NFC North: 2013 Week 5 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 22-9 win over the Detroit Lions:

Rodgers returns to form: One of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' best attribute is bouncing back after a rare poor performance, so it was little surprise that he played near mistake-free football on Sunday in his first game since the Week 3 loss at Cincinnati, where Rodgers threw two interceptions and ended a streak of 41 games without multiple interceptions. Against the Lions, Rodgers showed again that he won’t force throws and will take what the defense gives. As the game wore on, the Lions came out of their deep zone coverage, and Rodgers took advantage. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers completed 5 of 7 passes and gained 200 of his 274 passing yards on balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield. The five completions and 200 yards on balls 20 yards or more in the air both were career highs. “The opportunities outside first started with the late safety rolling down into the box and them playing soft on the outside,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “As the coverages got tight, we were able to attack deeper. We wish we probably would have been able to hit a couple more of those.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsEddie Lacy rushed for 99 yards in Green Bay's win over Detroit.
Offensive line credit: When three different running backs put up big numbers, that says something about the offensive line. Eddie Lacy came up 1 yard short of giving the Packers three straight 100-yard games by three different backs. (James Starks rushed for 132 in Week 2 against Washington, and Johnathan Franklin for 103 in Week 3 against the Bengals.) In rushing for 180 yards, the Packers hit that mark in consecutive games (they had 182 against Cincinnati) for the first time since 2003. Interior linemen Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton controlled defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, while tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay have made major strides in their run-blocking. “Those guys are rolling right now,” Rodgers said of the line.

Pass-rush prowess: Anything the Packers accomplished on defense must be prefaced by reminding everyone that the Lions did not have their best player, receiver Calvin Johnson, who sat out because of a knee injury. Nevertheless, coordinator Dom Capers’ unit cranked up its pass rush and rendered quarterback Matthew Stafford ineffective. Stafford was sacked or put under duress on 22 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Coming into the game, he was pressured on a league-low 12 percent of his dropbacks. The Packers sacked him five times -- all by linebackers. In the Lions’ first four games, Stafford was sacked just three times combined.

Return-game options: In their first game since cutting kick returner Jeremy Ross, the Packers used a platoon system but did not get enough opportunities to see whether it will work. Franklin was assigned to kickoff returns, but all of them were touchbacks. Receiver Randall Cobb and cornerback Micah Hyde split punt-return duties, with Cobb handling anything that would be fielded inside the Packers’ 20-yard line. Each had two returns and both averaged 3.5 yards per return.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 5

October, 7, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions22-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Tom Lynn /Getty ImagesLions coach Jim Schwartz said the team planned for a game either with or without Calvin Johnson.
No Calvin Johnson: It doesn’t sound like Detroit’s superstar receiver will be out for long, but the Lions learned exactly how important he is to the scheme of their offense. Even more concerning, perhaps, is that coach Jim Schwartz insisted they planned for a game either with him or without him. Unlike against Arizona, when Detroit lost Reggie Bush in-game, the Lions should have been better prepared for life without Johnson, as dreary as the outcome may be.

With a healthy Johnson and Bush -- or at least both of them on the field simultaneously -- Detroit’s offense is among the most explosive in the NFL. When one is missing, it is severely hampered. The other issue with Johnson’s absence, and this is compounded by Nate Burleson’s injury, is Detroit’s other receivers are not going to be game-changers, at least not with consistency. Detroit desperately needs Johnson to return against Cleveland.

Chris Houston’s health: The Lions were fairly decent on defense Sunday, something that was somewhat missed in the final score. But Aaron Rodgers picked on Houston at points, and after the loss Houston himself admitted he wasn’t fully back yet. He should get credit for trying to go, and he made some nice plays, but deeper routes were an issue for him. Luckily for Houston and Detroit, Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden is no Rodgers. Yet hamstrings can be fickle when it comes to healing, so Houston needs to make sure he’s as rested as possible. Rashean Mathis and Bill Bentley played well opposite Houston on Sunday.

The NFC North will be close: The Lions are halfway through divisional play now and are, frankly, where they probably belong at 2-1. This is going to be something to watch every week now as the Lions, Packers and Bears are all within a half-game of each other and could end up fighting for two playoff berths (the division title and one wild-card spot). There is still a ton of season left for every team and a lot can happen, but this division race might be one of the tightest in the NFL. The good news for Detroit: it is clearly in it. The bad news: it still has to go to Chicago and could have a tough stretch approaching with a game at surprising Cleveland followed by home games with Cincinnati and Dallas.

Returns still lacking: Detroit is still searching for some impact in its kick- and punt-return game. Micheal Spurlock has broken only one return this season (on a punt) and has taken kick returns out of the end zone more and more the past two weeks. Be it the blocking or Spurlock’s reads, the returns are just not an effective part of Detroit’s game right now. Detroit didn’t start at better than its 20-yard line on any drive Sunday.