At the risk of seeming overly negative, the Packers' 26-0 win over the Detroit Lions did little to make you think this squad has ironed out the offensive problems from their first four games. Never has a 26-point margin of victory seemed so unsettling. Defensively, you can't do much better than three sacks, three interceptions and keeping them off the scoreboard. But the offense? That's a different story.
Don't get me wrong, there were some great individual performances from Donald Driver to Aaron Rodgers, who continues to put up statistics any quarterback would envy. But Green Bay should have won this game by at least a 45-0 or 52-0 margin, the kind of over-the-top beat-down that New England put on Tennessee. The Lions have won only once in the last two seasons for a reason – they're not very good. And on Sunday, they were without three starters on their defensive line. But as they've done all season, the Packers struggled to get their run game going or protect Rodgers adequately.
Ryan Grant had 28 yards on 13 carries through three quarters. That he had 11 carries for 62 yards, including a season-long 22 yarder, in the fourth quarter doesn't mean much considering the score was 26-0 and Detroit's defense had guys on the field not seen since the preseason. It's not all on Grant. There wasn't much daylight to run to. But between himself and the offensive line, something needs to be figured out.
As for Rodgers, his 29-of-37 performance for 358 yards and two touchdowns was impressive -- even more so when you consider that he continues to get abused like a heavy bag. Detroit registered five sacks -- including three in the second quarter, and unlike earlier games, the responsibility for four of these rests squarely on the line. Poised to score from the Detroit 3-yard line, Rodgers was hit for the fifth and most costly sack of the day, a fumble-causing takedown that gave the Lions the ball.
Between the bad runs and sacks – not to mention the drive-killing penalties (more on that later), is it any wonder the Packers didn't score more points? Trading touchdowns for field goals works against the Lions. It might even work on Sunday against Cleveland. But it won't come close to getting it done for the Nov. 1 rematch with Minnesota. If this was the best they could do facing an inferior, injury-riddled opponent after a bye week, they might as well say buh-bye to the postseason.
2.) Hard work and class define Driver's record
On second-and-11, Donald Driver caught a short pass to the left sideline, moved his feet back and forth at a furious pace to juke the cornerback in front of him, and then shot ahead for a 5-yard gain, only to be smothered by a gaggle of defenders. It's that kind of workmanlike play that has defined the receiver's amazing career as much as the one-handed, falling backward, highlight-caliber catch.
Driver makes the catch and moves the chains, whether it's picture perfect or down-and-dirty. He always has. And with that catch, he moved into first place in Packer annals with 596 receptions. To pass Sterling Sharpe for that honor speaks to the career that the former seventh-rounder out of tiny Alcorn State has assembled. In a lot of ways, he's never lost the drive, passion and work ethic of a late-round pick trying to crack the roster. It's that kind of determination that's allowed him to keep playing at such a high level at age 34 with no signs of letting up. That he's done it with class, professionalism and a joy that he shares with the fans is an added bonus, and yet another way that he's put himself ahead of Sharpe.
3.) Penalty situation reaches critical mass
It's hard to say what's more disturbing: That Green Bay rolled up 13 penalties for 130 yards or that coach Mike McCarthy doesn't seem more upset by it. Mistakes are a part of the game and the occasional offensive or defensive holding or even face mask is going to happen. But the rapid rate the Packers are accumulating them makes you wonder if the problem is being properly prioritized on the list of things this team needs to fix. That's not to say McCarthy and Co. are complacent about it. Clearly, they're not. But considering Green Bay leads the league with an average of 8.6 penalties per game and 71.8 penalty yards per game, and is on pace to set a franchise record set by the 1987 Forrest Gregg-coached team, something has to change.
"We're very well aware of the numbers, but it's important for us to address exactly what's on the film, make sure we're training it the right way, and keep working on it," McCarthy said. "We're looking to improve in all areas, especially the ones the numbers don't look the way they're supposed to look right now."
Penalties, maybe more than any other number, speak to the discipline and focus of a team. Until that improves, it's hard to expect dramatic improvement in any of the areas in which the team is struggling.
4.) Used properly, Kampman remains top-flight pass-rusher
McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers downplayed the detail, but how Aaron Kampman got his second sack of the season and what helped him tally five hits on Detroit's backup quarterback combo was significant: He had his hand (or hands) down on the ground.
The previous three seasons, Kampman was one of the league's best pass-rushing defensive ends, bursting out of a three- or four-point stance and going over, around and through opposing tackles on his way to the quarterback. But the switch to a 3-4 outside linebacker who rushes out of a two-point stance and drops into coverage has, in essence, transformed Kampman from elite to ordinary. It's also taken away one of the Packers' true game-changers on defense. It's more than a subtle shift for a player whose thrust and explosion comes out of his lower body, the way a sprinter explodes out of the starting blocks. There's also a shift in the angles of attack Kampman takes compared to previous seasons.
That said, to see No. 74 rushing nearly a dozen times out of his familiar stance and getting to the quarterback because of it was a welcome sign. They may not admit it, but the light may have come on for the coaching staff as far as how to best use their best pass rusher. Speaking of lights, Kampman was beaming after the game. When asked specifically about rushing like he did when he played defensive end, he answered, ‘I loved it, obviously.'"
5.) CM3 is Green Bay's newest impact player
When he ripped the ball away from Adrian Peterson and ran for a 42-yard touchdown at the Metrodome, rookie linebacker Clay Matthews III showed he had a knack for the big play. But when he finally got his first start against the Lions, Matthews showed his knack for making a lot of plays. It's safe to say that after two sacks, three tackles for loss – including a fourth-and-1 stop – and a pass breakup, the starting job is his to lose. And if Matthews is anything like his father or uncle, he'll be in the starting lineup a very long time.
"I think he just continues to get better," Capers said. "He played every down, first, second and third down, today. We've sensed that he was heading in that direction. To me, what's encouraging is last game; he had the fumble recovery for a touchdown. Today, he had a couple sacks and I thought played a good overall game. I like where he's heading."
With his preseason hamstring injury finally behind him, Matthews is proving to be the young, athletic playmaker the Packers hoped they were getting when they traded back into the first-round of last April's draft to get him.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.