The Green Bay Packers assumed sole position of first place in the NFC North on Monday night at Lambeau Field, coming back from deficits of 13-0 and 22-13 to beat the Detroit Lions in Week 6. The victory moved the Packers to 5-1 and 3-0 in the NFC North, their best start inside the division since 2012.
Here are the studs and duds from the Packers’ 23-22 win over the Lions:
QB Aaron Rodgers: The numbers don’t suggest a top performance, but for the second straight week, Rodgers handled a tough situation personnel-wise and expertly managed everything about playing the quarterback position. He was highly accurate and likely should have completed 30 or so of his 39 attempts. He found an excellent blend of extending plays against four-man rushes, checking the ball down underneath and delivering throws on time from the pocket. Big-play throws to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (46 yards) and Allen Lazard (35 yards, touchdown) were an incredible combination of touch and location. The Packers needed something big late, and the $134 million man delivered it in impressive style. On the final drive, he broke contain of the pocket, showed his trademark pump fake and quickly scrambled for a first down. Had his receivers made more plays on well-thrown passes, Rodgers likely would have thrown for well over 300 yards and three or more touchdowns. The two-time MVP said last Sunday in Dallas was his best game of the season. Monday night beat it. Easily.
CB Jaire Alexander:Amari Cooper served him up a big piece of humble pie in Dallas last Sunday. Alexander responded by blanketing Marvin Jones Jr. from start to finish eight days later. The overzealousness was gone. Jones tried double moves but Alexander had none of it. As a result, Matthew Stafford rarely tested him. When he did, nothing good happened. Twice, Alexander was in Jones’ hip pocket and disrupted a throw at the catch point, including a critical third down in the fourth quarter. It was exactly the kind of response the Packers were looking for from the young alpha cornerback. Live, learn, respond, improve.
RT Bryan Bulaga: Bulaga’s one-on-one matchup with Lions defensive end Devon Kennard was a technical knockout in favor of the veteran right tackle. Kennard gave effort, but Bulaga had an answer for every question he tried to ask as a pass-rusher. It was a one-sided battle from the first play to the last. The one time Kennard threatened the edge, Rodgers stepped up and around while Bulaga ushered him out of the play. Dominance is becoming the norm for No. 75 in 2019.
RB Jamaal Williams: Having two running backs capable of producing over 100 total yards in a game is such an important factor for Matt LaFleur and the Packers offense. Williams was outstanding on his way to 136 total yards and a touchdown on 18 touches. He made a man miss with a stiff arm in the open field and scored from five yards out to get the Packers back in the game early. Late in the first half, he weaved his way through the first and second levels and busted off a 45-yard run, the longest of his career. As usual, he was dependable and reliable as a receiver and blocker.
DL Dean Lowry: The veteran had been getting pushed around in the run game over the last month, but all that ended Monday night. Lowry beat single blocks and double teams alike to contain the Lions run game. He produced four tackles within one yard of the line of scrimmage, a season high. Big No. 94 was a big reason why the Packers held the Lions to 2.8 yards per rush.
WR Allen Lazard: When a future Hall of Fame quarterback requests you get a chance, you best make the most of it. That’s exactly what Lazard did in the fourth quarter Monday night. He caught an over-the-shoulder touchdown pass from 35 yards out to spark the comeback and then produced three catches on the game-winning drive, including two for first downs. On three of the catches, he beat Justin Coleman, an excellent man-to-man corner. Lazard is tough and has a big catch radius, and there’s already evidence of legitimate trust between him and the quarterback. His opportunities are about to go way up.
OL Billy Turner: Slowly but surely, Turner is settling in at right guard. Monday night was likely his best game of the season. He got movement in the run game, was active getting to the second level and held up consistently in the passing game. The work of Turner, Corey Linsley and rookie Elgton Jenkins paved the path to the Packers’ 170 rushing yards.
TE Marcedes Lewis: “Big Dog” can still get it done. For the second straight week, Lewis was terrific in executing his specific role. He battles and often beats defensive ends and outside linebackers on the edges in the run game and does just enough to threaten defenses in the passing game. On his first 25-yard catch, he got behind the safety with a subtle fake and absorbed a big hit while going to the ground. In the fourth quarter, he made a smart move in the scramble drill and made a tough catch along the sideline for 25 more yards. It was his first game with two catches of at least 25 yards since 2013.
WR Darrius Shepherd: Nights don’t get much worse. Shepherd made a brutal mistake as a punt returner, accomplished nothing as a kick returner and nearly threw the game away with a costly drop that turned into a turnover inside the 5-yard line. Shepherd wasn’t cut Tuesday, but few would’ve been surprised had the roster move been made. On his first turnover, Shepherd misjudged the punt’s trajectory and tried to make an over-the-head catch without first calling a fair catch. He got drilled and the ball squirted away. On the interception, Shepherd slipped down while adjusting to Rodgers’ throw and watched helplessly as the ball ricocheted off his helmet and into Justin Coleman’s hands. The Lions had every intention of making Shepherd return each and every kickoff, and he managed only 17.4 yards per return over five returns, with a long of 21. The blocking wasn’t good but he also wasn’t decisive. Competition is required at both returner spots.
WR Geronimo Allison: He delivered two first-down catches, but the rollercoaster ride continued for Allison, who eventually departed the game after taking a pair of hits to the helmet early in the second half. Early on, it was ugly. He couldn’t finish a block on the edge of a toss run, had a pair of drops on third down and was penalized for holding on quick receiver screen in the red zone. Amazingly, Allison can no longer be considered reliable. He’s making repeat mistakes every week.
CB Kevin King: The Lions beat King’s primary coverage for six completions and over 150 passing yards. He wasn’t the only one at fault for the big play on the first play from scrimmage. Both safeties in quarters coverage got sucked in by the action. The very next drive, King got beat deep one-on-one for 58 yards. At times, it didn’t look like he was right, with a possible injury affecting his movement. He eventually settled in. At one point, however, the Lions completed five straight passes against his coverage.
TE Jimmy Graham: His late catch on the game-winning drive nearly took him out of the “duds” category, but the missed opportunities earlier on kept him there. He dropped a catchable ball in end zone in the scramble drill, couldn’t break a tackle in open field on third down and failed to make a contested catch in a one-on-one coverage situation in the end zone. His blocking was so-so. Effort wanes based on his involvement in the passing game. Ninety-nine percent of NFL tight ends could catch two of five targets for 17 yards. Only one can do it with the top salary at the position.