Behind the Numbers: Jordan Love and Packers pass game shine on Thanksgiving

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Behind the Numbers: Jordan Love and Packers pass game shine on Thanksgiving

We may never hear Brian Gutekunst say this part out loud, but priority No. 1 for the Packers this season is to figure out if Jordan Love can be the starting quarterback for the long haul. While through the early and middle portions of the season, that answer was unclear, with many assuming the answer was no, he’s not the guy, Love’s play over the last month, coupled with a signature win in Detroit, showcases that the answer is instead yes.

“I thought he was awesome the entire game,” said LaFleur of Love’s day. “He’s a cool customer. You can have really good conversations with him and I just never see him get too high or too low, whether it’s going good or not so good. He’s just a guy that’s really matured a lot over these last four years. It’s hard not to root for him, first and foremost. All those guys in the locker room love him. I can tell you all the coaches love him. His approach. He’s consistent in terms of who he is on a daily basis. He’s one of the guys and I think that’s always important from that position.”

It was, without question, an impressive day for Love, but this was a total team win for the short-handed Packers. We saw complementary football from all three phases, with the defense generating key stops, the offensive line holding up well against a stout Lions front, and the Packers’ young pass catchers continuing to make plays.

Now, having had the opportunity to look back at this game, here are the key stats and figures that you need to know about and that defined Green Bay’s performance on Thanksgiving.

8.4 Yards per pass for Jordan Love

Jordan Love put together a masterful performance on Thanksgiving Day. He finished the game completing 22-of-32 passes for 268 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Love also averaged 8.4 yards per pass, which for context, over the course of the season, would be the third-highest rate in football. He was confident, decisive, accurate, and made a variety of different throws. Outside of the numbers, what makes this performance truly special was that Love did it without a run game to lean on. Green Bay has struggled to generate consistent push in the run game this season. They also found themselves short-handed at the position and up against one of the best run defenses in football. The Packers knew they had to move the ball through the air, and I’m guessing the Lions were expecting that as well. However, even though Green Bay came into the game somewhat one-dimensional, giving Detroit somewhat of an advantage, the Lions still didn’t have much of an answer for Love and the Packers’ passing game.

3-for-4 in the red zone on offense

The offense has done a better job moving the football over the last month but still struggled once they got to the red zone. In the last four games, Green Bay had converted just four of their 15 red zone trips into touchdowns. However, against the Lions, and in a game where taking advantage of every opportunity was a must, the Packers were very efficient in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on three of their four trips. Matt LaFleur has said recently that the offense’s red zone issues stem from not having a strong run game to lean on. In a condensed part of the field where there is less space to operate, moving the ball through the air is naturally more difficult. Green Bay’s running backs averaged barely over three yards per rush in this contest, which again, is a credit to Love and the young pass catchers for being able to find success in this part of the field passing the ball.

0 Sacks allowed by Packers offensive line

In Week 4, the last time these two teams met, the Packers offensive line was bullied. In that game, Love was pressured on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks–an absurd amount. Along with being pressured at a high rate, the Lions converted those opportunities into five sacks and 11 hits. However, on Thursday, Love wasn’t sacked at all, and he was hit just four times. It was a night and day difference in performance from the offensive line. With time in the pocket, Love was able to go through his reads, didn’t need to force anything in an effort to speed things up, and the receivers had additional time to create separation. Along with the Lions having several really good players up front, they also do a really good job of utilizing stunts, blitzes, and different personnel groupings to cause chaos for the offensive line, but the Packers handled that well.

Packers win the turnover battle 3-0

The Packers entered this game with the second-fewest takeaways in the NFL. In fact, in recent weeks, LaFleur has mentioned on a few occasions how the defense has to be better in that regard to not only help themselves by getting off the field but also to give the offense additional possessions. Detroit, despite their overall success, has been turnover-prone at times this season, and Green Bay was able to take advantage with three forced fumbles and three recoveries. The first resulted in a scoop and score for Jonathan Owens. On the other two, the Packers offense failed to take advantage by putting points on the board, but nonetheless, it swung momentum, and limited the Lions’ scoring opportunities. When the Packers win the turnover battle this season, they are 3-1. When they lose it, they are 1-4.

2 sacks, 12 hits and 3 forced fumbles for Packers pass rush

The Packers pass rush did an excellent job of getting after Jared Goff, totaling three sacks, 12 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles. When kept clean this season, Goff has been very efficient, completing nearly 75 percent of his passes at 8.2 yards per attempt, but when under pressure, that completion rate drops to just 53 percent and 6.1 yards per pass. Disrupting Goff’s timing and getting him off his spot is a must, or he will pick defenses apart. Goff would complete 29-of-44 passes for 332 yards in this game, but most of that damage was done too little, too late. Helping the Green Bay pass rush out was that the Packers played with a multi-score lead for much of the day, forcing the Lions to be more dependent on throwing the ball. Green Bay also didn’t let Detroit dominate in the run game like last time either.

Lions 1-for-5 on fourth downs

The Lions ended up going for it on fourth down five times in this game, and the Green Bay defense did a really good job of getting off the field in these instances, allowing Detroit to move the chains on just one occasion. The Packers also came well-prepared for the Lions’ fake punt attempt, which you could tell they were expecting based on their alignment. If we factor that play in, Detroit was just 1-for-6 on fourth downs. There have been many instances this season where the Green Bay defense has failed to get off the field, setting up scoring drives for the opponent, but that wasn’t the case on Thursday.

5 catches for 94 yards for Christian Watson

Christian Watson had what was easily his best performance of the season in this one, leading the team in both receptions and yards, with five for 94. Beyond the stat sheet, the most encouraging aspects of Watson’s performance were that we saw him and Love connect on a downfield pass attempt, and several of the receptions that he made were contested–something that has given him fits this season. Hopefully, like his performance against Dallas in Week 10 of last year, this game will become a jumping-off point for Watson. This offense won’t reach its potential without him being a key factor.

“He had a big-time game today,” said LaFleur of Watson. “That was good to see just for him. I know he hasn’t been flawless up to this point, but I thought he came up big today and made a lot of critical catches.”

While Watson led the way, one big advantage that the Packers have right now in the passing game is that on any given play, the ball could go to four or five different players, with just about all of them having the ability to generate an explosive play. Eight different Packers had at least one target in this game, with five of those players totaling over 30 receiving yards. When a defense can’t necessarily key in on one of two players, it adds a layer of unpredictability to the Green Bay offense.

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