Running game helps Packers prevail

December 10, 2012

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It wasn't a dominating performance by the Packers, but it was another win; their seventh victory in the last eight games. After beating Detroit on Sunday night -- Green Bay's 22nd consecutive home victory over the Lions -- the Packers can now clinch the division with a win in Chicago this weekend.
Handing out grades following the Packers' 27-20 win over the Lions:
Passing Offense: C+
When Aaron Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown pass Sunday night against Detroit, it was the first time in 35 home games in which he didn't reach the end zone through the air. Rodgers completed 14 of 24 passes for 173 yards, did not throw an interception and finished with an 80.7 passer rating. He was also sacked three times, with the makeshift offensive line (playing without T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga) performing adequately.
Green Bay won't win many games when Rodgers' only touchdown comes on the ground. Not just because he's the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player, but because everything the Packers do best revolves around Rodgers' ability to light up the scoreboard.
But it was enough to get the Packers a win this time. Randall Cobb caught all of his team-high seven targets for 102 yards, again showing that he's become an every-week threat that opposing defenses need to gameplan for. James Jones and Jermichael Finley each had two catches, while injury-free Greg Jennings only had one reception for 27 yards. 
Once Jordy Nelson returns from the hamstring injury that's ailing him, Green Bay's passing offense will have to produce better than this to be a serious Super Bowl threat in the NFC.
Rushing Offense: A-
It was unexpected for undrafted first-year running back DuJuan Harris to get the start, even for Harris, but the 5-foot-9 speedster also showed power as he took the opening handoff 11 yards, concluding the run by plowing over the Lions' secondary.
Harris didn't remain the featured back throughout the game, but his contribution helped the Packers' rushing attack be more than just Alex Green for 20-plus carries. And that's important because Green performed much better recently when splitting carries with James Starks than he did when he was the only player getting the ball in the backfield midway through this season.
Harris had a 14-yard touchdown run and his first ever Lambeau Leap, finishing with seven carries for 31 yards.
Green had a great game in his 13 carries, running for 69 yards (5.3 average). With Starks likely not able to play again this season due to a knee injury and Cedric Benson on injured reserve, Green will be counted on as the main running back for the Packers. If Green has more performances like this, the Packers' rushing offense should be just fine.
Rushing Defense: B-
Dom Capers' defense was without C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal due to injuries, leaving the Packers' defensive line with just four healthy players. That was a significant factor in this game, especially early on. Detroit has been a pass-heavy team all season, but when the Lions looked across the line of scrimmage and saw Green Bay in nickel and dime defensive packages, they sure looked like a run-first offense.
Even when Detroit brought in a sixth offensive lineman (Riley Reiff) and reported him as an eligible receiver, the Packers still didn't go to their base 3-4 defense. Certainly Capers would have liked to have been able to put three defensive linemen upfront, but that wasn't a viable option, either.
This led to the Lions rushing for 135 yards on 32 carries (4.2 average). Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell split the carries, and Matthew Stafford ran in a touchdown on a naked bootleg from 4 yards out.
Outside linebacker Dezman Moses struggled with penalties early in the game, but when Frank Zombo replaced him for a couple drives, he did not perform well. Erik Walden was also unable to contain the other edge on a couple carries to the right side.
Passing Defense: B+
Stafford completed 27 of his 45 passes for 264 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. He had plenty of time to throw nearly the entire game and was not sacked once.
The Packers were credited with one team sack, but that happened as the result of Stafford having the ball slip out of his hands despite not being under any pressure. That fumble was scooped up by rookie Mike Daniels, who ran it 43 yards for a key touchdown that proved to be a momentum-changer.
Davon House had a rough beginning to the game as the starting outside cornerback, and that led to him being replaced throughout the remainder of the game by the now-healthy Sam Shields. After missing six games with an ankle injury, Shields played a tremendous game and had the interception against Stafford.
Without Clay Matthews, Green Bay's pass rush has clearly not been what it was. However, Matthews should be returning this week for the game in Chicago, so his presence on the field should open up others to get pressure. But in this game, the Packers had no one capable of winning their matchups upfront and barely touched Stafford.
Special Teams: B
Slowly, Mason Crosby is starting to get back into a rhythm. In the snow Sunday night, he connected on a 49-yard field goal, and later, on a 41-yarder. 
However, Crosby missed from 51 yards out, marking the seventh consecutive 50-plus-yard field goal this season that he's missed.
But Crosby, who during the height of his struggles this season wasn't even close on some attempts, is kicking the ball relatively straight again. Now he just needs to regain his confidence on the kicks from 50 yards out. Otherwise, coach Mike McCarthy will have to stop sending Crosby out on the field if the attempt exceeds 50 yards.
Overall: B
It wasn't a win in the style that most would expect the Packers to win. Rodgers not throwing a touchdown pass while lesser-known players like Harris and Daniels have big scoring plays is not the way McCarthy drew it up. But sometimes in the NFL, that's what it takes to win, especially when several star players (Matthews, Woodson, Nelson) are out. 
Turnovers and momentum-changing players often define a game, and the Packers had those plays. With the NFC North championship now Green Bay's for the taking, its 2-3 record to begin the season has been overcome. 

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