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Baltimore to test Packers' new identity

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 7, 2013

GREEN BAY—So the Packers beat Detroit for the 23rd consecutive time on Wisconsin soil Sunday, making the Lions the state’s second-most important seasonal import after holiday brandy.

But what did the 22-9 victory really mean?

At this point, probably not a whole lot.

The Lions, who are trying to prove they have caught up to Green Bay in the NFC North, were without their best player, big-hitter receiver Calvin Johnson. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the absence affected the Lions the same way as if Clay Matthews were missing from his team. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers mentioned it would “be hard not to say yes” that the Packers didn’t approach the game with a different mind-set after the surprising pregame scratch was announced.

And as for the post-game chatter that the Packers’ offensive identity has changed to a more balanced approach, I’m not buying that in early October.

Yes, they ran the ball with as much success as they did against Washington while managing to keep Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley relatively uninvolved. Noticing that the Lions were soft on the corners, McCarthy said the running game “was our focus, our starting point.”

With Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb, the Packers set up Rodgers, James Jones and Jordy Nelson with the run as well as they have in a long time.

Still…

“I don’t really feel like that (balanced offense) is our identity at this point,” Rodgers said.

But he did allow that running the ball will be important for what is to come in November and December, something Rodgers has been hesitant to admit in the past. And he also made a good point when he said if safeties play too high, “we’ll make you tackle a 230-pound back.”

That would be Lacy, who was 1 yard shy of 100 against the Lions.

The rookie is becoming a nice counterpoint to the spread offense’s three-wideout primary face. And Jones, in particular, is making a lot of people forget about Greg Jennings.

Nelson has become so toe-tapping reliable that the spectacular has become routine for him. And when the Lions did almost everything right on a late-game onside kick, who else but Nelson was going to get that jump ball?

Yet as decisive as the victory was in a disjointed game, the Packers still have issues. I mean, great for Mason Crosby, who took a beating from critics who wanted him out of Green Bay after last season, but a franchise-tying five field goals doesn’t do much for meaningful red-zone production.

“It is not where we want it to be,” McCarthy said.

But on the uptick is an offensive line that was a fairly major question mark during training camp. Rodgers said he doesn’t think twice about a rookie in David Bakhtiari protecting his blind side. Everyone else has shown their value in opening holes for the back of the day, as well as keeping the quarterback off his backside.

The defense had its ups and downs against the Johnson-less Lions, who could not stretch the field without him, but it did not allow a touchdown until the game was pretty much decided. Nick Perry probably had his best professional game yet. That was something the Packers were most pleased to see as injuries continued to tax their defense.

But here’s the thing:

When they are special, the Packers usually make their bones on the road. In a demanding start to 2013, they’ve already lost to San Francisco and Cincinnati. Up next are the Ravens at Baltimore. This Sunday will reveal more than the last one.

“We need to get a road win,” McCarthy said. “It’s time for us to stand up and take our game to another level. We’ve improved every game, but we have so much more in front of us.”

Michael Hunt is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at mhunt@journalsentinel.com.



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