21 Years and Counting: Lions/Packers nightcap

December 10th, 2012

by Jeff Risdon, Twitter @JeffRisdon

Another year, another trip to Wisconsin, another loss. This one was predictable but still painful, as the Lions thoroughly dominated the first half but failed to put enough distance on the Packers. Green Bay found its bearings and capitalized on Lions errors to pull away for the 27-20 win.

Positives:
–The first drive was a masterpiece. 12 plays, 80 yards, with a perfect blend of runs and passes, capped off by Matt Stafford scoring from four yards out on a beautiful bootleg fake. Mikel Leshoure ran well behind an inspired offensive line. Stafford even threw a great block on an end around by Mike Thomas.

–The first defensive drive. The Packers moved the ball comfortably, but when the Lions needed someone to make a play, Lawrence Jackson stepped up. His strip sack of Aaron Rodgers in the red zone firmly put momentum on the side of the visitors.

–Joique Bell. He impressed once again with nifty footwork for a larger back, including an open-field juke to the outside that led to a 13-yard gain. Bell also caught three of four balls thrown his way, two of which resulted in 3rd down conversions, and the misfire was an uncalled defensive hold.

–Third down offense. The Lions converted seven of their first nine third downs and finished 10-for-16. It helped that many were of the third and short variety, a positive byproduct of a largely effective running game on 1st downs. I also give Scott Linehan credit for using alternate weapons on 3rd down, with throws to Kris Durham and Will Heller instead of forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson in obvious situations.

–Nick Fairley. His 3rd down sack pushed the Packers out of field goal range, forcing a Mason Crosby miss that gave the Lions good field position and a chance to get back in front. He also forced a fumble and drew two penalties, another very strong showing from the second-year rising force. Packers center Jeff Saturday will want to burn this game tape.

–Special teams coverage units. They bottled up the dangerous Randall Cobb nicely, and his 13-yard punt return was as much on Nick Harris as the cover men. The lane integrity was strong.

–Kris Durham’s catch. To quote Coheed and Cambria, “Hang on to the glory of my right hand”. Amazing first catch as a Lion and it set up a touchdown. The rest of his night, not so much.

–Injuries. Brandon Pettigrew spent most of the night as an observer, and Don Carey left the game early, but neither appeared serious. Hey, we’re 4-9; you have to take every little victory you can…

Negatives:
–Matt Stafford’s mechanics. There were times where he needed to drop to sidearm or throw slew-footed, but there were several instances where Stafford had no good reason to throw with sloppy mechanics. On the 4th quarter drive that spelled the definitive end, two straight throws were side-armed floaters off his back foot. Both could have been intercepted. He wildly launched a couple other ducks where he dropped his arm angle with no rational reason. Matt Stafford is too good to keep making these fundamental errors, and the coaches need to put it to an abrupt end.

–Ball awareness on defense. On the drive where the Packers went ahead 17-14, there was a pass to Jermichael Finley that a Lions defender would have deflected (at minimum) had he looked for the ball. Aaron Rodgers capitalized on that lack of awareness with his 27-yard run where no Lions defenders off the line of scrimmage saw him before he was 15 yards downfield.

–The Wide 9. It’s been solved, period. Just as every gimmicky scheme gets figured out once opposing coaches have time to devour tape and come up with adjustments, that time has come with the Wide Nine defensive line scheme. I’ve got the tally in my game notes: 17 times the Packers ran successfully right through the void of the defensive end lining up wide and rushing up the field. It’s exacerbated by Suh’s propensity to get too far upfield, losing interior containment and giving the runner even more options. The worst part is that it really isn’t all that effective as a pass rush technique anymore; opposing tackles just sit inside and happily let Cliff Avril and Kyle VandenBosch take themselves out of the play.

–Return touchdown. Mike Daniels, all 290+ pounds of him, ambled 43 yards to the end zone after scooping up the empty-handed toss by Stafford. Daniels’ lack of athleticism was on display after the play, when his Lambeau Leap vertical was about 6 inches. Nobody caught up to him, but more disturbing is that no Lions were even in the wide shot when he scored. Nobody was going to catch him but it would have been nice to see someone at least try a Steve Tasker moment.

–Run defense. This goes in hand with ball awareness and Wide 9 to some extent, but the Lions continue to let middling offensive lines open up big holes up front. The safety play behind them is atrocious, no sugar coating it. It’s somewhat understandable with marginal backups manning the position, but they appear unaware of how to take proper angles or fill a lane. Ricardo Silva must be replaced.

–Penalties. A couple of the flags, notably the roughing call on Suh and the celebration penalty more after Scheffler’s touchdown, were petty but letter-of-the-law. The lack of discipline and reputation the Lions carry mean those flags are going to get thrown against them, right or not. This marked the 22nd time in the last 25 games where the Lions had more penalty yardage than the opponent. That’s not a trend, folks, that’s a hard-earned epidemic of being less disciplined and intelligent than the other team.

Now it’s on to Arizona to face the Cardinals, another 4-9 team that is reeling. If the Lions were to lose there, it’s time to really start talking about coaching changes that go beyond a position coach or coordinator.

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