Back to the drawing board
The Packers were exposed.
Not to say the Lions are the better team, but they certainly have the winning formula — and hopefully, general manager Ted Thompson was paying close attention.
Coach Mike McCarthy is fond of saying that the good teams are built from the inside-out. The Packers' offense is sound smack-dab in the middle, with center Scott Wells and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Right guard Josh Sitton is a quality building block.
But then what? Where are the quality players between Wells, Sitton and Rodgers and the standout receiver group?
The Packers' offensive line was manhandled by Detroit's defensive line, highlighted (or lowlighted) by four sacks. Green Bay's perimeter group could run circles around the Lions' back seven, but that huge advantage was rendered null and void because Detroit's front four spent much of the afternoon in the Packers' backfield.
The Lions line up their ends wider than most teams, which should mean it's easier to run the ball inside. Instead, the Packers' backs averaged 2.1 yards on 16 carries.
"We were running some inside zone plays and draw plays," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I think we had five negative runs through the course of the game. Five negative runs, four sacks, two penalties — I mean, you're banging your head in the wall. You're going backwards. It's hard enough to get a first down. I think it's tough to stick with the run when you have five negative runs in the ballgame."
Turk McBride — a backup, mind you, who was starting in place of veteran end Kyle Vanden Bosch — made left tackle Chad Clifton look really old. Clifton just struggles on fast tracks these days. On his best days, Daryn Colledge is an average-at-best left guard. When he went down on the first series, his replacements, Jason Spitz and T.J. Lang, didn't exactly light it up. First-round pick Bryan Bulaga probably is better suited for left tackle — his collegiate position — because he hasn't been consistently physical enough at right tackle. Even the dependable Sitton got knocked around by stud rookie Ndamukong Suh after Sitton won their Week 4 matchup.
That's troublesome with who's on the schedule. The Patriots' defense is coming on strong. The Giants' defensive front four is as good as any in the league, as Jay Cutler will attest. And the Bears always give the Packers fits. At some point this time of year, the best teams can line up and win by being dominant in the trenches. This team simply isn't equipped to do that. What's surprising is it took the Lions to make that clear as day.
Outside of Bulaga and Colledge, the Packers haven't used high draft picks on offensive linemen in the last decade. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Packers' line hasn't performed at a consistently high level since the Mike Sherman era. It's time for Thompson to spend some resources to protect Rodgers, the franchise's most valuable asset.
One week after Donald Driver's touchdown against San Francisco was shown about a million times on ESPN, the venerable receiver, who turns 36 four days before the Super Bowl, was practically invisible again with two catches for 12 yards.
Driver entered this year with six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. This year, he has 449 yards. Last year, his 15.2-yard average per catch was his best since posting the same number in 2002, his first year as a full-time starter. This year, he's averaging 11.2. He hasn't broken 100 yards since a 142-yard outing at Detroit on Nov. 26, 2009. Since catching nine passes in the Week 3 game at Chicago, he's caught a grand total of 10 in the last seven games.
He needs 158 yards to break Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton's franchise record for career receiving yards (9,656). What seemed like a mere formality at the start of the season, that record seems a mile away with three games remaining. With cap figures of $5 million in 2011 and 2012, Thompson's decision to extend Driver's contract in August doesn't look like a good bargain anymore.
Every game counts
And down the stretch they come, with the spotlight growing more intense as the season winds down.
With Rodgers' concussion, it would be nice if the Packers had the luxury to rest him for Sunday's game at New England to make sure he's as healthy as possible for key home games against the Giants and Bears. However, the Packers don't have that luxury if they want to play into January.
Losing to Detroit was huge, but it was no more important than earlier losses to the Bears, Redskins and Falcons. As it stands, the Packers rank second in the league with a point differential of 117 points. Their 189 points allowed are nine fewer than second-ranked Pittsburgh. And at the end of the day on Jan. 2, neither of those glittering numbers will mean a thing because of this team's chronic problems in challenging situations. Rodgers or no Rodgers, that offense should have found a way to score 10 stinking points against a defense that still ranks 21st in points allowed.
This afternoon, I did a radio interview for the Patriots' official Web site, and as tends to be the case, the conversation about the Packers' secondary begins and ends with Charles Woodson.
Tramon Williams, however, is the star of that group. And he proved it again on Sunday. Matched up against Detroit's 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson on practically every snap, the 5-foot-11 Williams dominated against one of the NFL's premier pass-catchers. Johnson's only catch came against Woodson, while Williams had one interception and broke up a jump ball deep down the middle. It was the latest statement game by a player who's content to let his play do his talking.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
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.