GREEN BAY – The Packers' third-down offense has been one of the best in the league all season, and it was at its absolute best on Sunday in Detroit.
But here's the thing: Not one of the conversions in the supremely efficient 8-of-11 performance on third down went to receiver Davante Adams.
That's almost unheard of. So how did the Packers do it? With a combination of effective blocking, defensive mistakes, and the usual ultra-sharp awareness of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Here's how most of the third downs were converted.
Play No. 1: Third-and-4 from the Green Bay 47, first quarter, 4:24 left
Result: 5-yard scramble by Rodgers
This is just a case of Rodgers seeing everything, as he often does, and reacting quickly with a smart decision. The Lions botch their pass rush, either due to a miscommunication about a stunt, or because LB Jamie Collins (58) freelances to the detriment of the unit. Either way, when Collins tries to loop around and no one fills his rush lane, Rodgers takes advantage of the opening. Even though he has WR Allen Lazard (13) open for the first down as he breaks the pocket, Rodgers just pump fakes, knowing he can get the yards he needs.
Play No. 2: Third-and-1 from the Detroit 39, first quarter, 2:16 left
Result: 2-yard run by RB Jamaal Williams
Nothing fancy here, just a straight-ahead power run that features a pretty good tussle between LG Lucas Patrick (62) and DT Kevin Strong (92) at the point of attack. Even though Patrick ends up on his back at the end of the play, he wins the battle, getting the seal needed while C Elgton Jenkins (74) takes on Collins and Lazard gets just enough of DE Austin Bryant (94) to prevent him from stopping Williams before he picks up the first down.
Play No. 3: Third-and-14 from the Detroit 42, third quarter, 9:33 left
Result: 21-yard completion to WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Nobody can ask for one block to do more. As TE Robert Tonyan (85) throws a chip block before he runs his route on DE Romeo Okwara (95), the unsuspecting Okwara is knocked so badly off balance that he crashes into the middle of the line and takes out two of his fellow pass rushers with him. What results is a pile of bodies at Rodgers' feet with four Green Bay blockers standing over them. To the QB's left, Williams gives LT David Bakhtiari (69) a little assist on Bryant, and while Lazard (not pictured) is drawing an illegal contact penalty that would have given the Packers a first down anyway, Rodgers threads the needle to Valdes-Scantling for a highly productive conversion.
Play No. 4: Third-and-4 from the Detroit 15, third quarter, 7:42 left
Result: 5-yard completion to Lazard
Quite often in this situation Rodgers likes to survey the defense at the line and/or try a hard count while letting the play clock run down. Not this time. It's hard to be certain exactly what's going through his mind, but judging by how quickly he calls for the snap after the Packers line up, it appears he recognizes that CB Daryl Roberts (29) is slow to get in position and poorly aligned to handle man-to-man coverage responsibilities on the furthest inside receiver in the bunch formation, which is Lazard. Roberts has to take a circuitous route to get to Lazard in the flat, and it's too late.
Play No. 5: Third-and-goal from the Detroit 6, third quarter, 6:19 left
Result: 6-yard scramble by Rodgers for the TD
Three plays later, Rodgers' awareness is again a step ahead. Detroit's coverage on the routes to the QB's left has CB Justin Coleman (27) on Tonyan and CB Mike Ford (38) on Valdes-Scantling. The instant Rodgers breaks the pocket – if not before – he can see Coleman has his back to him, while Valdes-Scantling's outside-in route will pull Ford away from the flat and open up plenty of space to get to the pylon. There isn't even a need to look to throw or pump fake.
Play No. 6: Third-and-1 from the Detroit 8, fourth quarter, 12:47 left
Result: 4-yard run by Williams
Much like the short-yardage run in Play No. 2, nothing extravagant here, just an inside-zone run with a couple of really good blocks. While RG Billy Turner (77) cuts off DT Nick Williams (97) from disrupting Williams' path, Jenkins gets the job done on two guys – first helping Patrick on DL John Penisini (91) and then peeling off to get Collins on the second level.
Play No. 7: Third-and-5 from the Detroit 40, fourth quarter, 1:40 left
Result: 5-yard completion to Tonyan
This is the conversion that seals the game, and while it's a familiar play-action bootleg pass that's a staple of the offense, it works to perfection in crunch time because the Packers haven't run it much, if at all, in this game. Rodgers sells the play fake well, which makes Ford way too slow to react to Tonyan coming across the formation. S Duron Harmon (26) sees it and reacts very quickly, but he's too deep at the snap to get to Tonyan in time.
Remember the little chip block Williams threw back in Play No. 3, the one that got overshadowed by the mess of bodies piled up in the middle of the field? Well, these back-to-back snaps represent a Jamaal Williams pass-protection clinic that got the Packers out of a first-and-20 following a holding penalty in the third quarter. You can't do it any better on consecutive plays than Williams does here.
First-and-20 from the Green Bay 23, third quarter, 13:37 left
Result: 14-yard completion to Lazard
Second-and-6 from the Green Bay 37, third quarter, 12:56 left
Result: 14-yard completion to Valdes-Scantling