the last season and change and will be looked upon to keep Detroit down so the Packers can avoid losing to Detroit at home again for the second straight season. One of the challenges to overcome will be the loss of Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett. On the flip side, the Lions went from very good on offense week one to incredibly poor week two.

Matthew Stafford should have time in the pocket to make throws if Detroit focuses on blocking Mike Daniels with Matthews out with injury. If Stafford plays mistake free, this game should remain close for Detroit, who also have the balance running the ball to keep the Packers off-balance. However, the Packers run defense has been incredibly stout and I expect even without Matthews and Burnett that Detroit will be forced into being more one dimensional.

The Weather:

Lambeau expects to be a pleasant 72 degrees and cloudy at the time of writing. Rain is expected, but projected to start after the game so the conditions could be quite good, though if the storm rolls in early the fourth quarter may be sloppy.

The Breakdown:

The Packers and Lions both field inconsistent offenses that both feel the pressure to turn it around. The Packers offense should bounce back, as while they had 4 games last season under 20 points, the following week they rebounded to average 27.5 the week after the disappointment. Detroit usually plays the Packers very close, winning in Lambeau last season but losing at home to a last second Hail Mary pass from Green Bay. If Detroit plays as bad as they did last week however, I think they may get blown out as I think at least this week Green Bay should score in the high twenties and may even crack into the thirties. I think Detroit hangs around but their injuries and the Packers’ being motivated leads to a 27-20 Green Bay win.

As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University