Silverstein: Packers' defense ill-prepared to match up with Lions

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick (25) breaks away for a long run down to the 12-yard line against Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Vince Biegel (45) in the fourth quarter Monday, November 6, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY – It’s nothing short of an embarrassment to have two weeks to prepare for a division opponent and then perform as though the other team had two years to prepare for you.

If you were watching the Green Bay Packers’ putrid defensive performance in a 30-17 defeat to the Detroit Lions on Monday night at Lambeau Field, you would have thought that the home team had just returned from playing in London on Sunday and had drawn up its game plan on a bunch of cocktail napkins.

The Lions carved up a Packers defense as close to full strength as it had been all year, anticipating every step their opponent was going to take despite only having the 24 hours or so teams spend in a normal week to devise an initial game plan for defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ unit.

The Packers, who were coming off a bye week and spent the first leg of their two-week interlude self-scouting, played like their game plan was posted on the video boards during pregame warm-ups.

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Capers, to his credit, tried to put pressure on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford with an array of blitzes, but it was as though Lions coach Jim Caldwell and coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had provided the offense with a PowerPoint presentation that detailed everything they would see from the Packers.

Stafford posted a season-high passer rating of 132.4 by completing 26 of 33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns in a nearly flawless performance. Receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones each caught seven passes and broke the 100-yard mark, combining for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

The Lions converted 8 of 13 third downs (62 percent), but that didn’t tell the entire story. Five of those occurred with seven or more yards to go, including three of 10 for more yards.

“Third down, they owned it,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You can’t have that much variance and production on both sides on third down and think you’re going to win football games. They made big plays.

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“Stafford threw it. I thought he threw the heck out of the ball tonight, and they caught it.”

Capers hadn’t pressured as much against New Orleans as he did against Minnesota, but he brought more than a dozen blitzes against the Lions and managed just one sack, which came on an ill-timed flea flicker that Stafford ate rather than risk an interception.

Every time he came to the line of scrimmage, Stafford eyed the defense and seemed to be checking in and out of plays. Cooter used an array of motion to help Stafford figure out the coverages and a slew of misdirection and play-action to shut down the Packers’ pass rush.

“They line up, motion, check, check,” cornerback Davon House said. “When we were in man or zero, they’d see what we were doing.

“They did a good job of self-scouting us. They did their homework, too.”

The Packers may have done their homework, but they obviously got all the answers wrong because they looked completely overmatched.

The amount of man coverage they played blew up in their face as Jones and Tate broke off crossing routes that left defenders in the dust. When the Packers played zone, the two found holes and Stafford put the ball exactly where it needed to go.

Asked about the man coverage, House considered answering, but then thought the better of it.

 “It would be smart if I don’t answer that question,” he said. “I wish I could give you (something), but that’s probably a better question for the coaches.”

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It wasn’t unreasonable for Capers to think man-to-man would work, but it was clear that the Lions sniffed it out in almost every passing situation. They successfully picked up blitzes with their running backs, secured the middle — they need to send general manager Ted Thompson a thank-you note for T.J. Lang — and got rid of the ball quickly.

“It wasn’t so much them,” Jones said. “It was just us executing what our plan was. We had a great plan on all cylinders and we got it done. It wasn’t anything where I could say, ‘This is what they’re doing so let’s pick on them this way.’

“It was a great scheme and we executed.”

The Packers played on their heels the entire game despite starting with their secondary in the best shape it had been in since maybe Week 1, the front seven missing just outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and defensive tackle Quinton Dial, and rookies Vince Biegel and Montravius Adams active and ready to contribute.

The bye week had allowed safety Morgan Burnett to get healthy, linebacker Nick Perry to rid himself of bulky hand protection and everyone else to rest their weary bones. But none of it meant a hill of beans.

Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, nose tackle Kenny Clark and Perry were barely noticeable other than Daniels’ knuckle-headed unnecessary roughness penalty that turned a third-and-14 stop into a momentum-changing first down.

The three combined for nine tackles and a half sack by Perry that defensive lineman Dean Lowry should have gotten. The only reason Clay Matthews isn’t mentioned is because he had the only quarterback hit of the night.

“We have to play much better than we did tonight,” Daniels said. “And we can’t give them an inch because they’ll take it a mile.”

Three plays summed up the Lions’ dominance over the Packers.

Running back Ameer Abdullah’s 4-yard touchdown run, Tate’s 21-yard catch-and-run on second and 18 early in the third quarter and running back Theo Riddick’s 63-yard gain on a screen pass.

The Lions set up Abdullah’s run with motion that alerted them on the coverage and allowed them to set up two key blocks that made it a cakewalk into the end zone. They forced inside linebacker Blake Martinez and cornerback Damarious Randall into some indecision before Martinez finally went after Tate on his long completion.

And they caught the Packers in a full-out blitz that someone on defense didn’t play right, allowing Riddick to wipe out any momentum the Packers had gained with their first touchdown of the night.

All told, Detroit rolled up 417 yards and would have scored more if they hadn’t been sloppy with the ball. They probably won’t dominate a team the way they did Monday night the rest of the season.

It was all in a week’s work.


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