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Notebook: Run game stalls behind ineffective offensive line

Nov. 28, 2013
 

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Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy is upended by Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (98) in the fourth quarter of Thursday's game at Ford Field in Detroit. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith is evaluated by trainers after an injury Thursday against the Lions. Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media

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DETROIT — This time, Eddie Lacy and the running game weren’t able to bail the Green Bay Packers’ offense out.

In holding the Packers to 126 yards of total offense in Thursday’s 40-10 Thanksgiving beatdown, the Detroit Lions limited Green Bay’s ground game to 24 yards on 15 carries with the longest carry going for 4 yards.

A week ago, the Vikings weren’t up to the task. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn gained the glory for leading the Packers back from a 16-point deficit to force a 26-26 tie, but it was Lacy’s 158 total yards that paved the way to points.

At Ford Field, the Lions’ front four gave up nothing. Lacy finished with 10 carries for 16 yards, but his stat line was more a reflection of overall offensive ineptitude than an indictment on the rookie running back.

“We couldn’t run the ball the entire game,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “We couldn’t get anything done on first down. It’s tough when you’re facing a front like that when you’re not able to run the ball. I think that was the biggest thing.”

Without the threat of a running game, the Packers’ offense became one-dimensional with Flynn at the controls. To make matters worse, center Evan Dietrich-Smith left with a knee injury near the end of the second quarter and didn’t return.

Already working on a short week, left guard T.J. Lang moved to center for the second time this season. The Packers opted to keep Don Barclay at right tackle and brought in fourth-year veteran Marshall Newhouse to work at right guard against Ndamukong Suh.

Lang only took jog-through reps at center during the two-day practice week and Newhouse didn’t take any snaps at right guard, according to Barclay, who also said he wasn’t aware of the coaches’ intention to try Newhouse at right guard in case of emergency.

“You have to bring a guard in that’s a guard and have him play center. You bring in the six man into the line of scrimmage, that’s two different guys switching positions,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “You talk about the best offensive lines are the most cohesive offensive lines, so you want those five to go through everything, through thick and thin, good and bad, and it’s hard when one of them goes down.”

The Packers rushed five times for 4 yards after Dietrich-Smith left. Flynn also was sacked seven times and hit on nine occasions, but some came as a result of him holding onto the ball too long.

The biggest blunder happened near the end of the third quarter when Suh breezed past Newhouse and sacked Flynn in the end zone for a safety that effectively ended the Packers’ hopes for another comeback.

Flynn took the blame for not getting the ball out quicker, but the Packers benched Newhouse after the play and replaced him with rookie Lane Taylor. The Packers also tested Derek Sherrod at right tackle in the fourth quarter in place of Barclay.

“He’s coming into an unexpected role,” Barclay said. “It’s what the team (felt) was best. They put him in. He’s the most experienced. He was willing to fulfill that. It’s tough going against a great player like Suh and not getting any reps.”

The Packers still possess one of the league’s top rushing attacks, but the passing game must do more with the Lions cracking down with heavy single-high safety looks.

“It’s something that against a team like this with a defense that can get after the quarterback, you have to be able to run the ball,” Lang said. “We didn’t get that done. Once they shut down our run, it was hard for us to do anything.”

No regrets

Josh Sitton was in no mood to expound upon his early-week criticisms of Detroit coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions’ defensive line, but had no regrets about what he said.

“I said what I said. I’m not taking it back,” Sitton said. “But I’ve moved on from that. I don’t want to sit here and talk about it all day.”

During an interview with WSSP (1250 AM) in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Sitton called Schwartz, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and the Lions’ defensive line “scumbags” and added that he wouldn’t want to play there.

The bad blood between the Packers and Lions is years in the making, but Schwartz said the team didn’t make much out of Sitton’s comments other than joking about it at Wednesday night’s team meeting.

The Packers didn’t hear about it, either — or at least they weren’t admitting it.

“For the most part, they didn’t really say anything,” Lang said. “They didn’t have to. Their play kind of took care of it. They kicked our (butt).”

Ross' redemption

Jeremy Ross had to take great delight in his big day against the Packers, the team that cut him a little more than two months ago. But he didn’t show it.

Ross burned the Packers as a return man, runner and receiver on Thursday. He put up 145 all-purpose yards, including catching a 5-yard touchdown pass. His 11.5-yard average on four punt returns included a 35-yarder to the Packers’ 33 that set up a Lions touchdown late in the second quarter.

He also had a 24-yard run that converted a third down, and he averaged 23.3 yards on three kickoff returns. He also had a 60-yard punt return called back because of a holding penalty.

The Packers cut Ross in late September because of ball-security issues — Ross had a big fumble on a punt return in the playoffs against San Francisco last season and in Week 3 this year fumbled a kickoff return, which set Cincinnati up for a touchdown in the Packers’ loss to the Bengals.

After the game, coach Mike McCarthy shook hands with Schwartz, then sought out and hugged Ross. Ross wouldn’t bite when asked if he felt extra satisfaction performing so well against the Packers.

“It sucks to be cut,” he said. “I was more upset I was losing relationships there. It was unfortunate. The first thing I look at is myself and see which ways I could have prevented getting cut. Then try to bounce back.”

Extra points

■ Tramon Williams could draw a fine from the NFL after coming in contact with a referee at the start of the fourth quarter and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

The veteran cornerback appeared to be jawing with Lions center Dominic Raiola following a David Akers extra point and appeared to brush away the hand of an official who had stepped between the players.

Williams claims he didn’t notice it was a referee but appeared to come in contact with the referee’s back, which resulted in the flag.

“It was an emotional thing, wasn’t anything behind it at all,” Williams said. “The referee must have came and he walked right in front of me and just kind of grazed me. I don’t know if he was trying to hold me or what. Grazed me and I knocked the guy’s arm off me. I was already frustrated, just an emotion thing.”

■ Quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed his fourth consecutive game with a broken collarbone and was among the seven game-day inactives, joining tight end Brandon Bostick (concussion), defensive linemen C.J. Wilson (ankle) and Jerel Worthy, linebackers Jamari Lattimore (quad) and Nate Palmer, and wide receiver Chris Harper.

■ Tight end Ryan Taylor was evaluated for a concussion, but returned to the game.

— Pete Dougherty contributed

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