Notebook: Another defensive debacle leaves questions at outside LB

Jan. 1, 2012

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Packers-Lions postgame analysis: Rob Demovsky and Pete Dougherty talk about Matt Flynn's surprising performance Sunday against the Lions and the backup QB's prospects in free agency.
Green Bay Packers linebackers A.J. Hawk (50) and Frank Zombo (58) stuff Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith (30) in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette


The Green Bay Packers will be using the game videotape of one of the worst statistical defensive games in team history to decide who will be their starting right outside linebacker for the playoffs.

In their 45-41 win against Detroit on Sunday, the Packers started Frank Zombo at right outside linebacker, marking the first time all season Erik Walden hasn’t started.

Zombo played nine full series and part of another, whereas Walden played five series and most of another. Walden had two tackles, Zombo one, and neither had a sack or quarterback hit.

The Packers will decide from the game and practice who will be their starter for the playoff opener, in the divisional round, in two weeks.

“I didn’t have as much productivity as I’d like,” Zombo said. “But I feel like I did my job, I expect to grade out at 100 percent, whether it was coverage, playing the run, all that. I’d like to get more of a pass rush. But all the outside linebackers did a good job today.”

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 520 yards, which is the most the Packers have allowed an opposing quarterback in team history.

Two other backups, Brad Jones and Vic So’oto, split time at the other outside linebacker spot in place of Clay Matthews, who didn’t play for precautionary reasons. Each had a sack.

It’s conceivable defensive coordinator Dom Capers might consider playing one of them some at right outside linebacker, as well. Capers also might rotate Zombo and Walden, depending on the down-and-distance and defensive package.

“Maybe, I really don’t know,” Zombo said. “It’s a tough situation. We’ve got a lot of good depth, but I think when it comes down to it, it’s kind of hard to go in there and play a few reps here, a few reps there, you don’t really get in the swing of things. So I think once they designate that person, that person will get substantial reps. Maybe if that person gets tired or whatnot, do a little rotation.”

Clifton jumps in

Chad Clifton had early struggles in his approximately 25-snap performance as the starting left tackle Sunday, but he played better as the first quarter went on and appears on track to be the Packers’ starter for the playoffs.

Clifton had been out since Oct. 9 because of a torn hamstring and consequential back injury he sustained while rehabilitating the injury. He gave up a strip sack on the game’s fourth play to defensive tackle Sammie Hill when the Lions ran a stunt — the Lions recovered quarterback Matt Flynn’s fumble — and had a little trouble with bull rushes early.

“I watched Chad a lot,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought he started off a little hesitant there the first series. But I think once he got in the flow of the game he did very well in the pass protection. We threw the ball 24 times in the first half, and that was a little more than we anticipated. It’s definitely what we needed. We were hoping to get him around 25 plays today, and he actually played 25 snaps, so that’s exactly what we need.

“We’ll see how he feels (Monday). We’ll work him. The players are off Monday and Tuesday. We’ll be in a normal Wednesday, Thursday out there on the practice field. We need to work him a full week and make sure he’s ready. But he’s taking the steps, feels good.”

After Clifton left the game, Marshall Newhouse moved from right tackle to left tackle, where he’d been the starter while Clifton was injured.

“I was a little rusty, I guess, just getting into the flow of the game,” Clifton said. “I kinda settled down a little bit.”

Extra points

Backup cornerback Pat Lee cost the Packers two points because he didn’t realize that if the ball crossed the goal line on a kickoff return he couldn’t down it.

Lee, who was returning kickoffs in place of injured Randall Cobb (groin), was unable to catch the Lions’ second kickoff of the day in the blustery 20 mph winds at Lambeau Field. When the ball bounced, Lee was unable to grab it cleanly, and when he reached for it on the ground he momentarily pushed it across the goal line and into play. But when he picked up the ball he stayed on his knee to down it, and after the Lions touched him the play was ruled a safety that put Detroit ahead 9-0.

“The wind was real bad, the ball was all over the place,” Lee said. “I should have worked more in practice catching it outside, I made a mistake. I thought I could kneel the ball down if my body was in (the end zone), but I guess it’s the whole ball has to be in, too.”

After that play, Brandon Saine was the Packers’ deep kick returner until the Lions’ final kickoff, when both Saine and Lee were deep.

• By sitting out Sunday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was assured of setting the NFL record for passer rating. He came into the game with a rating of 122.5 points, which tops the former league mark of 121.1 points set by Peyton Manning in 2004.
• The only injury McCarthy reported after the game was to backup tight end Ryan Taylor’s ankle.

• Tim Masthay set two franchise punting records for the season. After Sunday’s game, Masthay finished with a 45.6-yard gross average and a 38.6-yard net average. The gross average record was set by Craig Hentrich in 1997, while the net average is not an officially recognized category.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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