Stock Up: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Clinton-Dix lately has looked like a young Nick Collins in the Packers secondary. In just his second NFL season, he may still make some mistakes but no one plays faster. In the last four games, he has been a potent dual threat with defensive coordinator Dom Capers using him near the line of scrimmage against the run and as a blitzer and deep in pass coverage. He posted 35 tackles and two sacks dating back the first meeting with the Detroit Lions, including a career-high 12 stops (one for loss) in that Nov. 15 outing. He also made a spectacular diving interception of a Matthew Stafford pass inside the 10-yard line that kept the Packers’ comeback hopes alive. For what it is worth, Clinton-Dix also graded out the highest on the team in the most recent meeting with the Lions, according to Pro Football Focus.
Stock Down: Outside wide receivers
James Jones gave some spectacular moments, mainly early in the season. But other than that, the Packers have struggled mightily on the outside with their passing game. Davante Adams, who finally caught his first touchdown of the season on Thursday night, is either bothered by a sore ankle or not yet the player the Packers think he is. His chemistry with Rodgers has been off, catching just 19-of-43 targets for 150 yards in the last four games (3.5 yards per attempt). Jones – despite a 109-yard receiving game at Minnesota – has been even worse at seven catches in 22 targets for 128 yards. Had it not been for a 19-yard catch and lateral against the Lions on Dec. 3, Jones would have been shut out in three of the last four games. While the Aaron Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson combo was always among the top rated in the league, Rodgers to Adams and Jones combined the last four games has been one of the worst – just a passer rating of 50.7 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Buy: The screen pass
Successful go-to plays in the Packers’ offense have been few this season. But one play that has produced has been the screen pass. Though the Packers have run more than an average of four per game over the last quarter of the season, opposing defenses have had trouble stopping it. Seven screen passes to running backs since Week 10 have gone for 10 or more yards, including a 30-yarder at Minnesota (where James Starks was first contacted 25 yards downfield) and a 25-yarder for a touchdown to Eddie Lacy against the Bears. The statistics with the screen would have been even better had not a Starks’ 32-yard gain been wiped out by a facemask call on Josh Sitton at Detroit. Still, Rodgers has compiled a 128.7 passer rating at 10.2 yards per pass attempt on the screen during this stretch.
Sell: Needless timeouts
Part of Rodgers getting the offense in a better play is getting to the line of scrimmage quickly so he has ample time to read the defense before the play clock winds down. But far too often the Packers are burning valuable timeouts to avoid delay penalties. And most often they happen after a poor play prior – a dropped pass, a broken play, a sack. Five times this quarter, the Packers were forced to call a timeout. One time the defense had to burn one because of substitution issues before allowing a 2-yard touchdown pass to the Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew last month. More recently, the Packers avoided a delay penalty before a key fourth-and-1 late at Detroit. McCarthy called the timeout from the sideline, but to his credit, he was signaling to the offense to get things moving early in the play clock. As it turned out, the lack of urgency only helped create a dramatic finish.
High Volume: Running back fumbles
“High and tight” is the motto for holding and securing the ball as a runner. But for all the ball-security drills the Packers practice, the message has been lost on Starks and Lacy. Starks carelessly fumbled twice at Detroit but luckily one bounced forward into the end zone where Randall Cobb recovered it for a touchdown. He also fumbled during a late drive at home against the Lions, only to be saved by a replay review. Perhaps more disturbing are Lacy’s four fumbles, tied for third-most among running backs in the league. He had three fumbles all of 2014 and just one as a rookie in 2013. His fumble on Thanksgiving night against the Bears put him on the bench temporarily amidst a season high 105-yard rushing night.
Low Volume: Touchdowns
Few stretches during Rodgers’ time as a starter in Green Bay have been this anemic. Last Thursday night, it took a Hail Mary pass and a fumble recovery in the end zone to put up enough points to beat the four-win Lions. In the previous three games, the Packers compiled eight field goals to just five touchdowns. That contributed to a downward trend in offensive touchdowns for the Packers in 2015. They had 13 over the first quarter of the season and 10 over the second but just nine in the third.
Player of the Quarter: Mike Daniels
A Packer Report repeat winner in this category, Daniels, in a contract year, continues to wreak havoc along the interior defensive line. Among his highlights was a seven-tackle performance on Nov. 15, when he dominated Lions guard Laken Tomlinson, and an impressive sack of the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater, when he overpowered guard Mike Harris. Pro Football Focus had Daniels for five pressures in each game. But Daniels’ best grunt work recently has been against the run, where he helped keep No. 1 running backs in check. The Vikings’ Adrian Peterson went for just 3.5 yards per carry on 13 carries with a fumble, the Bears’ Matt Forte for 2.9 on 15 carries, and the Lions’ Joique Bell for only 1.0 on 22 carries in two games.
Play of the Quarter: Hail Mary
It would have been difficult to find a single play worthy for this quarter of the season. Then at the very last moment, with one untimed down, Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers produced one of the greatest plays and finishes in Packers history. By almost any snapshot, the 61-yard game-winner last Thursday night at Ford Field was amazing – from the launch angle on Aaron’s delivery, to “Richie’s” leaping grab amongst the bodies, to the reactions of the players and coaches. Said head coach Mike McCarthy of Aaron’s pass: “Probably the best throw I’ve seen in my time in the game.” It went almost 70 yards in the air with a hang-time estimate of nearly 4.5 seconds.
Forecast for the Fourth Quarter:
Headed into the final stretch, the Packers barely look like the best team in the NFC North, let alone a Super Bowl contender. Their playoff positioning will be determined by a tough final stretch that finishes at Arizona and at Lambeau Field against the Vikings in what could be another NFC North Championship game to close the season. Despite what appears to be some limitations on offense, the Packers’ defense and special teams might be playing well enough to give the Packers a 2-2 finish, at worst. At 10-6, that should be good enough for a playoff berth.