Packers continue to dominate line of scrimmage in Week 3 victory over Lions

Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to pass in the third quarter during the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to pass in the third quarter during the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Run defense has long been the Green Bay Packers’ Achilles heel, but Dom Capers’ unit has dominated through three weeks.

Powered by Mike Daniels, the Packers defensive front sits proudly as the league’s best run-stuffing unit. Through three weeks—including a meeting with Adrian Peterson—the Packers have allowed just 42.7 yards per game on the ground.

Without Datone Jones and Letroy Guion (injury) as well as Mike Pennel (suspension), depth along the defensive line was a major concern.

Rookies Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry were thrown in at the deep end, and both played their part. They were supported by the play of the linebackers, in particular Nick Perry.

Finally healthy, Perry set up shop in Detroit’s backfield and was dominant against the run. He also racked up two sacks, taking his tally to 3.5 on the year, the same number he posted all of last season.

Incredibly, the Packers have allowed just 1.8 yards per attempt to opposing running backs. Detroit ran 23 times for just 50 yards, one week after Green Bay limited Adrian Peterson to 19 yards from 12 carries.

Poor play in the secondary has held Dom Capers’ defense back, but young cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins will improve as the year goes on. The Packers hope to have Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett back following the bye, although there status remains up in the air.

Offense in rhythm, in sync

Aaron Rodgers is the king of broken plays, but this backyard football was largely to blame for the Packers’ offensive struggles of recent times. Rodgers’ ability to roll out and make magic happen became the gameplan, rather than the last resort.

Mike McCarthy went a way to changing that in Sunday’s victory. Rodgers got the ball out quicker and played with more rhythm than seen previously. McCarthy got creative with his personnel and schemes, moving receivers around the field to create mismatches. Detroit struggled to contain Jordy Nelson in the slot.

The Packers are at their best offensively when operating in rhythm, a fundamental to McCarthy’s West Coast offense. At its optimum level, Rodgers’ roll outs are only required to escape pressure when his receivers aren’t open.

Green Bay’s first-half performance on Sunday perfectly combined well-designed plays, excellent execution and a sprinkle of Rodgers’ magic outside of the pocket, including a 33-yard connection with Randall Cobb rolling to his right.

Balance was key, the Packers’s 48 offensive plays split equally (24 passes, 24 runs).

Rodgers carved open the Lions’ secondary through the air, but the Packers also found success on the ground, Eddie Lacy piling up 103 yards from his 17 carries. The ball was fired to nine different targets, with only Jordy Nelson (six receptions, 101 yards, two touchdowns), making more than two catches.

Rodgers’ performance closely resembled his MVP-best, throwing for 205 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating of 129.3 was easily his best of the season, snapping a 14-game streak without a rating of 100-plus.

Conservative play-calling? Not so much

Mike McCarthy received his share of criticism over conservative play-calling late in the game, but this isn’t the reason for the Lions’ comeback.

Due to Detroit’s long drives, the Packers ran fewer plays in the second half (22) than in the first (29).

It’s true that the Packers did run the ball more frequently in the second half (12 runs, 10 passes) compared to the first (8 runs, 21 passes), but this wasn’t to blame for the lack of points. Eddie Lacy was efficient on the ground, averaging 5.5 yards per carry on 11 second-half runs.

Each stalled drive was a result of the passing game, not the ground game. The Packers’ opening possession in the third quarter began with five consecutive Lacy runs, going for eight, six, seven and nine yards before no gain on the fifth. A holding call put the Packers third-and-20, and they soon punted.

It was only on the Packers’ final drive where the run game hit a wall. Lacy lost a yard on first down and picked up just three on second down, setting up third-and-long to echoes of boos around Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers picked up the first himself and a nine-yard Lacy run put the game on ice.

It wasn’t conservative play-calling that allowed the Lions a shot to comeback. Lacy was efficient on the ground, and incompletions through the air led stalled the Packers’ second-half drives.