Something to build on?
Maybe, just maybe, the Green Bay Packers will have something resembling a running game after all.
Even in the best of situations for the Packers, who don't have a dominant line or running back, it's hard to run the ball. But when the game was on the line, when the Lions knew the Packers were going to run the ball and had eight and sometimes nine guys in the box, they ran it down their throats to shockingly run out the last six-and-a-half minutes.
Tight end Tom Crabtree was the big difference-maker among a group of difference-makers on tha final drive. On the first play, he lined up as essentially a second fullback and obliterated a linebacker to create a big cutback lane for John Kuhn. On first-and-10 from midfield, the Packers ran out of the same formation and Crabtree put the linebacker on his backside to spring Kuhn for 6. And for the exclamation point, on third-and-7, Crabtree lined up as a traditional tight end and ran top-notch linebacker Julian Peterson out of the play to create a cutback lane for Kuhn to pick up 8 yards to run out the clock.
"They knew we were going to run the ball," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I told our whole offense, the last couple of plays at the end of the game against that defense, there's not one coach in the league that's probably going to stand up on a table and say those are great calls against that front. But, with that being said, credit our guys. Josh Sitton took his guy for a ride. Chad (Clifton) took his guy for a ride. Tom Crabtree — there wasn't one guy that had leverage on one of those blocks. They got their eyes on the aiming point, they kept their feet moving and we ran the ball hard and we gained yards. That's what football is all about."
From fine mess to just fine
Last week, reporters swarmed offensive line coach James Campen in the wake of his unit's poor performance against Chicago.
On Monday, this reporter was one of only a few on Campen's interview list. With an impressive game-ending drive and a penalty-free afternoon following last week's debacle, apparently there was nothing to talk about.
Detroit features one of the NFL's best defensive lines but the Packers' maligned offensive line took care of business. Left tackle Clifton appears to be back on track after dominating standout defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. Right tackle Mark Tauscher, who was miserable against Chicago, almost pitched a shutout against Cliff Avril. Facing hyped first-round pick Ndamukong Suh on practically every snap, right guard Sitton was the overwhelming winner, with Suh's sack coming on a stunt against left guard Daryn Colledge. And center Scott Wells was typically good.
Asked specifically about Clifton and Tauscher, Campen said: "They didn't perform well (against Chicago) and they told you that. They didn't play well. I think I was asked, ‘What do you think?' and this, that and the other thing. They responded and they played well. They did a good job. We expected that and they expected themselves to play better."
Simply the best?
You'd be hard-pressed to find a cornerback duo in the league that's playing better than Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. Woodson, the NFL's reigning defensive player of the year, turned in a virtuoso performance with 13 tackles and his pick-six. Lost in Woodson's formidable shadow, Williams has been the Packers' best corner all season and dominant — yes, dominant — in all four games.
With the game on the line, Woodson and Williams were at their best. With the Lions on the doorstep of the go-ahead touchdown, Williams showed his remarkable closing ability to break up a pass to Bryant Johnson in the end zone. On third-and-goal, he smothered talented tight end Tony Scheffler to force an incompletion.
The Lions' next drive reached the Packers' 38. They needed only a few more yards to have a shot at the go-ahead field goal. Instead, Woodson threw Calvin Johnson aside to stop Jahvid Best for a 1-yard run, then broke up back-to-back passes to the superlative Johnson to force a punt.
"I thought we grew as a defense yesterday in some areas that we have not been good on in the past," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "(One area) of emphasis for us (was) to respond to adversity situations and I thought we responded extremely well under adversity. When we had to make plays to win the game, going back to that last series, when they had it first-and-10 and the 38-yard line and all they really needed was 4 or 5 yards and they're probably king a field goal to win the game."
If the corners are good ...
... Then why in the world were the Lions able to march the ball up and down the field? It's an oversimplification to say it's because linebacker Brandon Chillar was out, but inside linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk had a miserable day trying to keep up with the Lions' tight ends or Best out of the backfield. The Lions' tight ends and two halfbacks combined for 23 receptions. And when they weren't a step slow in coverage, they were getting stone at the line of scrimmage on blitzes.
Beyond that, the Lions just seemed to have Capers' number. Several times, Capers dialed up a blitz but the Lions had the perfect play called with a screen in that direction or an outlet receiver getting open in the void left by the blitzer. The defensive coaches need to do some self-scouting this week because the Lions clearly had picked up on some trends. Meanwhile, if Chillar's shoulder injury is a big deal, those dink-and-dunk passes are going to remain an issue.
"If we're playing zones, we've got to have good vision and break and tackle and get them on the ground," Capers said. "I don't think it was any one area. I think it's kind of a combination of coverage and pressure. They spread us out all day. They were in three wides a lot, didn't play regular personnel much and he was back in the gun and could see what was coming. They did a nice job early on a couple times when we came with pressure they had screens called up against us. Any time they hit a couple screens on you like that, you're a little more concerned about pressuring them every down."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.