Lions vs. Packers: Detroit's Defense Needs to Focus on Control and Containment
Things are not going all that well in Detroit. Between the lack of playoff hope and the sudden anonymous dissension (per the Detroit Free Press) in the ranks of the locker room, the wheels seem to be falling off.
Which makes this game have the potential to get very ugly, very early.
For the Lions, this is a chance to unite and show the world that they are not the undisciplined band of misfits perception paints them as.
They can do so by putting a thumb in the eye of the Green Bay Packers.
This is probably the last week (per FOXSports.com) the Packers will be without defensive cornerstones Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, so the Lions have a chance to really attack the defense and maybe get ahead early.
When the Lions Are on Offense
While Woodson is out, it's not as if the Packers' secondary is bereft of talent. However, since Matthews has been injured, the pass rush has really not been terribly effective.
This means that, while Matt Stafford may not have a great matchup in terms of the secondary, he should have time to find Calvin Johnson open for some big gains.
Even if you double-cover Johnson, he's going to get his.
The problem may be if the Packers do find a way to slow Johnson down.
With Ryan Broyles and Titus Young both now on injured reserve (via ESPN, h/t the Associated Press), the Lions are down to Mike Thomas, Kassim Osgodd, Kris Durham and Lance Long.
So early on, the Lions will have to give these other guys as much help as possible by getting the ground game going.
This may seem anti-Lions in philosophy, but there's nobody really left to stretch the field or pull coverage off Johnson.
So use the run game to back some safety help off Johnson.
Both Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell had solid games against Indianapolis and Leshoure has scored in three straight games. The Packers are definitely vulnerable to the run, and with Mike Neal unlikely to play (per ESPN.com), the front seven becomes even more so.
Getting the run game going isn't a magic wand—it will help get some attention away from Johnson, but as he's still the primary threat, the Packers will always pay him special attention.
So the third thing that has to happen is tight end Brandon Pettigrew stepping up. The Packers aren't as bad against tight ends as many people think, but Pettigrew's size and speed should be problematic for them.
He has to hold onto the ball, though, and this has been a season where drops have again plagued Pettigrew.
The defense will be focused on Johnson, so someone else needs to take advantage, and the guy with the most upside and ability to do damage is Pettigrew.
After several seasons of "could have been," Pettigrew needs to show that he is worth having around as an important part of this offense.
When the Lions Are on Defense
This all comes down to the secondary and finding a way to slow down this offense. Sure, Jordy Nelson is likely out this week, but that still leaves James Jones, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley to worry about.
The Packers did a great job of exploiting the Vikings' secondary issues last week and the Lions are worse off.
What the Lions are going to have to do is work the safeties over in support of the cornerbacks and watch the middle of the field by dropping a linebacker into coverage.
If left in single coverage, Jennings and Jones will torch the corners. Sure, Chris Houston might have some success at least some of the time, but the rest of the corners—guys like Drayton Florence and Jacob Lacey—just can't keep up.
It's not like the safeties are that much better off, with injuries to guys like Louis Delmas, but together they have a much better chance of slowing this offense down than in straight up man coverage.
That will be the single biggest issue. We know the Lions' front line can get after Aaron Rodgers, but we also know he'll extend the play.
So the front line needs to concentrate not just on penetration, but containment.
Knowing the secondary isn't as good as it could be, the defensive line in particular has to keep Rodgers from getting outside the pocket and buying time.
That could mean some extra assistance from the linebackers as well, spying to make sure Rodgers doesn't squirt outside.
If they can't do those two things—hold coverage or containment—it's going to be a really long day.
Follow me on Twitter at @andrew_garda.
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