Thursday, November 24, 2011
Deep passing game propels Packers to 11-0
The Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers was one for the history books.
The Lions entered 7-3 on the season, while the Packers were still unbeaten at 10-0, making it the second-highest combined win percentage of teams to meet on Thanksgiving since the merger, trailing only the 1995 matchup between the 9-2 Dallas Cowboys and 10-1 Kansas City Chiefs.
The decided difference between the teams was the ability to successfully throw the ball down the field, an area where Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers distanced himself from Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
Rodgers struggled in the first half going downfield, completing just one of five passes for 15 yards when throwing 11 or more yards downfield.
But in the second half, Rodgers regained his touch, going 6-7 for 180 yards on throws of 11 or more yards, including a touchdown to James Jones, helping the Packers stretch their overall win streak (including playoffs) to a franchise-record 17 games.
Last season, Rodgers was 6-13 with three touchdowns and three interceptions on such throws against the Lions.
Rodgers threw a pair of touchdown passes in the win, giving him at least two in all 11 games this season, the third-longest streak to start a season in NFL history, ranking behind only Peyton Manning’s 13-game streak to start the 2004 season, and Johnny Unitas’ 1959 season, when he threw multiple touchdown passes in all 12 regular season games.
On the other side was Stafford, who entered the game completing 48.6 percent of his passes 11 or more yards downfield at 11.5 yards per attempt this season.
But Thursday against the Packers, Stafford made a season-low seven attempts more than 10 yards downfield, completing just two.
Stafford regularly targeted his running backs, targeting them 17 times for 16 completions for 135 yards, all season highs. Meanwhile, Stafford was 10-18 for a season-low 101 yards throwing to his wide receivers in the loss.
Green Bay actually slowed down Stafford and the Lions offense by blitzing less often, using four or fewer pass rushers on 77.6 of Stafford’s dropbacks, their highest rate in a game this season. All three of Stafford’s interceptions came against four or fewer pass rushers.
The win moves the Packers to 11-0 on the season, the 11th team in the Super Bowl era to start at least 11-0. Of the previous 10, eight went to play in the Super Bowl, with five hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
They’re also the second defending Super Bowl champion to start a season 11-0, joining the 1998 Denver Broncos, who started 13-0 en route to a second straight Super Bowl title.
Green Bay is also just the third team to start 11-0, winning all 11 games by at least six points since the merger, joining the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2005 Indianapolis Colts.
The Lions have now lost eight straight Thanksgiving games, tying the Arizona Cardinals for the longest such streak in NFL history.