3 things to watch: Packers at Lions
Unless the Green Bay Packers get their passing game going soon, offensive play-caller Tom Clements may just need to grit his teeth and pound the ball with Eddie Lacy as much as possible. The third-year running back is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games and appears to have put his midseason injuries behind him. There doesn’t appear to be any structure to the passing game outside of screen plays and school-yard plays. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’s had a passer rating higher than 90 in only one game since the bye week, threw a career-high 61 passes against Detroit in the Packers’ 18-16 loss on Nov. 15 at Lambeau Field. As you’d imagine, the Packers’ designed run-to-pass ratio was almost even in their 30-13 win over Minnesota the following week. Everyone agrees the Packers need to duplicate that kind of balance if they’re going to put a brutal November behind them. The Packers, who led the NFL in scoring in 2014, are averaging one fewer touchdown per game this season. Their once-prolific offense simply needs to be competent. It starts with getting Lacy going. He has only 21 carries for 52 yards in his two previous appearances in Detroit. Predictably, the Packers lost both times. “If we’re going to try to pass the ball 70 times again last time we played them, we’re probably not going to have the result that we want,” right guard T.J. Lang told Detroit media this week. “So it’s something that, I think it starts with we’ve got to be able to run the ball.”
The Packers have some decisions to make with how they want to handle their secondary snaps now that Micah Hyde (hip) is on the verge of returning and Damarious Randall (knee) was cleared to practice again after leaving late in their 17-13 loss to Chicago. Assuming he’s healthy after re-injuring his hamstring Wednesday, Randall seems entrenched in the perimeter spot opposite Sam Shields. That leaves the slot positions in the nickel and dime subpackages to be decided among Casey Hayward, Hyde and second-round pick Quinten Rollins, who was productive in place of Hyde against the Bears. Rollins, a former point guard at Miami (Ohio), has impressed cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt with his tackling ability. He also recorded the Packers’ only sack of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler on Thanksgiving, though he came flat free on a corner blitz. Rollins, a gunner on special teams, has only played 70 defensive snaps this season, but that could change in the near future. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound cornerback has 12 tackles and the two interceptions he grabbed against St. Louis in October. “I think he’s on the upswing,” Whitt said. “He’s a kid that purposely wanted to bring along a little slower because of his background, but he’s deserving of playing time. When he has played, he’s made impactful plays either with the interceptions (against) St. Louis, the sack, getting hands on balls, the level of physicality, not making mental errors.” Regardless of who plays, the Lions' passing game poses a significant threat with all-pro Calvin Johnson, the physical Golden Tate and running back Theo Riddick, who has 55 catches this year out of the backfield.
The Packers need Davante Adams to get back on track and fast. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a 61.8 passer rating when throwing to the second-year receiver (32 catches on 61 targets, 334 yards and an interception) this season, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s currently the lowest in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 targets. Adams has been targeted 47 times since he returned in Week 9 against Carolina. He’s caught only 25 of those passes (53.2 percent) for 222 yards with no touchdowns. His longest catch of 40 yards came on a meaningless Hail Mary at the end of the half against the Panthers. The Packers spoke glowingly about Adams throughout the summer with coach Mike McCarthy going so far as to call him the offseason MVP. Adams’ athleticism has been well-documented, but he needs to translate that production to the field. The offense is depending on it. Rodgers targeted him 21 times in the Packers’ loss to Detroit with Adams catching 10 passes for only 79 yards. He’ll certainly get plenty of chances to put a forgettable showing against the Bears behind him. “A lot of it’s confidence,” receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Right now he’s in a little bit of a slump. We had a good conversation early in the week. We’re wiping the slate clean and we’re starting fresh. He’s had a very impressive week of practice. He’s put the work in. It looks like he’s feeling better about things.”