GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One team showed the kind of football it might take to win the NFC North this season, and that team was not called the Green Bay Packers.
Fiery coach Dan Campbell and his Detroit Lions showed everyone at Lambeau Field on Thursday night what the home team could not -- especially in the first half when they hung a 27-3 lead on the Packers en route to a 34-20 victory.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur called that start “humiliating.”
And if that wasn’t enough to get his team's attention, he also said:
“We got our ass kicked.”
“They whipped us.”
“They manhandled us.”
Essentially, toughness, toughness and more toughness.
The Packers fielded an offensive line that couldn’t pass protect or create consistent running lanes -- on the infrequent run plays LaFleur called, that is.
Their defensive front once again showed why they continue to be at the bottom of the run-stopping statistics, and this dates to before current defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
However, under Barry’s watch this season, the Packers allowed Atlanta’s rookie Bijan Robinson to run over the Packers for 124 yards in Week 2. And on Thursday, the familiar David Montgomery, cast off by the NFC North's Chicago Bears, punished the Packers with 32 rushes for 121 yards and three touchdowns.
“Man, we’ve got to stop the run,” Packers linebacker Quay Walker said. “We didn’t really do a fair job of that. Once a team really comes in with a mindset that they can run the ball, we haven’t [stopped] that yet. So it’s a challenge to us, do you know what I’m sayin’? So we’ve got to do that, buckle down, and we’ve got to stop the run.”
Montgomery gained 113 of his yards after contact, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He became just the fourth player to record 100 scrimmage yards and three rushing touchdowns as a visiting player at Lambeau Field all time. Two of those have happened on LaFleur’s watch (Montgomery on Thursday, Dalvin Cook in 2020), with the other pair happening in the 1970s.
“We’re going to have to do something different, because it’s insane to do the same things over and over again and expect a different result,” LaFleur said of the Packers’ run defense. “That is a good offensive line; they’ve got really good runners. I think [Jahmyr] Gibbs and Montgomery are two of the better backs. That’s one of the best offensive lines in football.
"But it’s still inexcusable. You should be able to take one phase away. If you want to stop the run and commit to that, make ‘em throw it over your head.”
That seemed to be LaFleur’s strategy with his offense. Even with running back Aaron Jones returning from a two-game hamstring injury, the Packers went pass heavy early on. Their first six plays -- and seven of their first nine -- were dropbacks by Jordan Love.
Love was pummeled for five sacks, hit 11 times in all, and was pressured a season-high 13 times. This, despite the Lions blitzing only twice all game -- and one of them was on a desperation pass to close the first half. Love’s career completion rate of 23% when pressured ranks as the lowest among 49 quarterbacks to throw at least 40 passes when pressured over the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
To be fair, the Packers played without the left side of their offensive line, as David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins sat out with knee injuries, and right tackle Zach Tom played despite a knee injury of his own.
“It’s not, not trusting the protection,” said Love, who was 23 of 36 for 246 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and two interceptions. “They’ve got a good D-line and we didn’t do good enough. I think it takes all 11 [players]. It’s not just the O-line. It’s me not getting the ball out quick enough on some plays. Reads were open. It goes back to just not executing. But it’s definitely not just on the O-line. That takes all 11. It’s all offensively as a whole. We’ve just got to do better.”
Committing to the run earlier might be one way to slow a pass rush.
“Just being able to run the ball, it’s going to set up more things in the pass game, set up the play-action game,” Love said. “It’s going to have us moving in a positive direction. It’s something we’ve got to find out, what we’ve got to do to get better at it. It just comes down to execution.”
Or perhaps it comes down to a mindset.
That was the message Jones said he delivered in the postgame locker room.
“I think it’s just a mentality,” said Jones, who rushed five times for 18 yards while playing just 18 snaps. “I was able to talk in front of the whole team about it, but more directly to the offense. So everybody heard it. I feel like that’ll be enough to get the point across, and just continue to echo it when we’re out there on the practice field.”
It’s not the end or anywhere close to it for the Packers, who are 2-2 in Love's first season as the starter and headed into a Week 5 Monday night game at the 1-2 Las Vegas Raiders. (Oct. 9, 8:15 p.m., ABC/ESPN) But they’re looking up at the Lions, a team that once lost 24 straight games in the state of Wisconsin but now has a 5-4 record here -- including two wins in a row -- since 2015.
“Packers-Lions is always going to be a 60-minute battle, and today they came out on top,” Packers edge rusher Rashan Gary said. “But they’re going to see us further down the line."