The Detroit Lions (4-4) and the Green Bay Packers (4-4) are two divisional foes passing in the night, as Detroit’s prime-time 30-17 victory at Lambeau Field in Week 9 made abundantly clear. Here’s what we learned:
1. Matthew Stafford is feeling it. The Lions quarterback was zoned in the second consecutive week against Green Bay, throwing with superior anticipation and touch for 361 yards at 11.4 yards per attempt. Unlike in the Lions’ loss to Pittsburgh, Stafford hit pay dirt at Lambeau, tossing two dimes to Marvin Jones (7 rec, 107 yards). His psychic timing with Jones and Golden Tate (7 receptions, 113 yards) was Aaron Rodgers-esque in the injured QB’s own building. Behind Stafford’s deft play, Detroit did not attempt a punt on the evening.
The Lions held the ball for over 36 minutes Monday night, frustrating and tiring the Packers’ defense, which surrendered over 400 total yards for the third time in four games. “We just s—-ed the bed. Point blank. Period,” Green Bay corner Damarious Randall told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It was just a lack of coverage, a lack of pass rush, a lack of everything. They just flat out played better tonight. Period.”
When Stafford is rolling, his offense seems invincible — until it enters the red zone, but we’ll get to that soon. His return to MVP form comes at the perfect time for a Lions team that had lost three straight before Monday evening. Sitting at .500, Detroit has games against Cleveland, Chicago and Minnesota coming up. A clean sweep, a probable outcome if this offense continues to churn, could put the Lions ahead in the NFC North by the dawn of December.
2. Stafford’s stellar evening highlighted all the more his lack of competition on the other side of the ball. In his third game filling in for Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley (245 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt) improved only marginally upon his past limited performances. Early on, the Packers asked Hundley to move the pocket and get the ball into the hands of their faster playmakers (Randall Cobb, Trevor Davis) close to or behind the line of scrimmage, but Green Bay struggled to gain productive yardage. When asked to stand in, the young QB was antsy, choosing to roll back and out of instead of stepping up into the pocket. Those counter-productive plays set Green Bay back all night long. Hundley played best when running the no-huddle, but Green Bay didn’t utilize it until it had fallen behind three scores in the middle of the second half.
Coach Mike McCarthy, for one, was encouraged by his quarterback’s performance. “Brett Hundley played better tonight. I have great faith in Brett. Brett Hundley is not the issue right now,” he explained to reporters following the game. “There’s some very lopsided statistics. Look close at those … on third down, they owned it. You can’t have that variance in production and win football games. … I thought he threw the heck out of the football tonight.”
These are uncharted waters for the Packers, who are without a consistent deep-ball element and an identity on offense for the first time in nearly three decades. McCarthy and Co. have not yet figured out how to move the ball in a post-Rodgers world, and it won’t get easier for Hundley’s bunch against a similarly fierce front seven in Chicago next week.
3. Aaron Jones was a no-show on the biggest stage of his young career. Green Bay attempted to ride him against Detroit’s top-tier run defense, but the rookie (5 carries, 12 yards) was repeatedly stuffed early when he wasn’t used as a decoy on designed option plays for Hundley. Jones barely saw the field in the second half. Ty Montgomery, the better pass-catching back, filled in for five rushes and 33 yards, while rookie back Jamaal Williams scored Green Bay’s garbage-time goal-line touchdown. With an inexperienced quarterback under center, now is not the time for the Packers to experiment with their backfield.
4. Detroit’s Wild and Sticky Adventures in the Red Zone continued Monday. The Lions took four trips inside the 20-yard line and only two ended in six, a better stat than their oh-fer against the Steelers, but still… Their first sojourn concluded with an Ameer Abdullah untouched sweep in the end zone. But the second time around, Detroit attempted three runs right up the middle from the 1 and was stuffed each time, botching an opportunity to go up three touchdowns. Jones reeled in a pretty pass on the Lions’ third attempt for the game-sealing score. On the final march, Dwayne Washington was stuffed and Stafford was deflected at the line before Matt Prater’s last field goal. Jim Bob Cooter is a wizard in the middle of the field, but the Lions offensive coordinator’s play-calling policy near the goal posts remains an puzzle.
5. Last week, I raved about Detroit’s emerging front seven. This week, the secondary deserves an ovation, namely cornerback Darius “Big Play” Slay and safety Glover Quin. Slay’s handsy blanket coverage of Jordy Nelson deep could have been repeatedly penalized, but the corner kept a clean sheet and shut down whatever deep ball Hundley tried to muster when the game was competitive. Quin’s confident fourth-down stuff of Cobb on a jet sweep was the most electric defensive play of the game and illuminated his status as one of the game’s premier safeties.
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