In terms of winning or losing, the Green Bay Packers’ regular-season finale didn’t matter on Sunday. Sure, they’d have preferred to scoop up the win heading into the first-round bye in the postseason. The loss didn’t hurt anything in the big picture, though. What stung was that the same concerns that have appeared all year long popped up yet again, this time against the Detroit Lions.
The Lions emptied their crate of trick plays against Green Bay. There was a fake punt that the Packers sniffed out and stopped in its tracks. There was a wide receiver pass that went for a 75-yard touchdown, and there was an end-around pitch back to Jared Goff that also went for a touchdown. Those gimmick plays will be on full display in the film room for the Packers and their opponents to dissect and perhaps try to incorporate themselves come the Divisional Round weekend. The lack of discipline by Joe Barry’s group in those situations was cringeworthy, and the Lions piled up big plays.
In recent weeks, Green Bay has been way more susceptible to giving up big-chunk plays than they were in the first half of the season — both on the ground and through the air. Overall, the numbers still aren’t bad for the Packers. But that is primarily because of how well they played for a stretch in the middle of the season. In the past few they’ve been gashed on the ground by the Cleveland Browns, picked apart in the air by the Baltimore Ravens’ Tyler Huntley, and even destroyed by the Chicago Bears’ special teams unit. If it’s not one thing for Green Bay, it’s another. The Lions scored two touchdowns on trick plays, and they also had plenty of other big-yardage plays.
Green Bay won’t be facing the Detroit Lions in the playoffs, and they won’t be going up against Huntley. It’s no disrespect to either of them, but neither the Lions as a whole nor Huntley at quarterback stack up to what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Dallas Cowboys have to offer. And to those who say Green Bay may have let up off the gas against the Lions on Sunday: Sure, the backups were in, but that doesn’t mean the energy and the want can die out.
The Lions had four passing plays of 25 or more yards. Both Kalif Raymond and Amon-Ra St. Brown went for over 100 yards receiving. It doesn’t matter who was on the field for Green Bay. In large part, the starters for Barry’s defense were on the field most of the afternoon, and they still gave Detroit one good look after another. It’s not panic-button time for Green Bay, but the week off will require the Packers’ defense to spend a lot of time in the film room.
They won’t be the only group.
Maurice Drayton’s special teams unit has been at its best when they haven’t been discussed this year. If Drayton is taking to the podium midweek or after a game, it’s usually because disaster has struck. While it wasn’t the complete meltdown of the Cincinnati Bengals game or the second matchup with the Chicago Bears, Sunday’s performance was worrisome.
Mason Crosby has been quiet recently, which is perfectly fine with Packers fans. He has a string of seven-straight field goals dating back to Nov. 28, but none of the seven have been from 40 yards or longer. In other words, they’ve been the prototypical chip-shot kicks. Against the Lions, Crosby made another chippy but missed an extra point early in the game. It doesn’t seem like much, right? But in the playoffs, that could be the difference between Green Bay having to play catchup with a two-point conversion later on or pushing away a late rally from whoever they are playing.
Crosby appears to be more confident in his ball-striking than earlier in the year. The three-man operation also seems more composed. However, he can’t miss extra points. Sunday showed again that the kicking operation isn’t to be trusted entirely, even on a point-after attempt. Some will roll their eyes at this and point out that it’s only one missed point, but it’s the domino effect it can cause that could lead to trouble in a playoff game.
This year, the biggest headaches for the Packers, especially in the last month or so, have been the defense giving up the big plays and special teams finding ways to slip on the easier operations. Both bothersome trends continued Sunday in Detroit, and the Packers better fix it fast. This is a team that can win it all despite any one of these flaws, but not when all their weaknesses join forces to cause the chaos witnessed against the Lions.