Bears 27 - Lions 23
Packers 43 - Vikings 34
What does this mean for the Lions?
After an incredibly disappointing yet totally Lion-esque 4th quarter collapse against the Chicago Bears, conceding 21 unanswered points, the Detroit Lions crashed to a damaging 27-23 divisional defeat, the worst possible start to a season that promised much. Whilst that game will get debated elsewhere my attention immediately turned to Minneapolis in the West where next week's opponents the Green Bay Packers were battling it out in another divisional matchup against my pick for the NFC North title, the Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers didn't have a great draft and didn't seem to really either strengthen or fix areas of concern in that team. So surely watching them against a tough divisional rival would give me and other Lions fans a glimmer of hope that we can go to Lambeau Field sans fans next week and score a statement victory to banish the memories of the season opener and get our season rolling.
Well, the answer was a resounding no. Not so resounding that it's not possible, but given the way Green Bay easily dismantled Minnesota, the Lions are going to need to put in the performance of a season to come away with their first victory. It is possible and I will detail why later on but for now we'll break down some analysis of the Vikings-Packers game. The Packers ran out 43-34 victors. Don't let the 9 point difference fool you, Green Bay was in charge of this game from start to finish and despite the score only been 8-7 late in the second quarter, at next to no stages in this contest did the Vikings look like they were going to come away with the win. Here are 5 of the biggest takeaways I took from the Packers performance;
If the opposition doesn't have the ball they can't score points against you. That may be a simple statement, but it's true. The Packers had the ball for 40 minutes all told, that's two-thirds of the game. The first half stats were particularly startling, Green Bay had possession for 23 minutes to the Vikings 7 minutes. Now the main advantage to keeping the ball is it keeps your opponent's defence on the field, and the longer you do that, the more it starts to tire and the more mistakes that begin to creep into
Minnesota's defense has changed a lot, 6 starters who each played more than 400 snaps last season were gone and now there is a lot of new personnel and rookies in that team adjusting to the system. There's talent in these players, shown by the fact that the Packers first 3 red zone drives generated no touchdowns. But Minnesota's offense, first drive for a TD aside, did not help them at all, no sooner had they repelled a long relentless Packers drive they were back out there again. And you simply can't repel Aaron Rodgers all day long, especially when your a new unit trying to learn how to play together. With 2 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, even at 8-7, the defense was visibly flagging. Aaron Rodgers produced a moment of magic to break that defence with a laser precision pass to Adams, and then when the defence thought their half was over Cousins immediately threw a pick and back on they had to come. Once again A-Rod tore through them and hit another TD and it was all too easy. Valdez-Scantling isn't a great receiver yet but he's a speed demon and he just blitzed past poor Cameron Dantzler who was visibly a few yards off the pace from being out on the field all half. The Vikings were never in it after those two blows and it was all from the Packers wearing them down. Long balls to Adams, Jones crashing through the centre, Irvin stretching the D on swing plays that averaged 13 yards a carry, Lazard and Valdez Scantling gaining big yards to accompany Adams, the Vikings got pummeled into submission. And in the second half the defence was on again within 3 minutes which set the tone for the half which was the defence never got a chance to regroup. They ended up conceding over 530 yards of combined offense.
As a side note, this is where a very interesting distinction in-game management can be made between the Packers and the Lions. Both teams had big leads in the 4th quarter and went to prevention defense to see the games out. Because of the tactics shown by the Packers in keeping the Vikings defense in the field, whilst they did begin to leak touchdowns to bring the margin of victory down, they were able to cut through a tired unit and carry on scoring touchdowns to ensure their lead was never under threat and they saw the game out comfortably. Compare with the Lions who went visibly conservative. Going conservative meant that the offense did not stay on the field, and our tired, injury-ravaged defense was subject to drive after drive of pressure so whilst Chicago kept scoring to bring the lead down, we were not able to put up points to keep them at arm's length and that negative approach cost us the game. The Packers hierarchy had control of 90% of this game and quite rightly should be applauded for their performance.
A lot of questions were asked about Rodgers over the summer. The signing of Jordon Love seemingly the start of the end for him in Green Bay, people commenting on his falling stats, the Packers hierarchy giving him no new receivers in a receiver heavy draft to help him build on getting the Packers to the NFC Championship game last season. What sort of Rodgers would appear first game? An angry one who doesn't care and who wants out for seemingly been forgotten about over the summer, or one more determined than ever to make Love sit the entire first 4 years of his career by playing so well they can't drop him.
Well, he emphatically answered that question as the latter. He threw for 364 yards and 4 touchdowns with a very tidy passer rating of 127.5. Rodgers played the defence like a violin, so beautifully that it was basically akin to watching a footballing equivalent of one of Beethoven's symphonies. His footballing intelligence is admirable, he was well aware that this defence was a work in progress, full of new signings and rookies eager to impress. So early on he psychologically got into their heads by deliberately calling multiple plays but not snapping which led to no less than 4 occasions when he extracted neutral zone infraction penalties out of a defence lacking the discipline of a well-drilled unit that wouldn't fall for the mind games, from this he got out a few tricky third-down situations and used the free throws to make gains downfield. The Packers identified the rookie Minnesota corners as a potential weak spot early on and Rodgers hammered them with throws, not letting them settle at all and Davante Adams especially had an absolute field day, that's not disrespecting the corners, they had a hard enough job having to deal with one of the NFL's elite receivers without even playing a practice snap without factoring in how long they had to spend on the field and how many plays they had to make, it's testament to how Rodgers sees a weakness and exploits it fully. Rodgers passing was noticeably better as well, he connected with a lot of deep balls and the few that did not were mostly down to bad receiver errors, however, special praise is reserved for his first TD throw to Adams, rolling out the pocket and launching a laser dart right into the edge of the endzone, he couldn't have placed it any better if he tried. He looks like a man with a point to prove this year and could potentially be more dangerous than ever
The Offensive Line
Aaron Rodgers was sat down once. Not sacked, no late hits, not really pressured, just sat down once after a little push when his pass was already made and nearly already at its target. He genuinely could have sat down and written his biography with the spare time he had to make his throws throughout the game and I'm not kidding. It was late in the first quarter when a Vikings defender even got a sniff of Rodgers, coming round the outside and with a clear shot at him, Josiah Deguira came flying out of nowhere to clean him out and Rodgers didn't even flinch and used the extra few seconds to pick his pass. And why is that scary? Several reasons. One because Minnesota is meant to have a very decent pass rush, even minus Hunter, and if they can barely get so much as a pressure on him let alone a sack then what hope do the Lions have with one of the worst pass rushing attacks in the league? Also, the very obvious reason that Aaron Rodgers is elite, and if you give an elite level quarterback all the time in the world to throw the football then he will dissect your defence piece by piece which is exactly what he did to the Vikings, and not only that but that the running game gained so much freedom because the Vikings couldn't breach the line often, it just allowed a dynamic offense to run without hindrance and 43 points on the board support that theory. That doesn't mean there's no hope though as there were little hints that the line can be breached as I'll discuss later.
It may seem odd to highlight the defense as a positive in a team which has conceded 34 points but when the bulk of those points are scored in garbage time and playing prevent defense they are excused this week. Excepting the first Minnesota drive, the Packers defense starved Kirk Cousins and his offense of oxygen in the first half, limiting them to just 7 minutes on the field. They provided 2 of the big moments in the first half for the Packers, first using a corner blitz to sack Cousins in his own endzone for a safety, and then providing the critical interception in the last minute of the half which got the weary Vikings defense back on the pitch leading to a second quick touchdown and effectively putting the game to bed. They also put no end of pressure on Cousins, not allowing him to settle to try and mount a fightback. Until they went to prevention and started giving away points they were well on top of the Vikings offense and allowed the Packers to build an unassailable lead.
The Fringe Fire
One of the lingering doubts about this Packers team is it's depth at receiver after Davante Adams, there's no proven WR2 and the ones they have are all potential and little substance, at least they were. Davante Adams was a monster in this game, seeing 14 receptions (a career high) for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. Particularly concerning for Lions fans was how he latched on to and destroyed the Vikings rookie corners, they were terrified of getting