Week 17 Recap: How the NFC North Was Won

The Packers beat the Lions in all three phases of the game on Sunday to take the division title and the NFC’s 2nd seed. Even though the game was close, Detroit just didn’t appear to be on Green Bay’s level. They allowed a special teams touchdown, didn’t play well on offense, didn’t do enough on defense, and shot themselves in the foot too often.

Running Early:
The Packers stormed out of the gates with 4 straight runs for 56 yards. Each time they ran the ball to the right side – Ndamukong Suh’s side. Each time they had success. The Packers spread the defense out, and the Lions decided to play with a 2-high safety look each time. They were playing the pass, and the result was 6 in the box. With their defensive ends also using wide-9 techniques, there was plenty of room inside for double-teams and running lanes. Eddie Lacy also moved the pile and did a great job of setting up his blocks.

Detroit seemed to recover after those first 4 runs. For the rest of the game, they only allowed 96 yards on 34 carries, a 2.82 average. Green Bay’s early runs did tilt the field position, though, and this played a role in Micah Hyde’s 55-yard punt return resulting in 7 points instead of just a big special teams play.

One Leg Enough:
The Packers’ passing game was hardly the explosive unit we’ve seen all year at Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers’ left calf was clearly bothering him enough that he did not try to push the ball downfield at all. He stayed in the pocket on 19 of 22 passes. Only 3 of those passes were thrown outside the numbers, and none of those were downfield. One was a screen, one was a throwaway, and one was a pass to the flat. Rodgers chose to work the middle of the field where his quick release and arm strength were enough to get the ball where it needed to go.

Detroit did a really poor job of taking away these routes over the middle. On Green Bay’s two biggest offensive plays, passes for 34 and 29 yards, the Packers ran the same route combination – a dig from the slot by Randall Cobb and a post behind that on the outside by Jordy Nelson.

On the 34-yard pass, slot corner Cassius Vaughn played outside of Cobb in man coverage. He looked to be expecting help inside but no one was there. Cobb ran away from him easily. On the 29-yarder, Detroit was playing zone. They blitzed and played 3-under 3-deep behind it (3 deep defenders, 3 underneath defenders). DeAndre Levy, the middle of the underneath defenders, inexplicably dropped to the left, leaving a wide-open passing lane in the middle. Again, Cobb was wide open.

Three plays later, Rodgers found Cobb for a 13-yard touchdown on – you guessed it – another wide-open in-breaking route. This was a shorter in-route by Cobb. Cassius Vaughn was aligned over him and played with inside leverage, taking away the middle of the field. He was also playing to his safety, who was helping over the top. The one thing Vaughn couldn’t do was let Cobb get underneath him, but he did. Give credit to Cobb here. He drove Vaughn upfield with his stem which created room for him to cut underneath. But Vaughn had one simple responsibility here and he didn’t do it. These are the types of plays (or breakdowns) that separate the good teams from the great teams.

Final Thoughts:
The Packers were the better team than Detroit on Sunday, make no mistake about it. But the Lions didn’t help their cause. If there was ever a day for the Lions to win at Lambeau, this was it. They failed to execute and play smart football, though. The result is that they have to travel to Dallas this Sunday to play a very good Cowboys team instead of securing a first-round bye. The Packers, on the other hand, are primed to get healthy and make a Super Bowl run.

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