Good but not great Packers continue rolling

A road win, a division win and a fifth consecutive win. The now-7-3 Packers are on a roll and starting to get hot at the right time of the season. Green Bay wasn’t dominant in this game, but the team did enough to knock off a desperate NFC North rival.
Handing out grades following the Packers’ 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions:
Passing Offense: B-
This was one of those games from Aaron Rodgers that would be a pretty good performance for the majority of NFL quarterbacks, but it’s not up to the standard that the Packers’ MVP QB is capable of. Rodgers completed 19 of his 27 passes for 236 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. He was also sacked three times.
Rodgers’ interception was one that he rarely makes, an underthrown pass in which the defender (Detroit’s Jacob Lacey) barely had to change his running path in order to grab. There weren’t many poorly thrown balls from Rodgers in this game — with at least three drops among his eight incompletions — but in a dome stadium where he usually shows off his best work, Green Bay’s passing offense has to play better overall than it did Sunday. However, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Rodgers delivered a game-winning drive, a rarity in his illustrious career.
Randall Cobb was the star receiver in the game, catching nine passes for 74 yards and hauling in the go-ahead touchdown from Rodgers. Tight end Jermichael Finley had his first touchdown reception since Week 1 and finished with three catches for 66 yards. Jordy Nelson’s return to the field — after missing what amounts to basically two full games due to injuries — was underwhelming, with three catches for 45 yards and a drop. James Jones added two receptions for 33 yards and also accounted for one of the drops.
Rushing Offense: B
Alex Green is out, James Starks is in. Green didn’t touch the ball once Sunday in Detroit, with Starks getting 25 rushing attempts. Those 25 carries were more than what Starks had all season prior to this game. And Starks performed well, finishing with 74 yards. Though his 3.0 yards average doesn’t look very impressive, Starks found the open holes, made solid cutbacks and kept his legs moving for extra yardage after contact. And coach Mike McCarthy continued to reward him, too, not abandoning the run at any point in the game.
It was a 50-50 mix of run and pass against the Lions, and though it wasn’t a great offensive day for the Packers, that balance could pay dividends as the season goes on. If opposing teams actually believe that Green Bay wants to run the ball, sooner or later defenses will have to adjust their schemes. That is especially true if Starks continues to run hard the way he did. The 3.0 average will have to increase a bit, but it was a good start for Starks, who hasn’t had that many carries in a game since the Packers’ playoff win in Atlanta during the Super Bowl-winning 2010 season.
Rushing Defense: B-
There were stretches during this game that Green Bay did a fine job in stopping the run, mostly early on. But as the game wore on, Lions running back Mikel Leshoure started having a lot of success on the ground and finished with 84 yards on 19 carries (4.4 average) and one touchdown.
Not having Clay Matthews on one edge clearly puts the Packers at a disadvantage, as is not having run-stopping defensive back Charles Woodson hanging around the line of scrimmage. Aside from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, those two have arguably been Green Bay’s two best players against the run. So, considering the circumstances, the Packers did enough to keep Leshoure from changing the game, which is a small victory in itself.
Passing Defense: A
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has not had a great season, but this was his worst performance yet. Stafford completed just 43.6 percent of his passes — a season low — while throwing two interceptions and one touchdown pass.
Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings had the play of the game, intercepting a Stafford pass and returning it 72 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 14-10 third-quarter lead. Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward also continued to show his tremendous ball skills by pulling in his team-high fifth interception of the season.
Star receiver Calvin Johnson had a big statistical day (five receptions, 143 yards, one touchdown) despite his two drops, but other than him, Detroit had little to show in its passing game.
This was an especially impressive performance by the Packers’ defense because there was no Matthews, no Woodson, no Nick Perry, no Sam Shields, no Desmond Bishop and no D.J. Smith. But Green Bay still sacked Stafford five times, tying for the most sacks the Lions have allowed in a game this season.
Undrafted rookie outside linebacker Dezman Moses had the best play of his young NFL career when he stripped Stafford on a scramble, forcing a fumble that fellow rookie Mike Daniels recovered. Had Moses not made that play, Stafford had a ton of room to run for a first down.
Special Teams: D
Well, what now with Mason Crosby? He came into the game having missed five of his last 10 field goals, but things got worse Sunday. Playing in a dome stadium with no adverse weather conditions, Crosby’s accuracy issues really made an impact in the game. With an opportunity to try a 49-yard field goal in the first quarter of a 0-0 game, McCarthy didn’t even let Crosby take the field. Later, as time was set to expire in the first half, Crosby missed twice from 50 yards out. The first one — missing wide right — didn’t count, as Lions coach Jim Schwartz called a timeout a split-second before the kick. When given a second chance, Crosby sent it wide left. Crosby later missed wide left on a 38-yarder, one that should be a chip shot for NFL kickers. He did make a 39-yard field goal to put Green Bay up by four late in the game, but Crosby’s confidence seems about as low as his percentage is right now.
Randall Cobb didn’t have an impact in the return game, but punter Tim Masthay had a great day. Masthay’s first punt of the game dribbled down to the 2-yard line before being downed by Jarrett Bush, starting Detroit off with terrible field position for its second drive.
Overall: B+
This win was huge for the Packers. Now at 7-3, it keeps Green Bay right near the top of the division, one full game ahead of the 6-4 Minnesota Vikings. With one win already this season over the 7-2 NFC North-leading Chicago Bears, the Packers now have clear control over their own playoff future. It also sends the Detroit Lions (4-6) into a nearly impossible situation of making the postseason.
Green Bay’s commitment to the running game was important, both to help in this game and as the season progresses. It was somewhat surprising that Starks became the full-fledged featured running back, but it worked and will almost certainly continue — at least until Cedric Benson can return.
It was also encouraging for the Packers to play fairly well without so many of their star players: namely Matthews, Woodson and Greg Jennings. Once those three return, Green Bay should really become a dominating group once again if it can keep getting good performances from role players like the team did in this game.

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