D'Amato: Packers' defense limps into bye
GREEN BAY - Micah Hyde wasn’t happy when the 2016 NFL schedule came out and he saw that the Green Bay Packers had their bye in Week 4. That makes for a l-o-n-g stretch of games on the back end and a lot of beat-up players soaking in the hot and cold tubs come December.
But Hyde was singing a different tune Sunday. With five defensive starters out with an assortment of injuries, the Packers held on to beat the Detroit Lions, 34-27, and will limp into a bye week that couldn’t have come at a better time.
At the rate things were going – Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, Letroy Guion and Datone Jones all were sidelined – some of the gray-haired Packers alumni who walked stiff-legged into Lambeau Field at halftime almost looked like reinforcements.
“When the schedule first came out, I was like, dang, bye after the third game, that sucks,” said Hyde, who started for Burnett at strong safety. “But it came at the right time. The football gods were looking out for us.”
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From the perspective of glass-half-full, the depleted defense did some good things against Detroit. For the third consecutive week, the Packers stoned the opponent’s running game, this time holding the Lions to 50 rushing yards in 23 attempts. Six young players either saw their first NFL action or their first extended playing time, which can only help in the long run.
Then again, when you lead by 28 points late in the first half and get outscored, 24-3, the rest of the way, there are some red flags. In this case, it was a leaky zone defense and a few blown man-to-man assignments that allowed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw for 385 yards and three touchdowns, one week after the Vikings’ Sam Bradford put up 286 and two.
“It really kind of sucks getting up that big and getting real, real conservative on defense,” said cornerback Damarious Randall. “Some of those stats they got is kind of misleading. At the end of the day they can have as many stats as they want. We ended up with the win and that’s the only thing that matters.”
It wasn’t pretty, but coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t about to apologize, calling it an “excellent home opener win.”
“We had 13 first-year players playing in the game today,” he said. “We had nine of them on defense. There were a lot of opportunities and with that we’ll be a much better team as we move forward.”
If you’re going to pick nits, you’d point out that Lions receiver Marvin Jones Jr. caught six passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns and that Detroit had scoring drives of 15, 12 and 10 plays, owned time of possession by a 10-minute margin and converted 8 of 14 times on third down (57%).
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“We’re always worried about numbers because we don’t like to put stuff on tape,” said linebacker Nick Perry. “I think it gives other teams an edge to do things when they game-plan. So I hate to put it on film, but it happened. We’ve just got to learn from that and get down to work.”
In the second half, as Stafford pointed out, “Everybody in the building knew that we were going to throw it.” Linebacker Joe Thomas said the Packers, who play primarily man defense but mixed in a lot of Cover 2 zone against the Lions, wanted to force Stafford to check down and then come up and tackle.
In theory it sounded good. With a big lead you want your offense to bleed the clock and your defense to shut down the big play and make the opponent earn every inch. But there were far too many times when lonely Lions receivers ran up the middle of the field for substantial gains. Stafford also completed several deep sideline throws.
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BOX SCORE: Packers 34, Lions 27
“We played quite a few zones and Stafford was just finding the holes and hitting them,” Randall said.
“That’s on us,” Perry added. “We’ll take a look at it and we’ll try to make sure that moving forward we won’t allow those things to happen.”
On the plus side of the ledger, the Packers are 2-1, avoided slipping into an 0-2 division hole and should get some key players back after the bye. And some young players are growing up fast.
“We’re excited for our football team,” McCarthy said.
For sure, it could be a whole lot worse.
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