Jermichael Finley gets his groove back

The Green Bay Packers got a huge win over the Detroit Lions thanks to its young defense and a last-minute TD drive. Here’s the recap.

14:11, 1st quarter — The Detroit Lions are the slowest starting team in the NFL and the Packers defense still hasn’t given up anything more than a single first down on an opening possession so far this season.

The Lions go with the hurry-up to start the game, as in hurry up and get off the field. The Packers are in their nickel, which will be their primary defense throughout the game.

After a short completion to Brandon Pettigrew, which is stuffed by Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward breaks up consecutive passes to force a punt.

12:18, 1st quarter — As noted before, the Packers haven’t been starting much better than their opponents. They get one first down before having to punt themselves.

After James Starks bulled his way to a first down, the Packers had another drive die at midfield. Jordy Nelson dropped a roll out pass on second down and a screen play on third was well played by the Lions and never had a chance.

11:20, 1st quarter — After a great Tim Masthay punt was downed by Jarett Bush at the Lions’ 2, the Lions go three and out again to set the Packers up with great field position.

After one run, the Lions tried slants on second and third down. The first was knocked down by Davon House on a great play and Matthew Stafford missed an open Tony Scheffler on third down, though a good rush by Mike Neal might have rushed Stafford’s throw.

7:30, 1st quarter — Though the Packers start their drive at the Lions’ 48, they get no points, mostly due to two holding calls.

The first wiped out a Rodgers’ pass to Randall Cobb that would have put the Packers at the Detroit 10. The second backed the Packers up beyond midfield after a WR screen to Cobb had regained most of the initial lost yardage. From there, Rodgers did well to find James Jones at the Lions’ 31, giving the Packers either option with a fourth-and-4.

Mike McCarthy chose to go for it. I like the decision, but don’t like the call. On the fourth down play, the Packers have 4 wide receivers on the field and no tight ends. The only receiver who runs a route within 10 yards is James Jones and he’s well covered on the come back. T.J. Lang gets beat by Willie Young on the outside and Rodgers has to get rid of it. He tries the seam route to Cobb between the two deep safeties, but overthrows it by a yard.

4:30, 1st quarter — The Lions have one successful offensive play and get a field goal out of it to take the lead, 3-0.

On third-and-12 from the Lions’ 29, Stafford rolled away from a three-man rush and heaved it downfield for who else but Calvin Johnson. The Packers have inside out coverage on Megatron with Tramon Williams on the outside and Jerron McMillian inside. As seems to be his tendency, Williams simply jogs out the play once Johnson is passed off to McMillian. The rookie is in good position, but he picked the wrong moment to look for the ball. Right when he turns to look, the ball sails over his shoulder and into the arms of Johnson for a 53-yard gain.

On third-and-goal, Stafford wanted the quick slant to Titus Young, but House jumps the in. Stafford was then chased from the pocket by Ryan Pickett and finally sacked by Burnett.

13:50, 2nd quarter — The Packers respond well with an 81-yard drive in 11 plays to take the lead at 7-3.

The drive is highlighted by three conversions on third down. On the first, a third-and-6 was converted on an out to Nelson against zone coverage. On the second, Rodgers avoided Cliff Avril and A Boy Named Sue and found Donald Driver for a 12-yard gain on third-and-9. On the first play of the second quarter, Rodgers converted a third-and-3 with a 19-yard pass to Nelson, who ran a simple come back, but then broke two tackles for extra yardage.

The Packers scored two plays later. Even with the Packers at the 20, the Lions were still sitting in their two-deep zone. When the Lions linebackers vacated the middle of the field to chase after a screen set up for Starks, Rodgers threw it to the wide open Jermichael Finley instead. Finley took it to the end zone from there and the year of the take-over recommenced.

9:20, 2nd quarter — The Lions have an answer with a 74-yard drive in 10 plays that finishes with a 1-yard TD run by Mikel Leshoure to make it 10-7.

On the second play of the drive, Hayward came clean from the slot position and had a free shot at Stafford, but he came in out of control and Stafford stepped by him and found Will Heller uncovered for a 17-yard gain. Hayward needs to make that play, but it also appeared that Erik Walden failed to drop in the flat to cover Heller.

The other big play in the drive came on third-and-9 from near midfield. Stafford got Johnson on the deep out for 21 yards. Johnson juggled the ball and may not have gotten two feet down in bounds, but I cannot be critical of the failure to challenge this. The Packers have had miserable luck on similar replays and it is early in the game yet.

After a Packers’ punt, a turnover party breaks out. The Lions picked up two third downs on Packers penalties until a Hayward interception stopped their drive. Rodgers would reciprocate quickly with an interception of his own. Jacob Lacey is oddly in underneath coverage against Cobb and gets the pick when Rodgers either doesn’t see him or underthrows the pass. James Starks was uncovered on the play and could have taken a dump pass for at least 10 yards.

The mayhem would end when Stafford eludes Brad Jones, runs up the middle and gets stripped of the ball by Dezman Moses. Mike Daniels would recover to give the ball.

After two passes to Cobb moved the ball down to the Lions’ 24, Rodgers would have a mental meltdown. On the following first down with 34 seconds left in the half, Rodgers would take a sack that he can ill-afford to take. Then, he fails to call the Packers last time out to stop the clock. Since it is only second down, the Packers could have easily tried another short pass, spiked the ball on third, and then kicked a shorter FG on fourth. Instead, Mason Crosby is called on to make a 50-yard field goal. He misses to the right barely, gets a reprieve thanks to Jim the Schwartz calling a timeout, and then misses again to the left.

11:35, 3rd quarter — The Packers start the second half much the same as the first, with an illegal block on the kick return, which forces them to start the half at their own 5.

After Rodgers finds Cobb for one first down, the Packers offensive line implodes. T.J. Lang is smoked by Avril for a sack on second down and then Josh Sitton is dump-trunked by Ndamukong Suh, causing Rodgers to scramble forward and into the arms of Nick Fairley. Rodgers fumbles the ball on the hit and the Packers are extremely fortunate to have Jeff Saturday recover it. Punt.

8:45, 3rd quarter — The Packers defense stakes the team to a 14-10 lead, as M.D. Jennings erases the debacle in Seattle with 72-yard pick six.

The Lions had converted one third down with a 16-yard pass to Scheffler when the Packers blitzed six and played zone behind it.

Facing third-and-10 from around midfield, Stafford tried the deep cross to Scheffler, but House undercut the route, forcing a high throw. Not only is the throw high, but it is also behind Scheffler, who commits the cardinal sin by sticking a hand up and batting the ball up into the air. Jennings collects the gift and then the entire defense does a great job of transitioning into offense. Jennings makes a nice return up the sideline for the TD.

3:05, 3rd quarter — The Lions would respond with an 83-yard, 10-play drive for a TD to go back in front 17-14.

This drive was keyed by the running of Leshoure. I don’t see anything different happening schematically. The Lions are just doing a much better job of blocking the Packers than they did in the first half. Runs by Leshoure mixed with short passes moved the ball down to the 21-yard line. From there Stafford did one of his famous “throw-it-up-for-grabs” down the middle towards Johnson. Burnett stepped in front of Johnson for the interception, but the ball went right through his hands, off Megatron’s hands and then into his chest where he managed to corral it for the 21-yard TD catch.

8:40, 4th quarter — The Packers waste their best field position yet when Crosby misses a 38-yard field goal.

After the teams trade punts, the Packers get the ball back at the Lions’ 44 thanks to a short punt from the end zone.

The Packers moved easily to the Lions’ 20. From there they faced a third-and-2. I like the route package this time as nearly everyone is open — Nelson and Cobb on 5-yard ins, and Finley on the deeper corner route. In fact, the Lions double cover Cobb, leaving Finley single-covered against a linebacker and he’s open.

Rodgers has eyes on Jones on the back-shoulder route, and it would have worked except the concussed Drayton Florence grabs Jones as he tries to turn. Crosby would come on and miss the 38-yard field goal by pulling it just barely to the left. Packers fans everywhere have a very bad feeling about this.

4:25, 4th quarter — The Lions go 63 yards in nine plays to get a field goal, making the score 20-14.

On third-and-1 from the Lions’ 37, the Packers blitz Brad Jones again and leave Burnett alone on Ryan Broyles. Broyles runs a stick route and Burnett bites on the stick. Broyles takes off up field for 27 yards. A couple plays later, Stafford hits Young on the deep out for 24 more yards.

From there, the Packers did well to force the field goal. On third down and goal, Stafford tried the out to Young against Hayward. Young tried to push off to get open and Hayward held him. Equal action, good no call.

1:55, 4th quarter — The Packers give the Lions a taste of their own medicine by driving for the go-ahead score within the four-minute mark.

The winning TD drive would cover 82 yards in just six plays.

On the very important first play of the drive, a draw to Starks got 12 yards. After an incomplete pass in Nelson’s direction, Rodgers hit Finley on a simple out. Cobb and Nelson both hold their blocks and Finley turns upfield between them. Finley surprises safety Carlos Silva by going up the sideline instead of out of bounds and shakes loose for a 40-yard gain.

Three plays later, on third-and-1, Rodgers takes a shot for the end zone, going for Cobb on the corner route from the slot. Lacey loses track of the ball as it hangs up and Silva is a moment late. Cobb makes the catch between them for the 22-yard TD. Crosby kicks the PAT and it is 21-20, Packers.

1:19, 4th quarter — Though the Lions had the top-ranked passing attack in the league, a ranking mostly built on playing from behind, they would keep the ball exactly 29 seconds and go backwards 5 yards.

The Packers would essentially play the same coverage that defenses have been sitting in against them — man coverage underneath with two safeties back.

On first down, Stafford wants Scheffler in the middle of the field from the slot, but McMillian is blanketing him and Stafford throws it at Scheffler’s feet. On second down, Stafford tries the near exact same play, except to Young, but House is all over it and Stafford again throws it low.

On third-and-15, Stafford tries the deep out to Young, but this time the Packers are in zone and Hayward gets good depth, knocking the ball out of bounds. Then, on fourth-and-15, the Packers switch it up by only rushing three. Mike Neal still does a good job of chasing Stafford to his right. Stafford tries a desperate heave downfield for Scheffler, but McMillian plays the ball the whole way this time and knocks it down.

The Packers would go three runs to kill the clock and then send Crosby in for essentially a game-clinching 39-yard field goal. Crosby would make it this time, with a sigh of relief, to end the scoring at 24-20.

Once again the Packers overcame numerous injuries to get a win on the road against a division opponent. This puts the Packers at 7-3 and of the six games left, three are at home and three are on the road. That means the Packers are now in great shape, only needing to win their home games to finish 10-6, which would get them into the playoffs. How far the Packers finish above 10-6 will be determined by how many road games they win.

I believed that this defense was better prepared for life without Clay Matthews than in prior years and we saw that on Sunday. As much as Fairley and Suh dominated up front for the Lions, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett also got great push for the Packers. Meanwhile, all three outside linebackers — Walden, Moses and Frank Zombo — made plays and got after the QB.

It is no longer a given that teams can run against the Packers nickel defense and the Packers are much improved on the back end with Hayward and House both being aggressive playmakers.

Brad Jones has been reborn as an inside linebacker and I would contend that he’s playing the position better than D.J. Smith did. His height is a great asset both rushing the passer and in the dime defense. A.J. Hawk is having his best season as a Packer, except for 2010. In this game, every time Stafford dumped to someone covered by Hawk, he was all over them and immediately brought them down.

The offense surprisingly couldn’t find its rhythm against a defense without either starting safety. The Lions protected their safeties by playing the two deep zone all game. The Packers attempted to run the Lions out of it, but they were never able to make any big plays out of the running game. James Starks ran hard though and was able to consistently pick up 4-yard chunks. I only saw one run where Starks missed the hole and missed an opportunity for a bigger run. The Packers even ran the ball twice on third-and-1 and picked it up.

The offensive line had much to do with what ailed the Packers offense and if the question was how would they do without Bryan Bulaga, then the early answer is — not very well. T.J. Lang had a tall task against Cliff Avril on his home turf and struggled at times. Meanwhile, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jeff Saturday and Josh Sitton all took turns being overrun by Fairley and Suh. I have said before that the first game without an injured player is the most difficult, and so let’s hope that was the case here.

Things don’t get any easier for the Packers going into New York next week.

Jermichael Finley’s 40-yard scamper up the sideline on the Packers’ winning drive was the best play he’s had this year. Randall Cobb continues to emerge as a weapon for this offense, but I don’t think Rodgers should forget about Finley.

And perhaps the best news of all? No new injuries!!

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