NFC North: The Packers Damage Lions' Faint Playoff Hopes
By Tom Pollin
NFC North Black and Blue Beast (@tjpollin)
In a sloppily played game, the Green Bay Packers put the Detroit Lions' playoff hopes on life support with a 24-20 win at Ford Field. Both teams combined for 16 penalties for 130-yards and five turnovers, four by the Lions.
Aaron Rodgers put the Packers in the lead for good with just under two minutes left in the game with a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to give the Packers the lead for good 21-20.
Rodgers didn’t have a great game but still managed to finish with a 106.4 Passer Rating, throwing for 2 TD’s, 1 INT and a 7.3 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average.
The Lions showed why they’re currently ranked No. 20 in the Quality Stats Power Rankings. They committed four turnovers, 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles. In the past ten years they have had 24 games of four or more turnovers with a record of 1-23.
In the fourth quarter the Lions were holding tight to a 20-14 lead when they allowed the Packers to drive 82-yards in six plays, the last one that dagger to Cobb that caused the game to slip through their fingers.
Matthew Stafford had his worst game as a pro since his rookie season in 2009. He completed only 44 percent of his passes, often throwing high, behind or well beyond his targets, finishing with a 5.73 Real Passing Yards per Attempt average. He also threw for 1 TD, 2 INT’s and registered a 54.0 Passer Rating.
Now the Packers wait for the Chicago Bears to play the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. A loss gives the Bears and Packers identical 7-3 records and drops the Bears into second place in the NFC North due to their head-to-head loss in Week Two.
As we wait for the Monday Night Football showdown, here are five things we’ve learned so far in Week 11.
1. The Packers missed chances to finish the Lions earlier than they did.
Five times in the game the Packers started drives from no worse than their own 48-yard line and only managed three points, a Mason Crosby 39-yard field goal while eating clock at the end of the game.
On their second possession of the game the Packers started a drive on the Detroit 48-yard line and moved the ball to the 31 where they faced fourth and four. With the accuracy problem Mason Crosby has been having, the Packers decided to pass on a 48-yard field goal attempt. Rodgers missed Randall Cobb on the attempt and turned the ball over on downs.
The other three opportunities where the Packers started with excellent field position ended with a Rodgers interception and two missed field goals by Mason Crosby.
2. The Lions failed to take advantage of golden opportunities.
With the Lions record of 1-11 against the Packers during the head coaching tenure of Mike McCarthy, they need to take advantage of every opportunity to bury the Packers, otherwise they’ll keep coming and find a way to win.
The Lions had three red zone opportunities in the game and only converted one for a touchdown, a common problem for them this season and a problem that did cost them the game.
In the first quarter on their third drive when the game was scoreless, the Lions drove to the Packers’ 18-yard line. After one run, two passes and a 9-yard sack, the Lions settled for a 30-yard field goal by Jason Hanson to take a 3-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter with 8:37 left in game, the Lions had first and 10 at Packers 11-yard line. Two runs by Mikel Leshoure netted a gain of one yard then an incomplete pass killed the drive. The Lions took three from Hanson again with a 27-yard field goal to stretch their tenuous lead to 20-14.
In 2011 the Lions were the best team in the NFL turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns 66.1 percent of the time. This season they’re No. 8 at 61.88 percent.
In a season where the Lions are only being outscored by an average of .9 points per game (points per game for 21.5 and against 22.4) that five percent decrease in red zone touchdowns does the best job of explaining why the Lions are currently 4-6 after being 7-3 through Week 11 in 2011.
3. The Lions need to rely on Leshoure more in the red zone.
The one time the Lions got it right, in their first possession of the second quarter, they gave Leshoure the ball twice from the Packers’ 11-yard line. On his first run he gained 10-yards. On his second he powered the ball into the end zone through a crowd from the one yard line for the touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
Leshoure has five rushing touchdowns this season, equaling Maurice Morris’ 2010 total and only falling second to Kevin Smith’s eight rushing touchdowns in 2008.
The Lions haven’t had a powerful runner like Leshoure in a long time who has the ability to be a threat. Opposing defenses have adjusted to the Lions’ red zone passing game of 2011. More use of Leshoure in short yardage situations could open up space for their receivers again.
4. Mason Crosby is a liability to the Packers as their placekicker.
Crosby had his best year in the NFL last season making 85.7 percent of his field goal attempts, including 2 out of 3 from over 50-yards. Since becoming the Packers’ placekicker in 2007 he’s never dropped below a 75 percent success rate.
Going into the game against the Lions Crosby was successful on only 66.7 percent of his attempts in 2012 and had missed six out of 10. The bye week didn’t seem to help him rest and rebuild his confidence, he was one out of three on Sunday.
Along with the early attempt the Packers decided not to try Crosby missed two others. The 50-yard miss at the end of the first half turned into a comedy of errors when Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz decided to “ice” Crosby and called timeout just as the ball was snapped and Crosby’s kick sailed wide right. He missed the real attempt to the left after the timeout.
Early in the fourth quarter, with an opportunity to tie the game at 17, Crosby missed a 38-yard attempt, again to the left. While Crosby didn’t end up losing the game for the Packers, counting the attempt not taken, Crosby cost the Packers nine points and forced Rodgers to stage a fourth quarter comeback to beat the Lions.
5. Jason Campbell will be the starting quarterback for the Bears on Monday night.
And a loss by the Bears drops them to second place in the NFC North because of their head-to-head loss in Week Two.
With Jay Cutler declared out for the game because of the concussion he suffered against the Texans, Campbell will fill the role the Bears envisioned for him when they signed him as a free agent. The Bears were 7-3 last season when Caleb Hanie was called on to start after Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand and the Bears dropped out of the playoff hunt to an 8-8 finish.
The last time Campbell was a starting quarterback was last season when he had the Raiders off to a 4-2 start before a broken collarbone finished his year, and his time in Oakland.
He’s appeared in mop-up duty in three games this season and played the second half last week against the Texans in the swamplands of Soldier Field so, without a chance to see him in real game conditions this year, it’s impossible to guess on how effective he can be against the tough 49ers offense.
Only one thing is certain, being the back-up this season, Campbell is currently the most popular quarterback on the Bears roster and will continue to be until he throws his first incomplete pass on Monday night.
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