DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field.
What it means: The Packers finally got some big plays from their defense -- a pair of interceptions and a strip-sack/fumble recovery that perhaps cost the Lions a touchdown -- but it did not matter because their offense was rendered almost completely ineffective by the Lions and their patched-up secondary. Aaron Rodgers managed to complete just 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards. Without much of a running game to supplement the offense, the Packers ran just 51 plays and totaled 223 yards. It was the lowest-scoring output by the Packers in a game that Rodgers started and finished since he became the starter in 2008. The previous low came in a 9-0 win over the Jets in 2010.
Stock watch: When Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off a Matthew Stafford pass that was tipped in the first quarter, it ended a streak of 25 straight games (including playoffs) without an interception by a Packers safety dating to Dec. 2, 2012, when Morgan Burnett had a pair of interceptions against the Vikings. On the flip side, another streak ended, and it wasn't good. Running back Eddie Lacy fumbled on his second carry of the game, and it was his first fumble since Week 1 of the 2013 season. He had gone 325 straight carries without a fumble, including the playoffs last season.
Off the hook: Mike McCarthy should thank Lions kicker Nate Freese for missing a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. It let McCarthy off the hook for an ill-advised timeout with 17 seconds left in the second quarter with the Lions facing third-and-7 from their own 25. Before the timeout, the Lions showed no urgency and might have been content to run out the clock and take a 12-7 lead into halftime. After the timeout, Stafford took a shot deep and hit receiver Corey Fuller for a 52-yard gain to set up the field goal try.
Injury report: Given how much the Packers' defense was on the field, it perhaps wasn't surprising that they sustained some fatigue injuries. Linebacker Clay Matthews dropped out with a groin injury late in the game and although his return was listed as questionable and he remained on the sideline, he never came back in the game. Also, linebacker Jamari Lattimore and cornerback Davon House (who had the Packers' other interception) went to the locker room to receive treatment for cramps and then returned.
Game ball: The Packers gave Julius Peppers a $7.5 million signing bonus to make game-changing plays. After a relatively quiet first two games, Peppers kept the Packers in the game with a strip-sack of Stafford and a fumble recovery after the Lions had the ball and a 12-7 lead at the Packers' 7-yard line and were poised to score in the third quarter. It was Peppers' first sack of the season after he had a half-sack wiped out by a penalty in the season opener.
What’s next: The Packers play the second of three straight NFC North games on Sunday at the Chicago Bears.
Bulaga was declared active for Sunday's game at Ford Field after missing last week's game against the New York Jets because of the knee injury he sustained in Week 1 at the Seattle Seahawks. In Bulaga's absence, Derek Sherrod allowed three sacks in six quarters of action.
On Friday, Bulaga appeared to be on track to play despite being listed as questionable for the second straight week.
The Lions are not only without safety James Ihedigbo but also may have to use Danny Gorrer, who was signed by the Lions this week, as their third cornerback behind starters Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay. They also promoted cornerback Mohammed Seisay from the practice squad Saturday.
Packers cornerback Casey Hayward, who also was listed as questionable because of a glute strain, will be available for the game. However, that does not necessarily mean he will have a role on defense. Last week against the Jets, the Packers went with Davon House as their No. 3 cornerback in the nickel package over Hayward.
For the second straight week, Jamari Lattimore will start at inside linebacker for the injured Brad Jones (quadriceps).
With only 52 players on the roster after they placed outside linebacker Andy Mulumba (torn ACL) on injured reserve Friday, the Packers had only six inactives for Sunday's game. Mulumba's injury opened the door for rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott to be active for the first time.
Here are the Packers' inactives:
This week, one of the big topics around the Packers was the use of four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been playing off the line of scrimmage and dropping into coverage more this season. Questions about that subject lead off this week's edition of the mailbag:
Julius Peppers. I included his comments in a post about Matthews' role earlier this week. You can see it here. For his part, Matthews isn't complaining, at least not publicly, but you have to wonder if the Packers will stop overthinking things and go back to putting Matthews on the edge as a rusher more than they have done so far early this season.
Demovsky: The idea from a pass-rush standpoint, according to the Packers, is to create mismatches for Matthews and prevent blockers from zeroing in on him play after play. It makes some sense because it makes it tougher to make predetermined double-team assignments. Where perhaps you can question their thinking is how often he's dropping into coverage. That does not seem like the best use of his incredible pass-rushing talent. As for Richard Rodgers and the red-zone plays, that's a part of the field where the Packers would like to use Brandon Bostick 's size and athleticism, so perhaps if Bostick is healthy enough to play a bigger role this week, that might happen.
#packersmail Gameplan Qs: why is Clay off line so often? Rushing passer too little. Why no R Rodgers on goal line plays? He's a big target— Chintan Shah (@chints2) September 15, 2014
Jayrone Elliott, given that the Packers lost an outside linebacker in Andy Mulumba and that Elliott is probably more ready to play on defense. However, if special teams is the bigger factor - and it could be, given that Mulumba's only snaps this season had come in that area - then perhaps Carl Bradford, who was moved to inside linebacker late in training camp, could get the call. Bradford got a lot of special-teams work in the final two preseason games, but Bradford is not close to being ready to play on defense yet.
Aaron Rodgers became a starter in 2008, and it's the tradeoff that comes with a quarterback who is so smart with the football. Rodgers almost never forces a throw. And when he does, he's smart enough to know there were 12 defenders on the field, as he did on his interception that wasn't against the Jets on Sunday. This week, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt was asked about Rodgers holding the ball and said, in part, "Tell him, 'Don't extend the play?' We would never do that."
Wilkerson (punches, ejection) was fined $20,000, while Richardson (grabbed opponent's facemask after play) was docked $8,268.
Richardson and Wilkerson both lost their cool in a heated end zone scuffle after the Packers completed a two-point conversion in the third quarter. Richardson was flagged for unsportsmanlike behavior, while Wilkerson was tossed.
Wilkerson has since apologized to his teammates for his actions.
Packers tight end Andrew Quarless was also fined $8,268 for his role in the scuffle.
Also, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was fined $11,025 for using "inappropriate language" after a play against Chicago last Sunday night.
Kaepernick, who has said he will appeal the fine, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after he threw an interception in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' 28-20 loss to the Bears. He and Chicago defensive end Lamarr Houston went at it, but Houston acknowledged that Kaepernick didn't say anything offensive or out of line.
And while no one – not even a doctor – can say for sure whether the brace he wore against the Seahawks saved him from another ACL tear, Bulaga believes that to be the case.
"I'll definitely say that I feel the knee brace helped," Bulaga said Friday, speaking for the first time since he sprained his MCL against the Seahawks on Sept. 4. "There's no doubt about it. I mean, I would assume it did. I just, in my own head, I think it did."
Unlike in college football, where those knee braces are the norm, most NFL players don't wear them unless they must. Bulaga began wearing the brace at the start of training camp. For a player who has played in just one of the Packers' last 25 regular-season games, every little thing could help.
"When it first happened, initially I thought I got charley-horsed or kicked in the thigh," Bulaga said. "So I kind of tried to get back up and wasn't able to. But I didn't think it was going to be anything serious. I certainly didn't feel the same way that I did a year ago. Yeah, I wasn't too nervous about it."
Bulaga said Friday that he felt much better than he did a week ago, when it was determined that he would not play against the New York Jets. However, he still must prove in practice on Saturday that he's able to function at a high level for an extended period of time before he will get the OK to return against the Lions.
"Mobility-wise, strength-wise, everything has just progressed really well," he said.
Too amped up, as it turned out.
That was a full year before defensive coordinator Dom Capers and most of his current staff came to Green Bay, but it's a lesson that might be worth reminding their cornerbacks this week when they prepare for a megasized challenge in the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.
"It's important for our guys, particularly our corners, to play with their technique and play with their leverage and just play football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "Anytime you go up against a top-notch player like Calvin, you can't let players like that take you out of your technique."
Surely, that message has been conveyed to Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and the rest of the Packers' secondary this week. Shields is most likely to draw Johnson the most, although Capers has said repeatedly that you can't cover him with the same defensive back all the time. The Packers say they aren't worried about a guy like Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract this offseason, trying to go out and justify his contract by trying to shut down Johnson.
If anything, Shields should be confident in knowing that he has done it in the recent past. Shields covered Johnson for most of last year's Thanksgiving game at Ford Field. Although the Lions won in a 40-10 blowout, Shields held Megatron to just three catches for 46 yards in seven targets when he was in coverage, although Johnson still managed six catches for 101 yards overall for the day.
"At the end of the day, it's all competition, and he's a big challenge," Shields said. "You know a guy like that, you want that. In the NFL, all eyes on you, everybody wants to see what you're going to do against Calvin Johnson. So you know, like I said, do the right things, do my keys, my techniques right, everything will be good."
The same goes for Williams, who has had success -- and seen others have success -- against Johnson. In 2012, Williams' primary job was to cover Johnson, and he held him to four catches for 54 yards without a touchdown in a game at Lambeau Field. However, Williams did not have him the entire time, and Johnson still managed a 100-yard game. And he saw Charles Woodson hold Johnson, in his worst game against the Packers, to two catches for 10 yards for an entire game in 2009.
However, those were not the norms for Johnson, who in 12 career games against the Packers has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns -- the most catches, yards and touchdowns he has against any one opponent.
Williams remembers the Harris-Burress situation and, for one, doesn't think Harris played as poorly as most thought.
"I went back and looked at that game, he was in some good positions, and at the end of the day, you battle a guy like that, and he's just making plays for his team, you can live with that," Williams said.
But he and others also do not think the same circumstances apply to a player they know as well as Johnson, their divisional foe.
"We play him twice a year, so it's not anything new," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "It's not like we’re on a team that might see him once every two or three years, we see him so much that we understand the challenge, and the challenge is huge."
The Packers practice on Saturday instead of Friday this year, so McCarthy will have one more chance to look at Bulaga before making a final determination. The same goes for cornerback Casey Hayward, who also was listed as questionable because of a glute strain.
"Bryan Bulaga, and really Casey is in the same boat, they're progressing well," McCarthy said Friday. "Yesterday went well. Obviously they're having treatments today, extended treatments. But they have to get through the whole thing tomorrow, so that's the only hurdle left."
Bulaga did not play against the Jets because of the sprained MCL he sustained in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. With Sunday's game on artificial turf at Ford Field, that also could be a consideration for whether Bulaga plays.
"We're going to practice on turf tomorrow, so that's part of our decision-making process," McCarthy said.
If Bulaga can't play, Derek Sherrod will make his second straight start. For Sherrod, it marks the return to a stadium in which he played his first offensive snaps (he finished the Thanksgiving 2013 game by playing six snaps in the blowout loss). Before that, Sherrod had not played a snap on offense since he broke his leg on Dec. 18, 2011.
Sherrod allowed two sacks against the Seahawks and another against the Lions, but the Packers feel like he has settled into the role.
"He's getting better," McCarthy said of the former first-round pick. "I feel good about Derek, the direction he's going."
Jamari Lattimore will make his second straight start at inside linebacker in place of Brad Jones (quadricieps).
Here's the full injury report:
LB Brad Jones (quadriceps)
OLB Andy Mulumba (knee)
RT Bryan Bulaga (knee)
CB Casey Hayward (glute)
S Micah Hyde (knee)
However, both teams have explosive passing games, near dominant receivers and suspect pass defenses. That should lend itself to a shootout that could feature a back-and-forth battle between the top two receivers in the league thus far – Green Bay's Jordy Nelson and Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who have combined for 539 yards receiving through two games. There's no reason to think either will slow down this week.
Prediction: Packers 41, Lions 38
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Rob Davis says it wasn't on him. Those who were closest to Edgar Bennett on the Packers' sideline say it wasn't on him either.
It was clear that most on the home sideline were upset that line judge Byron Boston didn't call a late hit on the Jets after defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson appeared to tackle receiver Jordy Nelson out of bounds on a second-quarter play.
Davis, the team's director of player engagement who was one of the people closest to where Nelson went out of bounds, said Thursday that he didn't use any inappropriate language that would have drawn the penalty, and Bennett, the team's receivers coach who also was nearby, might be the last person on the Packers' staff who would do so.
"We've addressed it," McCarthy said. "We don't know who was actually penalized based on the communication with the official during, after the event and even right before halftime, and who he determined it was on and looking at the video and things like that. It's obvious something happened, but we talked about it again. We have a segment on our Thursday team meetings about continuing education and boundary management, and sideline awareness was one of those topics."
Bennett said he would let McCarthy's comments on the matter speak for himself.
"Mike has already addressed it as far as it never happening again," Bennett said. "I'm not going to get into this happened or that happened or [it was] this person or that person."
In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
- In his first appearance in the locker room following Sept. 2 surgery to repair his torn biceps tendon, B.J. Raji talked about his uncertain future.
- Though Nelson has received all the attention for leading the NFL in receiving yards through two weeks, no one in the league has more touchdown catches than Randall Cobb dating to Week 17 of last season.
- Cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Micah Hyde were upgraded on the team's injury report.
- Guard Josh Sitton, who last season called the Lions "dirtbags" and "scumbags" said he would "plead the fifth" when asked if the Lions have changed this year.
- ESPN Insider Mike Sando likes the Lions over the Packers on Sunday. See why in this video.
- At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde wrote about the development of rookie receiver Davante Adams, who had a breakout game against the Jets.
- In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty profiled Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, the grandson of legendary former Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
- In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that tight end Brandon Bostick’s return could help at a position where contributions have been minimal.
It is a rivalry filled with dirtbags, scumbags, stomps and a winning streak going on longer than some NFL rookies have been alive. And that is just the past few decades.
Whenever the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions play each other, something ends up happening. So far, two of the major instigators of the recent vintage -- Packers lineman Josh Sitton and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- have remained quiet. That doesn’t mean something won't end up happening between now and game time.
So what happens during the game? NFL Nation Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down what you might see Sunday.
Rothstein: So, Rob, the Lions are going to have their third different starting slot corner in as many weeks on Sunday. How have the Packers done in three-wide sets this season and is that an exploitable area for Aaron Rodgers?
Demovsky: The three-receiver set is essentially their base offense. They use it primarily when they go no-huddle. But it really has not mattered much what the Packers are in personnel-wise, they’ve been looking to Jordy Nelson time and again. At some point, teams are surely going to force other receivers to beat them and that’s where Randall Cobb could come in. Although he caught a pair of touchdown passes last Sunday against the Jets, he had only 39 yards receiving. Given that he’s their slot receiver, perhaps this is a matchup the Packers will look to exploit this week.
I know it’s early in the season, but Nelson is putting up Calvin Johnson-type numbers so far. In fact, Nelson and Johnson come into this game ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in receiving yards. Nelson turned 29 this offseason and doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. Johnson will turn 29 at the end of this month. Is there any reason to think he’s slowing down at all?
Rothstein: Not at all. There was perhaps some concern over that during spring workouts, but he came into training camp looking like the receiver who has dominated the NFL over the past four seasons. The Lions brought in Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to help elongate Johnson's career as much as to help Matthew Stafford from taking nasty hits. So far, it has worked. Johnson is still being targeted a ton, but Tate is tied for 25th in the league in catches and 19th in yards with 150. Not bad for a true No. 2 receiver.
As long as Johnson can avoid injuries, he should still be in his prime for another couple of seasons. He takes extremely good care of himself and the Lions are doing their best to manage him. In the preseason they barely played him. Even during regular-season games, they are doing what they can to keep him fresh. That'll be one difference for Green Bay. There will be plays he's healthy on the sideline as the team tries to keep him as healthy and fresh as possible.
While the receivers will get the attention, the last time these two teams played, Josh Sitton called Ndamukong Suh and friends "dirtbags" and the Lions defensive line responded with their best game of the season. Is there still a similar level of dislike there or has that changed with the switch in the Detroit coaching staff?
Demovsky: Certainly the change in the coaches eased some of the tension between the Packers’ players and the Lions. Let’s face it, Sitton was pretty blunt in what he said about Jim Schwartz, so some of that is now gone. And Evan Dietrich-Smith, the player Suh stomped on, is no longer with the Packers. That said, there’s always going to be an emotional charge as long as Suh is on the other side. That will never go away as long as he’s there and Sitton and T.J. Lang are here. But both of those players are experienced enough to know now that this game is bigger than the individuals. And besides, the last time the Packers were at Ford Field, they took a beating, so if anything, the Packers might go back there humbled.
How much carryover, if any, will the Lions take from that 40-10 win over the Packers last Thanksgiving given that Rodgers did not even play in the game?
Rothstein: Not much, I don't think. So much has changed since then, from Rodgers now being healthy to the Packers switching defensive fronts to the Lions changing coaching staffs and offensive and defensive philosophies. I think it helps the Lions -- and Stafford -- that he finally beat Green Bay so there's potentially an underlying confidence thing there, but not a ton to it. Detroit doesn't seem focused on last season at all. For instance, when I asked Suh about that game last year and the aforementioned dirtbags comment, he smiled and basically said that was last season and had nothing to do with this season.
One of the Detroit offensive linemen, Rob Sims, mentioned the defensive line looks a lot different this year both in size and personnel. How much has the defense really shifted and how much 3-4 might the Packers still run, if any?
Demovsky: It’s like someone took Dom Capers’ old playbook away from him given how much 4-3 he’s running. It’s the first time he has done that since he came to Green Bay in 2009. What’s more, when he’s playing a four-man line, he’s using Clay Matthews off the line of scrimmage almost like an inside linebacker. They’re also much smaller across the front without those big three defensive tackles they had last season. It’s a completely different look, and it remains to be seen whether the change has been for the good. So far, they have struggled to stop the run, allowing 176.5 yards per game, which ranks 31st in the NFL.
The Packers have not been able to run the ball at all up the middle this season, and it looks like it might not get any easier this week. Why has the Lions' run defense been so effective?
Rothstein: It starts with that familiar guy from earlier, Ndamukong Suh. While teams still like to double him as much as possible, he is so difficult to deal with when an offensive line is trying to run block. Plus, the Lions have become much more aggressive this season with sending their linebackers, so rush lanes up the middle that used to be available in the Wide 9 defensive front are no longer an option for opposing teams.
But it starts with Suh and then linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. Those three players are going to make it difficult for any team Detroit faces to run up the middle. Here’s what you need to know there. The Giants and Panthers tried 34 rushes either up the middle or behind guards the first two weeks of the season. They’ve gotten pretty much nowhere, gaining only 69 yards. It’s a strength for Detroit, without a doubt.
Meanwhile, another member of the secondary also was upgraded. Cornerback Casey Hayward, who did not practice Wednesday because of a glute strain, returned to practice Thursday.
However, that does not necessarily mean Hayward will have a role on defense in Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. Last Sunday against the New York Jets, Hayward played only on special teams after Davon House moved into the nickel package and played well, breaking up a pair of passes (including one that was nearly an interception).
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga also practiced on a limited basis. Bulaga (knee) worked in the same fashion last week but did not play against the Jets.
"Before viewing the film, I can't give you an accurate assessment of Casey, Micah and Bryan," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after practice. "But I know they participated and did what was laid out for them."
Here's the full injury report:
Whatever happens at the end of the process is anyone’s guess for a player who had returned to the Green Bay Packers hoping to parlay his one-year contract into something bigger. But Raji said he plans to be prepared to prove he can still play and do it at a high level.
That was Raji's intent when he returned this season for $4 million after the free agent market failed to produce a long-term deal. Although he appeared to be poised for a big season back at his old nose tackle position after playing defensive end the last three seasons, he might be staring at another one-year deal when free agency hits next season.
"Right now I'm just not looking further than my rehab," Raji said Thursday, when he spoke to reporters for the first time since he was injured in an Aug. 22 preseason game. "Just trying to get better, making sure that when I'm able to start training that I'm in good position business-wise. I don't want to get crazy out of shape, where people might have some questions. Just doing everything I can to help myself and whatever happens, happens."
Raji compared his situation to that of defensive tackle Henry Melton, who tore his ACL last September as a member of the Chicago Bears. In free agency this past offseason, Melton signed with the Dallas Cowboys, who structured the contract in such a way that it is a one-year deal with an option for three more years. If the Cowboys pick up the option after the first year, Melton’s base salary of $9 million in 2015 would become guaranteed.
"Ultimately, it's something I've never been through before," Raji said. "So it's like, let it [play] out and see what happens. I think it's more important for me to get myself ready so if the questions do come, you can say, 'Listen, I'm doing X, Y and Z,' whereas opposed to you've kind of got your hands up, like, 'Well, I didn't know.'"
Packers physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, who performed Raji’s surgery on Sept. 2, told the 28-year-old that it will take 6 to 9 months for him to recover from the surgery but does not expect any lingering issues. Raji said he was injured while trying to reach out to make a tackle. McKenzie told him that night he was pretty sure his biceps tendon was torn and tests the next day confirmed that.
Raji was still in an immobilizing brace on Thursday and he plans to remain in Green Bay throughout the season to rehab, travel with the team to road games and offer whatever help he can provide to his fellow defensive linemen.
But he knows the possibility exists that he has played his last game for the team that drafted him ninth overall in 2009.
"I would love to be a Packer, but obviously who knows at this point?" he said. "I'm more worried about my rehab and just being around the team and trying to be a help to the young guys."
"[I had] 34 yards," Cobb said.
Actually, it was 39, but his point was clear.
When Cobb said earlier this summer that he does not believe he has done enough for a contract extension, what he surely meant was he hasn't done enough to earn the kind of money he wants out of his next deal (i.e Jordy Nelson money -- four years, $39 million).
In what has been a Nelson-centric offense so far early this season, Cobb has just 97 yards receiving in two games despite having 11 catches. At 8.8 yards per catch, that's well below his career average of 13.0 coming into this season.
"I don't really think those thoughts, but I know it's going to happen at some point and they're going to start rolling coverages to Jordy," Cobb said. "That will open things up for everybody else. It's my job to be ready when that time comes and create separation and get open and catch the ball when it comes my way."
But touchdown catches have to count for something.
And in that department, no one in the NFL has done better than Cobb dating to Week 17 of last season. Combine last year's regular-season finale with the first two weeks of this season, and Cobb has five touchdown catches. Only one other player, Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, can match that (see accompanying chart).
While Nelson, who leads the NFL in receiving yards (292) after two games, has seen the majority of the big-play opportunities, Cobb has had his chances in the red zone. His three touchdown catches this season have been on passes of 3 yards, 6 yards and 1 yard.
"I just find a space," Cobb said of his success in the red zone. "The thing that we've been good at here for a while is the secondary reactions after the play breaks down or Aaron starts to scramble, and just finding that open spot in the end zone. Just trying to come open and finding some space for the quarterback to put the ball."
Nelson has seen the ball twice as often as Cobb, 15 targets to Nelson's 30, but it's not like his opportunities have been minimal. By comparison, the Packers other two receivers -- Jarrett Boykin and Davante Adams -- have been targeted nine times combined.
"I’m not too worried about that, and I hope they aren't either," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "This is a long season and guys will get different opportunities throughout the year."