Watchtower Review: Lions vs. Packers

>> 12.14.2010

Let’s start with all the totally wrong things I said in last week’s Watchtower:

It seems unlikely that the Lions’ defense does that well against an offense that good twice in a row, though, so I’m going to project the Packers to slightly underperform scoring expectations: gaining 23-26 points. I expect the Lions to be more successful defending the pass with zone coverage, allowing 8.0-8.5 YpA, at the expense of fewer interceptions. The Lions will likely cede the run to the Packers again, allowing 4.25-4.5 YpC. I have high confidence in this projection.

3 points, 3.30 YpC, 6.02 YpA.  Tremendous performance by the defense.

As I said, in Week 4, the Lions managed to hold the Packers’ offense to as few points as can be expected, given how effective they were on a per-play basis. If the same offense shows up this week, I don’t see the Lions being so fortunate.

It can be argued that the same offense didn't show up—but the defense far outstripped their Week 4 effort, even with several key starters lost.  I’m still stunned at how well this defense performed on Sunday.

I don’t expect the Lions to put up 454 yards against the Packers this time around, but I do project them to be more productive with their yards: scoring 17-23 points, gaining 4.50-5.00 YpC, and throwing for 5.75-6.00 YpA.

Yeah not so much.  The yards projections were fairly close—4.63  YpC and 5.32 YpA—but they spun that effectiveness into a single measly touchdown.  Two interceptions and a missed field goal didn’t help.

The Lions gave the Packers their best shot in Week 4, and lost the game mostly by shooting themselves in the foot. Between a truly massive amount of penalties (13 for 102 yards), and the now-obligatory Charles Woodson pick-six, the Lions let the Packers off the hook. As I said above, it’s hard to believe that the Lions could play that well against a team as talented as Green Bay twice in once season—and yet, it’s there. It’s there for them, again. They lost by two on the road before, they can win this one at home. They can . . . but they won’t.

They could . . . and they did.

CTRL-C, CTRL-V, folks. This will be an extremely painful 17-24 defeat.

Or, an incredibly improbable 7-3 victory!  I haven’t ever been more wildly wrong in a score projection, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  I will take that over, and over, and over, and over.  Okay, I’ve got an idea: let’s talk about everything I said that was right.

Look for the Lions to drop eight men into coverage on a regular basis, essentially the same game plan we saw against the Patriots on Thanksgiving. The idea is to get enough rush from the front four to slow down the Pack’s offense just long enough for the Lions’ offense to outscore them.

The Lions did blitz the Packers more than they blitzed the Pats—but they certainly got most of their production from the front four.  It also took a looooooooooooooong time, but they slowed down that Pack offense just long enough for the Lions’ offense to outscore them.  Barely.

Greg Jennings will be the key to this game for the Packers’ offense.  If the Lions can stop him with double- and triple-teams, I don’t think Donald Driver and Donald Lee will be enough to score more than the 23-26 I project, if enough to score that much at all.

Greg Jennings: 4 catches, 52 yards, one bobbled pass that was ultimately intercepted.  They didn’t score the 23-26 I projected, either.

Last year, I thought I’d identified a systemic advantage for Scott Linehan against Dom Capers (and most 3-4 defenses), where the running game was disproportionately effective, and scoring was therefore disproportionately higher.

They didn’t score much, but the Lions ran very well against the Packers—the #1 defense in the NFL—and it was the difference in the game.

However, the Packers are allowing 4.49 YpC on the ground, 7th-worst in the NFL—so clearly, my notion that the Packers are generally struggling against the run was true.  Further, the Lions will be starting Drew Stanton, whose running ability is well-known, and whom the Lions have never hesitated to call designed running plays for.  I expect to see at least one rushing touchdown, or 20-plus-yard scramble, from Drew Stanton on Sunday.

Drew ran 4 times for 44 yards.  He didn’t score, and his long was only 17 yards (not 20).  However, on his other three carries he averaged 9 yards per; he was asked to make plays with his feet and he did—along with the six other Lions who toted the rock on Sunday.

First, this presumes that Drew Stanton plays like he did last week: an efficient, effective, conservative backup quarterback.  If Stanton has a regression to his “2009 49ers game” form, this will be an ugly blowout.  However, there’s an X factor here named Jahvid Best. We saw a return to form last week, and if he still has that burst, that bounce, he could do an awful lot of damage against a Green Bay defense that’s lost three of its top five linebackers for the year.

Unfortunately, Drew did regress to 2009 form against the Packers’ defense—at least for the first three quarters—and boy, was it ever ugly.  However, the running of Best, Maurice Morris, Stefan Logan, and Stanton himself bailed the offense out.

Finally, in the first matchup, Brandon Pettigrew made a lot more headlines for the two or three crucial passes he dropped, than the eight he caught for 91 yards. Likely being matched up against A.J. Hawk, as 49ers TE Vernon Davis was last week (4 catches, 126 yards, 1 TD) could result in a field day for Jumbotron.

Okay, this one was pretty much entirely wrong; Pettigrew was held to just 2 catches for 14 yards.  However, it’s worth noting that the game-winning touchdown came on a tight end screen to Will Heller—who was spelling Pettigrew.  Further, Heller ran right through A.J. Hawk on his way to paydirt.


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