But Flynn has, and that allows him to run the no-huddle when the coaches were uncomfortable letting Scott Tolzien, who arrived in September and was on the practice squad a month ago, do so.
“Guys have run it here quite a bit,” Flynn said. “You know, once we started making a few plays, I think everyone kind of relaxed a little bit, and kind of said 'Here we go.'”
Running for cover: That loud Splat! you heard was the Packers’ run defense plummeting to earth. After six games, the Packers ranked third in the NFL in run defense and were on pace to break the single-season record for fewest rushing yards allowed, eclipsing the 2009 team, which led the league for the first time in franchise history.
To quote Vince Lombardi, “What the hell’s goin’ on out there?”
“I really couldn’t tell you,” defensive end Mike Daniels replied. “I just know we know how to get it done. And that’s what we have to do.”
Since their peak, the Packers not only haven’t been able to stop the run, they haven’t even put up much resistance at all. They’ve fallen from third to 19th in the 32-team league and have ceded a stunning 514 yards over the past three games, including a season-high 232 yards to the Vikings last Sunday.
“I still feel like we can get this thing all pulled together. We haven’t played our complete game yet,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “But I see some areas that I think we’re improving in and doing more consistently. Obviously run defense was not very good from a leverage standpoint, run fits, gap control and we picked a tough time with those two (bad) series against a good running team. If those guys can get the run going on you, they’re going to continue to pound it in there until you get it stopped.”
And the Packers never did. In the Lions, the Packers face an offense that’s predicated on the passing game, but Reggie Bush (737 yards, 4.6-yard average) has been productive and Joique Bell (341 yards, five rushing TDs) has contributed. So while the Lions might not be a run-first outfit, stopping the run will still be vital. Having Jolly, who left the Nov. 17 game at the New York Giants and didn’t play last week, will help, but it’s more than just him.
“We’ve had a lot of missed tackles, and we had some missed assignments. We've just got to get rid of that,’ veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “We’re definitely better with Johnny out there with us. That definitely won’t hurt, getting him back. He brings a lot of energy. We’re glad to have him back.”
Containing Calvin: Calvin Johnson tried to be politically correct. To a certain extent, he succeeded. Asked during a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field if the Oct. 6 game between the teams would have turned out differently had he played, Johnson immediately answered, “Yeah.” But he wasn’t expounding from there.
“I’m not going to call it (and) say that we would have won the game,” said Johnson, who missed the 22-9 loss with a knee injury that has bothered him all year. “But it definitely would have been a closer matchup.”
Now, the Packers will want to stay close to Johnson, who leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,198) and is tied for the NFL lead in TD receptions (11). Getting Shields, who Capers acknowledged will match up at times on Johnson, back from injury will help, but it’s not just about him.
“Sam (is) a guy who has the ability to challenge to get balls and he hasn’t given up a lot of completions. He brings another play-maker to the field and you can never have too many play-makers out there on the field,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “When you’re going against Calvin Johnson – he’s the best receiver in the league. He’s the most talented, he’s the most gifted. You need everybody involved and you have to play almost perfect just to have a chance with him. He’s that good.”
Even after missing the first meeting, Johnson has caught more passes (65) for more yards (1,062) and more touchdowns (11) than he has against any other opponent. He’s played 11 career games against the Packers. Whitt compared Johnson to LeBron James in that, you can plan your entire defense around stopping him and still not stop him.
“Early on in his career, he ran poor routes and he wasn’t as developed as he is now. Now, he’s in the slot, he’s outside. Early on, you knew where he was going to be and he only ran four routes. Now he runs the whole route tree and he runs it well,” Whitt said. “He’s really gifted, so it’s difficult. It’s hard to just match one guy on him because he’s going to be in the slot (and other places).
“(Shields) wants it. Sam has tried to show that he is an every-down corner. Now, he’s trying to make that next step to can he be in the conversation with some of those top corners that are out there? I believe the way he’s played - we haven’t played as well as I would hope that we would play on defense and in the secondary, but he has. You can’t take that away from him.”
Taking a licking: Eddie Lacy laughed, because that’s what Eddie Lacy does. He laughs.
But it’s no joke. The Packers rookie running back has carried the ball a lot this year (197 times for 806 yards and six TDs), and on most of those carries, he’s taken a hard hit. But if people are worried about his number of carries – after never carrying more than 20 times in one game in college, he’s had 20-plus carries in seven of the last eight games since returning from a concussion – or the punishment he takes on those carries, he’s not among them.
“That’s Eddie. He runs with power. These guys have to get low and get down to get him down. You play him up high, you’re going to go for a ride,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said.
“If he showed up on the injury report every week with something, then I’d be concerned. He hasn’t. Maybe it’s youth, I don’t know. But big boy and I know he runs hard. I have no concern.”
Neither does Lacy, who says he does two things – initiates the contact himself, and contorts his body before getting hit to avoid taking a direct blow – that make the punishment he doles out and delivers less of a concern than it is for many others.
“In college I was taught if you hit them before he hits you, the impact won’t be as bad. Even though it looks bad, it’s not bad as if you’re just sitting there waiting to take the hit,” said Lacy, who ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing yards entering the week. “So that’s my mindset. To me, delivering the hit is not as bad as just taking it.”
Sack exchange: If you were surprised to learn this week that the Packers are tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 37, you’re not alone. Clay Matthews was surprised, too.
“Hell yeah, we are,” the four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker said, pretending he knew it all along.
How that is even possible with Matthews having missed four games with a broken thumb and the Packers maddeningly inconsistent with the pressure they generate is hard to fathom. While sacks are obviously not the ideal measurement of pressure – Pro Football Focus has them for 36 sacks, 27 QB hits and 123 QB hurries on the season, and theMMQB.com’s Greg Bedard ranks the Packers 21 st in his “Pressure Points” – it’s still a surprising number. The number got an assist from a season-high six sacks on Minnesota’s Christian Ponder last Sunday.