Standout performances by Preston Smith and Jamaal Williams helped the Green Bay Packers earn win number five.
The Packers won a grueling battle with the rival Lions to improve to 5-1 on the season.
Here are some positives and negatives from the loss.
Positive: Preston Smith
One of the Packers’ free agent additions is having an All-Pro type season. The former Redskin has absolutely dominated through six games and has been one of the best pass rushers in all of football. Preston Smith is third in the league in sacks and has also been elite providing consistent pressure off the edge.
The Packers were scolded for the contract they handed out to Smith, but as it turns out they got a bargain. Against the Lions, he had another sack-and-a-half, and helped produce some big stops against the run. Brian Gutekunst also made a smart calculation, in understanding that as Smith potentially gets doubled later in the season, his other big addition, Za’Darius Smith, will see more one-on-one opportunities.
For the first time in a long, long time, the Packers have a legitimate pass rush. One wonders how good it could become if Rashan Gary develops into a contributor. The Packers still need more from Kenny Clark in the middle, but the addition of Smith might have been the best free agent signing in the NFL last offseason and one of the best in team history.
Negative: Kevin King
The Packers desperately need Kevin King to be better than he was against the Lions. Twice in the first quarter, King got absolutely torched on deep bombs from Matthew Stafford. Jaire Alexander can blow an assignment from time to time, but he is clearly among the most talented corners in football.
King continues to be so up and down. In a potential playoff matchup with a pass-happy offense, King could be picked on relentlessly. If wide receiver weren’t as big a need as it is at the moment for the Packers, cornerback might have been the team’s biggest need before the trade deadline. Tramon Williams is still hanging on in the slot, but the Packers are in dire need of more consistent coverage.
The return of Darnell Savage might loosen up the secondary a little bit, but King needs to hold up his end of the bargain the way he did against the Vikings and Eagles. If he does that, the Packers might have a playoff-ready secondary.
Positive: Jamaal Williams
Jamaal Williams is having a really strong season spelling Aaron Jones. The Packers appear to have found a legitimate complement to Jones and got everything they needed out of Williams against Detroit. Williams has been so dependable, particularly on first down, repeatedly setting the offense up with manageable down-and-distance situations.
Jones is still the team’s most talented back, but against the Lions it was clear that Matt LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett know how to get the most out of Williams. The third running back spot is still up in the air, as Dexter Williams has yet to see the field. But assuming health, Jones and Williams are working like a charm.
Negative: Jimmy Graham
There’s no more defending Jimmy Graham. His decline has been steep, and the Packers just can’t rely on him to provide anything for Aaron Rodgers. At this point, he is essentially an expensive Richard Rodgers and will certainly be let go after this season. The Packers need to get Robert Tonyan back, and need to see what Jace Sternberger can provide once he comes off of injured reserve.
Graham’s Hall-of-Fame level play with the Saints seems like a lifetime ago. He has given the offense almost nothing to work with in back-to-back years, and can’t be counted on in the playoffs. He still has a massive 6-foot-7 frame, but the Packers just have to see more out of him before outright benching him in favor of Marcedes Lewis. Given how poor he’s played, it may make sense to try to turn him into an extra draft pick from a desperate team.
Positive: Dean Lowry
Dean Lowry has become the team’s best interior defensive lineman. His presence made the decision to release Mike Daniels a very easy call for Brian Gutekunst. Kenny Clark just cannot be trusted against the run, while Lowry continues to shine in the middle of the line. Ted Thompson hardly got anything right over the second half of his tenure in Green Bay, but Lowry was one of his best picks.
The Packers need to feature Lowry more on first down. Mike Pettine’s pass rushers are too good to not provide Clark with as much help in the middle as possible. The defense’s linebackers are also subpar, so Lowry’s dependability in the middle is crucial. Gutekunst and the Packers made an easy decision picking Lowry and rookie Kingsley Keke over the aging and overrated Mike Daniels.
The Packers just cannot go through the rest of the season like this. Without Davante Adams, the receiving corps is terrifyingly bad. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, and Allen Lazard is frightening to exactly no one. Not to mention Darrius Shepherd, who had a rather nightmarish performance against Detroit.
Gutekunst needs to make a move before the deadline. Robby Anderson, Emmanuel Sanders, A.J. Green, and Mohamed Sanu all make sense as potential trade targets. They’re all capable pass catchers who can take the baton while Adams is covered up. The team has been hoping Jimmy Graham could assume that role, but it just hasn’t happened.
The Packers’ offense is just one or two playmakers away from being among the best in the game again. Armed with an extra sixth-round pick, and two extra seventh-rounders, the team is already in a healthy position in next year’s draft. The Packers are 5-1, and have a reasonable path to a first-round bye. In other words, the Packers might well be in a position to be two games away from a Super Bowl berth. It’s time to go all in.