How the Packers Defense Must Adjust to Clay Matthews' Absence

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent INovember 15, 2012

Aug 16, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA;   Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.  Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

Clay Matthews just made the Green Bay Packers' Week 11 NFC North matchup against the Detroit Lions immensely more difficult.

Wes Hodkiewicz of Green Bay Press-Gazette is reporting that Matthews will miss the game:

LB Clay Matthews (hamstring) is out for Sunday's game against Detroit #Packers

— Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod) November 14, 2012

On the contrary, this makes the matchup easier for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.

Sitting at 4-5, Detroit needs to win to have any shot of remaining in the postseason mix.

Green Bay, on the other hand, is still trying to catch the Chicago Bears for first place in the division. With December coming up quickly and these two squaring off again next month, let's break down how the Packers can avoid an upset by adjusting without their best pass-rusher.


Still Bring the Pain

One thing a defense can never do is get complacent.

The potential to grow complacent significantly increases when a stud such as Matthews is unavailable versus an explosive offense on the road. So to prevent the Lions from capitalizing on the expected reduction of quarterback pressure Green Bay must remain aggressive.

Because Detroit still needs to prove consistency on the ground, though, the Packers can utilize a bit more of their nickel/dime packages. As a result, blitzes by smaller and quicker defensive backs won't be as easily anticipated.

Plus, Stafford's pass protection has been quite reliable all season, surrendering just 17 sacks. With a playmaking receiver in Calvin Johnson, Green Bay's best option is to attack early and force overthrows or at least interfere with timing.

Abandoning the blitz only provides Stafford with more time to survey the field and enables Detroit to set up the run. We saw the Lions balance against the Bears, and although Detroit managed just seven points at Soldier Field, this offense possesses the execution to move the ball versus Green Bay.

Zone Coverage Dynamics

Zone blitz schemes are quite difficult to pull off at times, especially when a defense lacks a pass rush. Green Bay's is definitely improved compared to 2011, but the absence of Matthews will likely feature more man coverage from the Packers versus Detroit.

Well, Dom Capers can't get too predictable, as the Lions talent alone is good enough to move the chains consistently. In terms of zone coverage, however, the best idea would be to bracket Megatron and man-up elsewhere.

Call it an altered Cover 1 or 2, because Green Bay simply needs to limit the big play opportunities while simultaneously creating quarterback pressure. Whichever defensive back lines up across from Johnson must sit with inside leverage.

Doing so obviously takes away the inside and allows the boundary to be utilized as an extra defender. A Cover 1 safety must always gear his zone toward Johnson's side, whereas a Cover 2 safety must also take away the middle of the field.

In short, always forcing Johnson outside makes every target from Stafford that much more difficult to complete. Now yes, this concept also leaves Green Bay vulnerable elsewhere in man coverage. 

That said, it's to the Packers advantage to totally take away Megatron and blitz in the process. It puts more pressure of Stafford as well as his secondary receivers to make more plays at consistent rate.


Front Seven Chess Match

If the Lions make a conscientious in-game adjustment to Green Bay isolating Johnson and the passing game, then the line of scrimmage will require more emphasis.

By that token, we're talking the ground game and Detroit needing to keep the Packers off balance. With a guy like Matthews that's obviously extremely more difficult.

Now the Lions simply have a unique opportunity since Green Bay will constantly need to focus on limiting Johnson. In turn, the Packers will become a bit more vulnerable to the run.

Then again, the Packers do allow an average of four yards per carry, so Detroit needs to attack up front anyway. For the cheese to stuff the line and force Detroit into being one-dimensional they must play rather unorthodox.

Along with the blitzing to get quarterback pressure, focusing on the interior of the line is key.

Anything from defensive ends pinching while the outside 'backers squeeze the edge is to Green Bay's advantage.

Giving the ends the luxury of not worrying about contain lets them wreak more immediate havoc in the backfield.

The outside linebackers then control the edge and the inside 'backers fill where needed. Detroit's best bet for ground game success is between the tackles, as going off tackles versus a 3-4 front helps the Packers defend easier.

Therefore, darting the defensive ends inward to clog the A- and B-gaps forces the back to bounce outside. Green Bay presents enough athleticism defensively to rally on anything outward, so reading play-action from that becomes easier as well.

After all, the last thing the Packers want to allow Detroit to do is control the tempo and limit Aaron Rodgers' opportunities.


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