Detroit Lions: 10 thoughts from week 9 win over Packers

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 06: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 6, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 06: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 6, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Going into Lambeau Field is usually a nightmare for the Detroit Lions. Yet on Monday Night Football, they ignored those demons and dominated in Green Bay.

After going 24 years without a win at Lambeau Field, the Detroit Lions now have two in three years. And yes, let’s go ahead and get the elephant in the room out of the way. The Green Bay Packers did not have Aaron Rodgers in this game.

However, the biggest positive tonight was the Lions’ offense picking apart the Packers defense. They were efficient (zero punts!), converting on third downs and scoring on every red zone possession. This was a big development for Detroit and broke a three-game losing streak. Let’s break it down.

1. The Lions won third down

Yes, the red zone woes have driven Lions fans to the brink of insanity. But the lack of third-down conversions kills the Lions offense. Last week, Detroit was 2-12 and the Pittsburgh Steelers were 7-14 on third down. It was a deciding factor in last week’s game.

This week, the opposite occurred. By going 8-13 on third down, the offense was able to stay on the field and dominate time of possession by 14 minutes. Matthew Stafford was special and Golden Tate was able to dominate the slot and find holes in the defense. The play calling on third down by Jim Bob Cooter was exceptional.

Also, shout out to the defense for their performance. Holding the Packers to 2-9 on third down really helped the offense get the ball and keep the pressure on the Packers. Brett Hundley never found a rhythm Monday night.

2. The Lions prevented the big play

Other than Randall Cobb‘s 46-yard reception late in the game, the Lions did a great job keeping everything in front. It was a conservative game plan from Mike McCarthy and the Packers, but the Lions were aggressive on the back end. They broke up multiple sideline passes, preventing the Packers from finding a rhythm. The pass rush only had three sacks but was bringing pressure all night. It was a great job by the secondary to hold their ground.

The Lions defense is pretty good, but can sometimes lose focus and let offenses convert big plays. This was a great game to play tight and pressure a backup quarterback and I like what Teryl Austin did. More man coverage and blitzes to force the ball out of Brett Hundley’s hand. Hundley was never comfortable in the pocket and the Lions were able to take advantage.

3. The offensive linemen played their best game of the year

It looks like the bye week was incredibly beneficial to the Lions offensive line. After having their best game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the line stepped up even more on Monday night. The only sack was a flea flicker where Stafford held the ball too long. In any case, Stafford was only hit three times.

On replays, ESPN would go to the all-22 camera and you could see how much room Stafford could operate within the pocket. The Packers were sending blitzes all game, but Detroit picked them up. Also, the running backs were able to find incoming blitzers and buy Stafford more time. Great work by the entire offense to keep Stafford upright.

4. The linebackers are playing capable football

The biggest weakness on defense was the unsteady play of the linebackers. This game, I felt the Lions linebackers had their best performance. Tahir Whitehead had two tackles for loss and Jarrad Davis led the team in tackles. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is more comfortable, helping contribute on first and second down. The unit continues to get better and will play better with more experience. Getting Paul Worrilow healthy will help.

5. Player of the game: Matthew Stafford

This was an easy choice, with Stafford playing his best game of the year. The pinpoint accuracy he displayed in Green Bay was something to behold. It’s incredible what Stafford accomplishes with good blocking up front. It shows he is worth every penny of his new contract.

The most impressive thing to me was how well Stafford controlled the game. We know the Lions give Matthew Stafford complete control at the line of scrimmage. He was able to audible correctly on pass plays and found the open man every play. He made one bad decision, taking a sack on the flea flicker. Other than that, it was a near perfect game from the franchise quarterback. The last two games, Stafford is playing at a Pro Bowl level and I expect him to continue his hot streak.

6. Darius Slay is an elite cornerback and the world should know it

I completely understand Detroit is not a major market and players in all levels of professional sports are overlooked. It happens and usually, as a Detroit fan, I let it slide.

Even so, it bothers the hell out of me that Darius Slay never gets the proper credit as an elite shutdown cornerback. Facing a deep Packers wide receiver rotation, Slay allowed 17 yards in coverage. Facing guys like Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams was no challenge for Slay, shutting down whoever he lined up against.

Watching Darius Slay, nobody is better at preventing the big play. He made two huge plays against Jordy Nelson to prevent first downs when the Packers were trying to mount a comeback. Jordy Nelson was held to 35 yards and was never comfortable. This is what Slay brings. He takes out your #1 receiver and forces you to look elsewhere. Moreover, he is capable of getting a key interception or tackle on third down behind the sticks. You cannot ask for much more from a cornerback.

7. Running the ball is a disaster

Weirdly enough, the numbers alone show Detroit with a worse running performance than what it was. Abdullah had some good runs, but of course, the negative plays were killers.

It’s odd because most of the time you blame the offensive line for poor running performances. But the last two weeks, it’s clearly the play calling and play design. To say it is predictable is a huge understatement. Anytime a wide receiver runs tight to the formation, it is a run. Using pistol formations on first down indicates run every time. When Jared Abbrederis enters the game, it’s a tell it is a run. The Lions continue to overload one side and it is a run to the opposite side.

The lack of innovation to develop different formations or play design is unfathomable. Yet the passing game is in great shape, especially the last two weeks. Yes, the left side of the offensive line is unreliable. Still, you have Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang on the right side with Travis Swanson at center. That part of your offensive line should get you positive yardage almost all the time. But the defense knows what is coming. They can stack the box and shut down the running game. It’s infuriating and most likely will not be fixed under Jim Caldwell. The man simply cannot develop a running game.

8. Can Ezekiel Ansah step up?

After week two, I wrote that Ezekiel Ansah was back. He was healthy and fresh, looking like his 2015 self after an uneven year in 2016. All things considered, I felt Ansah was looking like his old self. But since week two, he has not been the same. While Ansah was okay in Green Bay the lack of impact is alarming. He misses whole defensive series and is not even in on every passing down.

The Lions defense is so much better when Ansah is playing well. He’s on the injury report every week, and it seems that he is slower than normal. His knee must be balkier than the Lions are letting on. Be that as it may, Ezekiel Ansah is too valuable to disappear for whole quarters. It’s time for Ansah to improve his game and make a statement.

9. Eric Ebron is still valuable

I like what Eric Ebron did today. Grabbing three catches, he had two first downs and is excelling getting yards after the catch. He will never be an elite tight end, but can still contribute every game. I like how the Lions are using him on crossing routes and giving him chances to beat safeties and linebackers. A solid performance by Eric Ebron, and hopefully that continues.

10. It’s time for the Lions to make a move

The Lions won the key game, going into Lambeau Field and putting a beat down on the Packers. The final score is not indicative of the thorough dispatching of the Green Bay Packers. The Detroit Lions were clearly the better team, and not just at quarterback. They made the Green Bay defense look silly. It was definitely worth a victory cigar and beating the Packers in Green Bay will never be taken for granted in my house.

In the meantime, this game should set the tone for Detroit. The next two games will see the Lions face the lowly Cleveland Browns and mediocre Chicago Bears. Assuming Detroit holds serve, this will get them to 6-4 with the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving.

Next: Lions game balls for win over Packers

After the halfway point, the Lions have an easy schedule. Two games against the Bears, three games against the weak AFC North, along with a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should result in five wins. Matthew Stafford is getting good protection and picking apart defenses. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are playing their best football and the defense is starting to get there. Get the next two games and go to 6-4, hoping for a chance to grab first place in the NFC North on Thanksgiving. The Lions need to hunker down, focus, and continue to improve.