Going into the Thanksgiving showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions on Thursday, my prediction for a Lions upset victory was admittedly tenuous. I knew the Packers had more skill, more talent, and more depth; nevertheless, I was wary about Detroit’s ability to stun opponents with their comeback play. Green Bay has consistently been unable to drive the dagger deep into most of their opponents, and I thought that would come back to bite them against an emotionally-driven team in such a hostile environment.
Boy was I wrong.
Part of the concern for most fans and even beat writers was the list of match-up problems playing against the Packers. The Lion’s infamous front four would be squaring off against an offensive line that had been giving up some pressure in recent games. And Matthew Stafford with his corps of receivers (led by Calvin “Megatron” Johnson) was more than capable of putting up yards against a Packers secondary who found most of their success in turnovers rather than consistent stops.
At face value, it seemed like such a perfect recipe for Green Bay’s first potential loss of the season. The Detroit Lions apparently had the fire and wild energy to disrupt the cool focus of Aaron Rodgers and his teammates.
Fortunately, there was one thing we seemed to be glossing over. One thing that can turn match-up problems into mostly non-issues. One thing that can mean the difference between a hard-fought victory and a heart-breaking loss.
And that thing is teamwork.
Now, I’m not talking about just the players, because this level of teamwork extends all the way up to the coaches and even the front office.
In reality, the Detroit Lions showed that they are largely the antithesis of what the Green Bay Packers have become. What used to be the Minnesota Vikings’ role as the characteristic foil of the Packers has now been bequeathed to the Lions. They have become the “yin” to Green Bay’s “yang.”
For starters, the injuries sustained by both sides on Thursday were handled in bright contrast.
When the Packers lost both of their inside linebackers (and the ability to communicate to the defense by radio), back-up players D.J. Smith and Robert Francois made their presence known with some big plays. Smith landed a number of big tackles, while Francois snatched a game-changing interception out of the air. It’s also hard to ignore the efforts of Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brandon Saine on the offensive side of the ball.
The Lions, however, didn’t fare so well with their injuries. While you have to give them at least some level of sympathy for the sheer amount of depth they lost in the secondary and at the running back position, their level of quality depth didn’t even come close to matching that of the Packers.
This was a testament to the Packers on two levels. You not only need a good team of scouts and administrative decision-makers to bring in talent, but also a team of coordinators and position coaches to teach them their craft.
Another obvious indicator of teamwork across the Packers organization was the way they handled the game over the course of four quarters.
Despite a very ugly first half, the Green Bay Packers came out after halftime with the patient, collected, and focused play they have shown all season. I have yet to see the offense or defense in a panic despite the “adversity situations” both have faced. Instead, they approach what they have to do in a manner befitting champions.
The Lions, meanwhile, have obviously taken a page from their head coach Jim Schwartz. His highly emotional style of coaching has certainly been beneficial in taking the team from 0-16 to a good shot at the playoffs in just a couple years. Unfortunately, this uninhibited style has undermined the self-discipline needed for success. Not only did we see players like Ndamokung Suh lose their cool against the Packers, but anyone who watched their matchup against the Chicago Bears got a big glimpse of this, as well.
Defeating the Detroit Lions in such a complete manner on Thursday solidified for me why the Packers are so good this year, and it’s something I should have recognized sooner.
If I had to point at just one thing responsible for the success of this undefeated team, it would definitely be the quality of work from every level of the Green Bay Packers organization. Without all of these gears working in perfect tandem, this statement game against the Lions might have take a turn for the worse.
In short, this was an organizational win. At the top is general manager Ted Thompson, whose team of eyes can spot talented, young players with the right attitude to work hard at their craft. On the next level are Mike McCarthy and his coordinators, who carefully devise plans that put the players in positions to be successful. Below them are the positional coaches like Kevin Greene and Edgar Bennett that employ the passion and attention to detail that help the players hone their skills.
And at the “bottom” are the players themselves. Veterans like Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson have shown the important ability to lead their team and set the example when it comes to working hard. Meanwhile, the rookies and young back-up players have followed suit in their work ethic and drive to take full advantage of their opportunities.
These Green Bay Packers are the complete package, from top to bottom. Despite what their future holds for the rest of the season, it is clear we are witnessing something special. This convergence of talent and genius is a rare thing, so let’s cherish it for as long as we can.——————Follow @ChadToporski