The rambling, non-recap Packers game review: Week 9 vs. Lions
Brett Hundley wasn't the reason the Green Bay Packers lost, 30-17, to the Detroit Lions. But he didn't really help them win, either.
With Aaron Rodgers still sidelined with a broken right collarbone and Hundley looking marginally more comfortable in his second career start, it was Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford who put on the throwing show at Lambeau Field on Monday night. Stafford shredded Green Bay's defense, snapping Detroit's three-game losing streak and extending the Packers' skid to three games, leading the Lions to just their second win in Wisconsin in 27 games over the last quarter-century. The Lions came into the game favored and with the better starting quarterback; when all was said and done, they had won the game easily, and won every phase within it.
Listen to OnMilwaukee's Postgame Tailgate discussion of the Packers' loss here.
Stafford completed 26 of 33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns, both to Marvin Jones, who had a dominant performance the last time he was at Lambeau Field too (205 yards and two receiving scores in September 2016). Stafford averaged 10.9 yards per attempt, confidently taking repeated deep shots against the Packers' struggling secondary, finishing with a season-high 132.4 passer rating. That's been the hallmark of Green Bay's defense recently, making opposing quarterbacks look like the two-time NFL MVP they're badly missing.
On Monday night, the Packers once again bled yards defensively, allowing 417 to Detroit, the third time in the last four games they've given up at least 400 total yards. Green Bay had no pass rush, sacking Stafford just once, and had only one takeaway, recovering an Ameer Abdullah fumble in the third quarter and proceeding to go three-and-out on the ensuing drive.
As for Hundley, he looked more capable, although he was leading what still seemed to be a much more conservative, predictable and unambitious version of the Packers offense. The third-year quarterback completed 26 of 38 passes for a career-high 245 yards (6.4 average) and an 86.0 rating with no turnovers. Hundley's 1-yard rushing touchdown with 9:52 left in the fourth quarter briefly gave Green Bay hope, cutting Detroit's lead to 10, but Stafford connected with Jones on a score less than two minutes later to put the game out of reach.
The Packers got nothing going on the ground, as running backs Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams combined for 11 rushes for 46 yards. Instead, head coach Mike McCarthy appeared to use a short passing game instead of a running attack, with more than half of his attempts traveling fewer than five yards downfield and many thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage. Hundley's biggest play was a 46-yard catch-and-run to Randall Cobb, but he otherwise couldn't connect with a wide receiver for a completion of more than 12 yards.
Despite two weeks to prepare for this game, coming off a bye that saw Green Bay get as healthy as it will be all season – besides the scripted opening drive – the Packers weren't productive.
The offense couldn't extend drives, going 2 of 9 on third downs, while defensively they couldn't get off the field or make stops when they needed to late. Detroit succeeded on 8 of 13 third downs and controlled the game, dominating time of possession 36:55 to 23:05. Trailing in the fourth quarter and running out of time, Green Bay got going a bit with its no-huddle offensive, which Hundley ran competently, though the Lions were clearly content to sit back and let the Packers gain some yards underneath.
"That was a tough loss," McCarthy said afterward. "Give Detroit a lot of credit. I thought they played extremely well, particularly on offense the way they threw and caught the ball. Offensively, we need to score more points. … We have work to do. That's the fact of the matter, and we've got to do it fast; that's our plan. We got relatively healthy coming out of the bye. I thought we had a very good week of practice. We did not play as well as Detroit tonight and that's stating the obvious."
The Packers made some mistakes – they had a field goal attempt blocked after a low snap; a couple of defensive penalties wiped out third-down stops and extended Detroit drives; they had poor starting field position after questionable kickoff returns on several possessions; there were the typical issues in coverage; Hundley held onto the ball too long on multiple plays – but, overall, McCarthy's general sentiment was correct. Green Bay didn't play as well as Detroit. And, without Rodgers to be the difference-maker, that's the cold, hard reality this team is facing with a 4-4 record halfway through a season that started with so much promise, in a weak division and winnable conference – with its best player perhaps done for the year.
Let's take a look back at the Packers' 30-17 loss to the Lions at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football.
For the third week in a row, it's hard to pick anyone for this, as almost everyone on the team had a performance on the spectrum from bad to mediocre. And, as much as the defensive backfield was bad, safety/linebacker Josh Jones stood out.
The brash, violent second-round rookie made his presence felt for the Packers, finishing with eight tackles, including one stuff for a two-yard loss, and flashing pass-rushing instincts. His huge hit on Eric Ebron on an incomplete pass in the first half, which left the Detroit tight end slow to get up, was the kind of edgy, physical and aggressive play Green Bay needs more of in the secondary. A runner-up would be second-year inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who McCarthy lauded last week for having a great season and finished with a team-high 10 tackles, including one for loss against the Lions.
"It's just little mistakes," Martinez said of the defense. "You saw a penalty on the third down, you saw another offsides penalty. Those types of things are going to crush you throughout. And then on all the other third downs we had chances, you just have to make a play and just step up. Someone on every single play has a chance, whether it's thrown to you, whether you're in a rush, whether you're disguising, whether you're doing anything; you have a chance."
For the third week in a row, it's easy to pick someone for this, as there was plenty of blame to go around. As always, the secondary writ large would be deserving, as cornerbacks Davon House and Damarious Randall, in particular, were picked apart. The pass rush didn't do anything. Special teams was a problem. The offense – well, the offense's problems have been pretty well covered already.
And an underrated but key reason for those problems was the play of new No. 1 running back Aaron Jones. The fifth-round rookie had been a revelation in recent weeks, rushing for 125 yards in Week 5 against Dallas and 131 in Week 7 vs. New Orleans. But on Monday night, against the Lions' sixth-ranked rushing defense, Jones was silent. He carried five times for just 12 yards, with a long gain of four yards, and had two receptions for minus-one yard.
Worse, he missed at least two blocking assignments in pass protection and was the cause for one of Hundley's sacks, which might have been the reason McCarthy turned to Montgomery and Williams in the second half. The Packers always strive for offensive balance, but they need an effective running game more than ever right now, if they're going to help out Hundley.
(Mike McCarthy isn't renowned for his play-calling, having fired and then rehired himself for that role in the past, but he does still call the plays. Here we rate his coaching performance, on a score from one to 10 McCarthy heads.)
The Packers' decision to receive the opening kickoff and take the ball to start the game displayed confidence from a team that had two weeks to get ready for it. And their first possession, which was crisp, multifaceted and productive, showed McCarthy had game-planned a smart initial series and Hundley could execute it. After Green Bay came away with nothing on that drive because of the missed field goal, though, once the contest became less of a script and more of a read-and-react, make-adjustments and beat-the-other-guy football game, the Packers couldn't compete.
"As far as how you win and how you lose in this league, you have to have consistency. I know what we need to do to play better. That's the focus that I have," McCarthy said afterward. "Offensively, we have to convert those third downs, keep the drives going. Your preparation shows up during the game. I'm in tune with what happens, how it happened, and can focus on the details.
"I think like anything with evaluation, it's very fair and professional to put all the variables in play there. What were the coverages on those plays? Where was the play design? Brett Hundley played better today. I have great faith in Brett Hundley. Brett Hundley is not our issue right now. There's some very lopsided statistics. Look close at those. They told the story tonight."
McCarthy's decision to dink-and-dunk with Hundley rather than let him throw downfield somewhat undercut the coach's oft-espoused confidence in his quarterback. And while he doesn't coordinate the defense – that's Dom Capers' job, as we know all too well – that side of the ball continues to fail on a macro level that suggests a coaching change may finally be needed. Further, the special teams unit was all over the place. This four-head McCarthy score reflects not so much the head coach's playcalling, which was arguably OK, as it does the way the entire team seems to be reeling and unmoored from the loss of one – albeit the best – player. There are global issues in Green Bay, and that's on the main guy.
"Yeah, it's frustrating. It sucks. I mean, the list goes on and on. We've just got to find a way to get better, man. It sucks losing, especially here. If I had an answer, I'd give it to you guys. We've just got to do better as a whole. We've got to make more plays on the ball. We need to continue to get the quarterback off the spot, continue to stop the run, all of it. You're talking about winning Super Bowls around here … we keep playing like this, it's not going to be pretty. We've got to turn the corner. We're 4-4, eight games left. We've got to pull together somehow, some way." – cornerback Davon House
After the game, McCarthy once more reiterated his belief in Hundley, who he has spent three years developing in Green Bay. And Hundley did play better Monday night, appearing more poised in the pocket and accurate as a passer, even if he did hold the ball too long on occasion and was constrained somewhat by the game plan.
For his part, Hundley sounded confident in himself and his abilities too.
"I felt really comfortable tonight, to be completely honest. I felt really comfortable," he said. "Obviously, like I said, I didn't play well enough to win, so that's my only concern and that's my only goal, but I felt comfortable and hopefully it just keeps getting better from there. ... Everybody wants to score five touchdowns, have a perfect quarterback rating and win. This game was a step in the right direction. I think I did some good things."
Having Rodgers around is invaluable, and the coaches – for as much grief as they're given – are the people most qualified in the world to help Hundley succeed. Hundley will continue to improve with reps and the Packers will continue to get better with him through time and familiarity, there's no doubt about that. The question, though, is how much better is that, and is it enough to matter?
With its best offensive player out at least another month, and with the defense not expected to become suddenly proficient, the Packers really need their special teams to at least remain adequate. On Monday night, those units were not (even with the much-anticipated debut of Wisconsin's Vince Biegel).
Because of injuries, the Packers are on their third long snapper of the season, Derek Hart, who had limited practice time since being signed last week. And that inexperience showed on the first possession, when Hart's low snap contributed to Mason Crosby's 38-yard field-goal attempt being blocked. Throughout the game, new kick returner Trevor Davis took seven kickoffs out, including three from the end zone, and averaged just 20 yards on returns. With a touchback putting the ball at the 25-yard line, Green Bay frequently started with field position behind that default spot. More puzzlingly, the Packers had been using Jeff Janis as the primary kick returner, and Janis almost never took a kickoff out of the end zone, so it appears to be an intentional coaching decision, though perhaps a misguided one.
Davis is clearly back there now to be a spark, but his decision-making and mistakes in the past have gotten him removed from the return-man job. He may be able to take one to the house, but much more often the Packers need him providing better field position to Hundley, who needs all the help he can get gaining yards. Let's hope Ron Zook gets the special teams pointed in the right direction for the second half of the year.
At 4-4, Green Bay is tied for third place in the NFC North with the Lions, who now hold the head-to-head tiebreaker until Week 17. On a six-day week, the Packers will prepare to face the Bears in Chicago on Sunday (noon on FOX), before a string of five straight non-divisional games.
Rodgers has said he is targeting Week 16, the Dec. 23 game against the Vikings, for a possible return if he is healthy and cleared to play. Will Green Bay still be in the playoff hunt at that point? Will their three-game losing streak end this week against the Bears?
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