Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
In order to help bring some outside perspective on the battle with Green Bay, I called upon Cody Bauer. He is a Packers fan who has contributed to several NFL sites, including RealGM (where I also write) and NFL’s Future. In addition, Cody spent a week with me in Mobile for the Senior Bowl last January and we spent hours talking football. He will contribute some draft content here later this winter as well. You can follow Cody on Twitter @CBauerNFLDraft.
How does the Green Bay offense change with Matt Flynn at the controls?
Green Bay’s offense changes quite a bit with Matt Flynn at the helm compared to Aaron Rodgers or Scott Tolzien. The biggest thing Matt Flynn brings to the table as a starter is a good understanding of the offense. Despite only starting a handful of games, Flynn knows what to look for at the line of scrimmage and can make appropriate checks in regards to what the defense is showing. This is imperative in running an offense in the NFL. Defenses try to disguise what coverages they’re in, and unless you’re comfortable with how you want to attack different looks you are destined to fail.
This is where Flynn separates himself from Tolzien. That is not to say that Tolzien can’t learn this down the road in his career but, having just been called up from the practice squad a month ago, it is inconceivable to expect him to have a full grasp of it. Flynn also has separated himself from Tolzien in that Flynn has really avoided bad turnovers in his career. Flynn usually puts the ball where only his guy can make a play on it or knows to throw it away.
The Packers offense will look different to the Lions from the last time they played Green Bay – when Rodgers was quarterback . Everyone knows what Rodgers can do and, compared to Flynn, the Lions should be grateful that Rodgers isn’t able to go. It’s been well-documented how bad Flynn torched the Lions two years ago in week 17, but that was a game that was meaningless to both teams and doesn’t mean much, if anything, in this contest.
The Lions won’t have to worry about Flynn escaping the pocket; extending plays and looking for receivers downfield. Flynn lacks the athleticism and arm strength of Rodgers and doesn’t have the ability of Rodgers to improvise. Flynn will take what the defense gives him, usually within the pocket. Without Cobb and Finley the Packers two big threats are on the outside; but with the limitations of Flynn’s arm deep shots will be used only sparingly. Flynn isn’t a stranger to checking it down; Eddie Lacy recorded a season high 6 catches last week on 6 targets.
The Packers run a lot of looks with the defensive line. How effective have they been lately?
The Packers, like many other 3-4 teams, run a lot of different looks on the defensive line. The base defensive line has been without one of the more unheralded players in the league in Johnny Jolly for the last week and a half – and it shows. The Packers were abused defending the run vs the Vikings last week, giving up 146 yards to Adrian Peterson and, even more surprisingly, 91 yards to Toby Gerhart.
Jolly practiced on Tuesday and could be back which would help in the Packers base looks. Pickett and Raji are also in the base 3-4 and have been relatively quiet this year. Pickett does a decent job at the point of attack holding up blockers and allowing AJ Hawk and Brad Jones some nice gaps to shoot. Raji has been a disappointment this year, which doesn’t bode well for him as he’s in a contract year. Raji gets looks when the Packers go to a 2-man line in the nickel and hasn’t provided much pass rush.
The pass rush has primarily come from stand out 2nd year pro Mike Daniels. Daniels has lined up as a 5 tech, but usually lines up as a 3 tech and is given one-on-one opportunities vs the guard. Daniels wins with natural leverage (only 6 ft tall) as well as with a very good motor to keep after the QB. Daniels has been used more frequently in the base, and while he is somewhat limited in the trenches making plays off his blocker he usually does a good job at the point of attack.
Datone Jones works mostly in the nickel or dime defense with 2 down lineman but will occasionally get some looks with 3 down lineman. Jones has done most of his damage this year lining up as the 1 tech, not trying to get up field but instead spying the QB and attacking when he breaks the pocket. Jones has flashed, but has been pretty quiet especially considering his draft position. Worthy has been recently activated and is just getting his feet wet. He also works mostly in the nickel and dime defense.
Both the base and nickel defensive line looks have struggled, particularly against the run. They’ve given up 514 yards rushing over the last 3 games, and while missed tackles form the LBs and secondary contribute to that number the defensive line hasn’t been doing its job. They need to be better at getting penetration into the backfield to redirect ball carriers, holding up blockers to free up the linebackers, and getting off of blocks to make plays at the line of scrimmage. The nickel looks with Daniels specifically have been successful for the Packers. Capers likes to bring blitzes out of this look which have only been effective occasionally, but it’s nice to see some d-lineman make some plays.
What is your biggest worry about facing the Lions?
The biggest worry for the Packers facing the Lions is the same worry every team has when they face the Lions: stopping Calvin Johnson. I know the Packers have been gashed vs the run as of late, but the big play in the pass game has also really hurt the Packers. The Packers were lucky that Megatron didn’t play in their first matchup, and the Lions offense looked brutal.
The only good news for the Packers is that Sam Shields has resumed practicing, and he is expected to take the responsibility of matching up with Johnson. Shields came out after the first meeting and said that he was disappointed he couldn’t test himself against Johnson and that he was looking forward to their matchup. Shields may want to be careful what he wishes for; but there is no denying that Shields has the ability to run with Johnson. It remains to be seen, however, if he can match up with him physically.
What’s even more unfortunate for the Packers is the putrid play of their safeties. Morgan Burnett was rewarded with a contract extension earlier this year, but his play hasn’t warranted it as of late. He’s missing tackles, not holding containment, and hasn’t recorded an interception all year. MD Jennings has been worse – as impossible as that may seem. Jennings really doesn’t belong as a starter for an NFL team; he isn’t a good tackler and is often lost in coverage. The Packers can’t let this game get into a shoot-out or they will lose. Flynn and the offense can’t keep up with Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Who wins and why?
As much as it pains me to say this, I have the Lions winning this game 35-27. The Packers haven’t shown the ability to stop the run and have given up big plays in the passing game over the last month. I can’t see that changing in what’s a really crucial game in deciding the fate of the NFL North. Bush should be able to find holes and break a few tackles to sustain drives for the Lions and, as long as Stafford doesn’t make bad decisions with the ball, the Lions should be able to put up points. The Packers have only recorded 4 interceptions all year and have really blown some good opportunities to change the field.
I can’t see the Packers offensive line holding up well enough for Flynn to find receivers downfield, especially if Newhouse is starting again at right tackle; his nickname in cheese head country is Marshall “Outhouse”. The Packers will work Eddie Lacy frequently to try and control the time of possession and keep Stafford and the rest of the Lions weapons off the field. Unless the Lions implode with personal foul penalties, or bad coaching (which they are prone to do), it should be their game to lose and move a game and a half up on the Packers.