But let's be honest - they beat the Lions, who fell to 0-3. If there are any teams out there with more trouble than the Packers, it is the Lions. The Lions have a losing tradition longer and more distinguished than the Green and Gold. Lions general manager Matt Millen has had a worse track record of acquiring players than Mike Sherman and is on his third coach in four years. They have not made the playoffs since 1999 and have not won a playoff game since January of 1992 (1991 season). The Packers have won 10 of the last 12 times they have played Detroit.
There is no better opponent for the Packers to face when they needed a win than the Lions. Two years ago, holding a four-game losing streak, the Packers went to Detroit and brought home a 38-10 win. I went to high school outside of Detroit and they have lived up to their nickname the ‘Losins' once again.
As much as it is great to see the Pack win, we must take this victory with some reservation and a great deal of trepidation. Detroit had a chance to tie at the end of the game and as much as Brett Favre and the passing game was hitting on all cylinders, the running game struggled and eventually this disparity will come back to haunt Green Bay. Ahman Green contributed as a pass receiver, catching eight passes including one TD, but did not get much going as a runner and once again had a costly fumble. So did Noah Herron. The offensive line kept Favre off the ground mostly, but did not have much luck creating holes for Green and the running game. They are getting better, but are still a long way away.
On those measurables that mean so much to me, the Packers were better on Sunday than they have been the previous two weeks. On third down conversions, they were seven or 15 for a 47% ratio, while the Lions were only 25%. 10 of the 15 third downs were six yards or less. When third down is manageable, the Packers do better. I have much more faith in Favre, when he does not feel he has to make a big play. He presses when he feels he has to do too much and that is when he makes those head-scratching throws.
When it comes to turnovers, the Packers fumbled twice, but intercepted Jon Kitna once with Marquand Manuel returning it for a score. The turnovers margin is maybe the most important stat, but a negative-1 ratio is not much of an indicator especially if one is taken back for a touchdown. The Packers do not have the talent to overcome turnovers unless they are playing a patsy like the Lions. If you lose the turnover battle, you lose four out of five games and the higher the margin, the great chance you have of losing.
Even though the rushing game was not excessively effective, McCarthy stayed with it. Last week, the Packers threw 55 times and ran it 20 times for a 26.7% run-to-pass ratio. This week, Favre still chucked it 36 times but many of those throws were screens to Green that are nothing more than glorified runs. The 27 runs the team attempted resulted in a 42.86% run pass ratio, which is not as good as hoped but better than last week. The Packers have to keep running the ball. Even if they struggle, they must keep the opponent honest, so Favre has a chance to run play-action. Coach McCarthy has made a few adjustments that have helped protect Favre. One is that he is going out of the shotgun, which gives Favre a few extra moments. Here is where those screens come in handy. The defense has to scheme to protect against the screen out of the shotgun. He is also keeping in extra blockers, principally the tight end to help.
On defense, the Packers gave up a lot of yards, both through the air and on the ground and allowed 24 points, but it was a bend but not break kind of game, with the D doing just enough to squeak out a victory. Corey Williams had two sacks and no one played poorly. Manuel had an ugly open field whiff on Shawn Bryson's touchdown catch and Nick Collins got beat by Roy Williams on the Lions second TD. Brady Poppinga still is struggling with pass coverage but did not kill the team this week. The Lions still had too many big plays. The pass defense is the weak link. Rex Grossman, Drew Brees and now Jon Kitna have all had success against the Pack. Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Manual and Collins are giving up big plays and making some average QB's look really good. Woodson had his good and bad moments and Collins was solid against the run, but had a tough go against the pass. This may seem like heresy, but Manuel has not impressed me much. He missed a lot of practice, but short of the interception, which fell in his lap, he has been a liability.
Still, it was a win and wins have been hard to come by the past 12 months and the Packers have historically struggled in Detroit. If Brett Favre can play as well as he did against the Lions; if the backs and receivers can make enough plays; if the defense can keep the score close, then this team can compete. But it needs to minimize the turnovers and opponents' big plays, or things will look a lot like they did the first two weeks of the year and last year.
All in all, it was not the best game I ever saw, but it was the best this year. I just wish they could play the Lions every week.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.