The Packers have finally found an offensive identity, but is it enough to beat the Lions?

Kassidy Hill
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY −In a season that has been nothing but peaks and valleys, the low point for the Green Bay Packers came in Week 8. It was there they suffered a 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions, a defeat that capped a five-game losing streak, left several starters with long-term injuries and produced some of the most anemic offense this era of Packers football has seen. 

Since then, the Packers have gone 5-2, received ample outside help and are poised for a win-and-they’re-in scenario Sunday night. The one thing standing in their way? The Detroit Lions. 

Both teams are 8-8, heading into what is essentially a play-in game for both clubs (the Lions would need some outside help from the Los Angeles Rams). But you can’t beat the same team twice, according to Packers receiver Romeo Doubs, and that can work in the Packers' favor. 

“You play one team and you play them again, it's going to be a much harder game,” Doubs said. “Because you know, we know what to expect, they should know what to expect, so it's just gonna be a battle.” 

As for the Packers, their offense had little where else to turn but up following the Detroit loss. In that game, Green Bay went 0-for-4 in the red zone, including 0-for-2 on goal-to-go situations. Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions and the offense moved the ball easily into Lions territory on each drive, but couldn’t find a way to capitalize. 

Detroit Lions cornerback Mike Hughes tackles Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs.

All of their issues and deficiencies came to light that day. Zero downfield threat, an unwillingness to lean on the run game and a complete lack of chemistry between Rodgers (who was still dealing with a broken thumb) and the majority of his pass-catchers. There was no more hiding from what needed to change. Since then, the Packers have worked on doing just that. 

"I think there’s a lot of things that have changed since our last game (against the Lions), as individuals and as a unit and collectively as a team as well,” receiver Allen Lazard said. “I think we’re just a way more confident team. We have our identity now and we know what we're fully capable of. If we just go out there and play our game, play hard for four quarters, we’re more than certain that those results will take care of themselves.”

Those results have been positive since the Lions loss. Through the Packers first nine games, they scored (either a touchdown or field goal) on 28.04% of their drives. Since then, in the past seven games, the Packers have scored on 47.1% of their drives. It’s no secret what the difference has been: rookie Christian Watson. The receiver has scored nine touchdowns this season, with eight coming in the past seven games. 

“I think (my role has) grown more and more each and every week,” Watson said Wednesday. “I think I’ve been able to kind of find my role and own it more and more each and every week. Obviously, my goal is definitely to keep on expanding on that role as well. I'm confident in where I'm at now and being able to make plays and make an impact on the offense.” 

Even after taking a hard hit against the Miami Dolphins that caused him to lose a step in the Packers' win over the Minnesota Vikings and finish with only one reception, what Watson has brought to this offense forces defenses to pay attention. 

“I felt it a little bit more these past couple weeks,” Watson said of defenses shifting more attention his way. “Just in terms of, you know, being able to spread out the defense a little bit more, you know, open other guys up, open the run up a little bit more. But I mean, that's exactly what we want. And that's what we expect.”

Detroit Lions coach Jim Campbell during their win against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field.

But back to that Week 9 game. Watson, along with Doubs, both exited early with injuries. Doubs was out for six weeks while he healed from a high ankle sprain. Now, both are healthy, as are Lazard, Randall Cobb and Samori Toure. It might be a thin unit, but Doubs knows there’s enough in place to create a vastly different offense than what the Lions faced. 

“Way, way different,” Doubs said. “Everybody sees it way different. Biggest reason behind that is because, you know, I was getting something going, I got hurt, went out. Christian was just getting back to his groove. And now that everyone's healthy and able to smoothly get something going, it’s kinda different now. Which is great, not just on our end, but for everyone.”

The Lions defense, which has remained consistent all season and not had any drastic statistical changes since Week 9, is giving up an average of 398.7 yards per game, an average of 6.3 yards per play and letting teams score an average of 25.7 points per game. Detroit is 8-8 because their offense can win a shootout. That hasn’t been the Packers offensive identity this year, a season in which they stumbled through without any identity. 

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After years under coach Matt LaFleur as one of the more efficient offenses in the NFL, producing back-to-back MVP seasons for Aaron Rodgers, this unit has been less dynamic. 

“It’s just playing a complementary football,” Doubs said. “Making plays whenever the name is called. That's just what, what it comes down to. You get the ball, just make a play on it. That's all it is. It's no specialty of who needs to get fed here or there. It’s, whenever the name is called, make sure you ready.”

Said Lazard, “It's kind of hard to transcribe into words, I guess. But, you know, I think just the way that we were able to play the (Vikings) game. The calls that were getting played, we were executing at a very high level. And some of the calls weren't the best, but we made the most out of them. 

“I think that's probably the most important thing is, our identity is being able to believe in each other. Believe in ourselves as individuals, be able to go out there collectively as a unit of 11 people and work fluidly as one.” 

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