In the week-to-week melodrama that is the National Football League, the Green Bay Packers came out of their home opener with an encouraging 34-27 victory that temporarily puts well-documented offensive concerns in the rearview mirror, but also highlights the instability of a young defensive backfield that very nearly undid all the positive work accomplished on the other side of the ball.
The good news is how the Packers’ offense immediately put their feet on the gas pedal and took it to the Lions by scoring points on each of their first six drives that saw Aaron Rodgerscontinually hook up with Jordy Nelson with the 32-year-old vertical threat hauling in six of seven targets for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
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When he wasn’t busy hooking up with Nelson, Rodgers was masterful in spreading the wealth by targeting 11 different receivers versus a battered Detroit defense that never came close to forcing a turnover in a game that seemed destined for extended garbage time…until Green Bay’s secondary allowed Matthew Stafford to put his team within striking distance of tying things up.
There’s no getting past the fact that the absence of Sam Shields has made the defense a lot more vulnerable against the pass than most fans and media members could have ever imagined at the time of the 28-year-old cornerback’s concussion in Week 1.
A combination of poor ball skills on passes that could have been picked off, shoddy tackling and missed assignments gave the opposition a ray of hope that saw the Motown Silver and Blue outscore the Packers 17-3 in the second half.
Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff will be afforded with the luxury of having a week off to analyze their defensive shortcomings in anticipation of their upcoming Oct. 9 showdown with a New York Giants’ passing attack featuring one of the league’s most acrobatic and electrifying playmakers in Odell Beckham Jr.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s examine the individual stocks of some key performers that put their best foot forward in helping their team establish early dominance over their division foes, as well as putting the spotlight on those who had a big hand in letting a sizeable lead almost slip away.
Here’s your weekly Green Bay Packers’ stock update.
Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates a first half touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: William Glasheen/The Post-Crescent via USA TODAY Sports
Whose Stock Is Up
Aaron Rodgers: Maybe No. 12 isn’t as washed-up as some of us thought (I’m looking at you, Skip Bayless) as he put on an absolute clinic against a hapless Lions’ defense by getting the ball out quicker than he has in previous weeks and generally delivering the ball with razor-sharp accuracy to allow his receivers to secure the ball in stride and tack on yards after the catch.
His second-quarter 17-yard touchdown pass showcased great timing with his target and exceptional ball placement as Rodgers put the ball over Nelson’s outside shoulder in the corner of the end zone where the trailing Darius Slay had no chance to make a play on it.
Rodgers was at his improvisational best on the previous drive by changing his arm angle by throwing side-armed around the oncoming Kerry Hyder and into the mitts of Richard Rodgers on the seven-yard completion.
In addition, the two-time league MVP had a great sense of when to pull the ball down and use his legs to keep drives going.
All told, Rodgers completed 15 of 24 passes for 205 yards and five touchdowns. He could have easily tossed a fifth score if not for Slay’s deflection on an end-zone toss to Nelson which forced Green Bay to settle for field goal making the score 24-3.
Eddie Lacy: The power back mainly carried the ball in between the tackles where the Alabama slammer routinely churned his legs to fall forward and gain hard-earned yards in traffic.
Lacy showcased his ability to turn his body in tight spaces and spin away from contact. But his best run of the afternoon came on a 2nd-and-6 play in the fourth quarter that saw him patiently allow T.J. Lang to clear out an oncoming defender to the left side of the line and then cutting it back right for a 14-yard pick-up.
McCarthy wisely let his No. 1 back get consistent work without constantly relieving him with James Starks. Lacy rewarded his head coach by displaying remarkable stamina on four consecutive runs that gained 30 yards during a third-quarter sequence.
The only thing missing from the fourth-year veteran’s 103-yard performance was a touchdown.
Jordy Nelson: It’s taken three weeks, but Nelson seemed to be all the way back. He didn’t have any miscommunications with his quarterback and beat Detroit’s No. 1 cover man (Slay) by executing precise crossing patterns, quick screens, comeback and fade routes on his way to 101 yards on six grabs and two touchdowns.
What was really promising to watch was McCarthy line up the 32-year-old wideout in the slot to create a mismatch against linebacker Thurston Armbrister on a 49-yard completion on the second drive of the first quarter.
Ty Montgomery: He’s a wideout who continues making plays on special teams. Montgomery’s decision to get his feet out of bounds while downing the ball off a kickoff is a seldom-used way of forcing the officials to rule the ball out of bounds and placing it on the receiving team’s 40 yard line.
The young return man’s quick thinking resulted in Green Bay scoring four plays later making the score 14-3 late in the first quarter. This is why Ted Thompson likes drafting guys from Stanford.
David Bahktiari: The newly-extended left tackle delivered an impeccable performance by totally nullifying Devin Taylor, Brandon Copeland or whoever else the Lions threw in his direction. Whatever pressure Rodgers faced certainly wasn’t coming from his blindside.
Bahktiari was never caught off-balance in his pass-protection drops and didn’t let defenders escape his clutches by maintaining a low center of gravity and anticipating his opponents’ movements.
The former Colorado Buffalo was smooth and clean throughout the contest in steering edge rushers away from the pocket without committing any penalties.
Mike Daniels: His stock can’t get any higher…can it? The stout lineman’s bull-rushing efforts forced Matthew Stafford to rush his drops and throw the ball away twice on the same drive that resulted in a Matt Prater missed field-goal attempt from 43 yards at the 5:07 mark of the second quarter.
Left tackle Taylor Decker couldn’t match Daniels’ lower-body strength on one play while left guard Laken Tomlinson looked as if he was playing with a ball and chain around his ankles as the Big-Ten product sidestepped him during another sequence.
Daniels’ signature play, however, came on a 3rd-and-goal where he pushed right guard Larry Warford into the backfield and gave rookie Dwayne Washington nowhere to run to on a 4-yard loss.
Right now, there are few linemen in the league that can slow down this force of nature in one-on-one matchups. No one has done it so far in 2016.
Nick Perry: The one-time underperforming first-round pick has blossomed into a paragon of consistency. Each and every week, Perry finds ways to penetrate the opposing line and disrupt the flow of the offense.
No. 53 made his presence felt early on Detroit’s first drive by recording a solo tackle on the shifty Theo Riddick by moving laterally and limiting the ball carrier to a one-yard gain.
Six plays later, Perry was seen overpowering tight end Cole Wick and dropping Riddick for a six-yard loss.
The 265-pound edge rusher’s ability to quickly diagnose plays saw him shoot the guard-tackle B gap in the third quarter and be the first one to meet Riddick in the backfield. The fact that Perry failed to wrap up on the carry that for nine yards doesn’t diminish the difficulty offensive lines are experiencing in preventing him from blowing up plays.
The omnipresent Perry wreaked havoc on both sides of the line and wound up with a season-best seven tackles, two sacks, two TFLs (tackles for loss), two quarterback hits and a pass deflection. He is playing at an All-Pro level even without the assistance of Clay Matthews.
Julius Peppers: The 36-year-old Peppers held up despite being asked to take on more snaps than usual with both Matthews and Datone Jones out of the lineup.
The nine-time Pro Bowler’s length was no match for right tackle Riley Reiff on a 2nd-and-10 play in the opening quarter in which Peppers closed off Riddick’s right-side running lane forcing him to absorb a negative gain.
Perry was flagged on the play for using an illegal throat-slashing gesture, but the 6-foot-6 enforcer had set the tone for what was to follow.
Peppers consistently held his ground on running plays headed in his direction and was a big part of the Packers keeping the opposition to a 2.2 yards-per-carry average.
Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones (11) scores a touchdown on a reception during the fourth quarter of their game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports
Whose Stock Is Down
Damarious Randall: Outside of one play in which the second-year pro swiped the ball out of the hands of Eric Ebron and returned it for 44 yards early in the second quarter, Randall was just as ineffective in pass coverage as he was last week in Minnesota.
The 24-year-old cornerback had no answers for Marvin Jones on a number of plays including a second-quarter 38-yard completion in which the receiver ran right by an indecisive Randall.
On a fourth-yard 19-yard pass to Jones, Randall stopped short and suddenly stopped pursuing his adversary. Was he expecting another route? Was he too busy peeking into the backfield in an effort to read the quarterback’s eyes? The struggling defender once again appeared confused.
Moreover, the 2015 first-round pick also demonstrated balance issues by slipping to the ground.
The natural ability is there, but there’s a lot he needs to work on over the bye from a technique standpoint.
Micah Hyde: The versatile defensive back was active as evidenced by his 11 tackles on the stat sheet, but those who watched the game noticed that Hyde allowed too many easy completions over the middle.
Ebron, in particular, gave him issues on quick slants and similar in-breaking routes in which the utility player starting in place of Morgan Burnett wasn’t able to get his hands on the 6-foot-4 tight end off the line of scrimmage.
Stafford’s safety-valve target is the far superior athlete and it showed on a second-quarter 19-yard reception where Ebron created separation by shaking Hyde before getting into his route at the line of scrimmage.
Hyde also struggled in preventing Riddick from gaining extra yards after the catch near the goal line. The running back used his start-and-stop elusiveness to get past Hyde and gain five yards on a third-quarter series during which Detroit would narrow the score to 31-17.
Quinten Rollins: No. 24 often appeared late on pass plays he was involved in, such as Anquan Boldin’s two-yard touchdown catch. The 35-year-old slot receiver and Jones executed a crisscross play that Rollins couldn’t stay with and gave Stafford an opening he took advantage of.
Josh Hawkins: In all fairness, this was the undrafted rookie free agent’s regular-season NFL debut, but the effort he gave in defending Jones’ 73-yard sideline catch-and-run score was atrocious.
Hawkins wasn’t going to prevent the reception, but he should have immediately tackled his man to stop Jones from hitting pay dirt. Instead Detroit’s physical playmaker outmuscled and discarded the defensive back with a mighty stiff arm on his way to his first touchdown of the day.