GREEN BAY – A regular talking point for Mike McCarthy through the first quarter of the season has been about the offseason work he and his staff have put in scouting new head coaches and coordinators, and then marrying that with an expanding library of plays put on film as the games have ticked by.
This week has been no different as the Packers prepare to head to Detroit, a common opponent with an uncommon defense. Matt Patricia is in his first year as the Lions' coach after spending the last six seasons as the defensive coordinator in New England, but he is not the primary play-caller on that side of the ball. That falls to his defensive coordinator, Paul Pasqualoni, who last called plays in the NFL in 2009 for the Miami Dolphins.
“You’re always looking at those things and I think you see a lot of similarities in their defense to Matt’s time in New England,” McCarthy said. “It’s clearly a philosophy change of how they’re playing based on the schemes you’re using but so much so from a technique standpoint. It’s a totally different challenge for our offense versus their defense.”
The primary challenge for the Packers will be handling the pressure brought by the Lions, who have recorded 13 sacks over the first four weeks. Defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah headlines their front seven, as he is playing this year under the franchise tag and is coming off a 12-sack season. But to date, the Detroit defensive line has just three sacks as a group.
The pressure has come from the linebackers.
Devon Kennard has four sacks, Eli Harold has three and Jarrad Davis has two. Christian Jones also has a sack.
And they’ve come against different types of quarterbacks. They’ve chased down Jimmy Garoppolo (six times) and Dak Prescott (three times) while also getting to Tom Brady and Sam Darnold twice apiece.
Eleven times those quarterbacks where in shotgun when Detroit got to them, and only once did a quarterback escape and run out of bounds for a short loss (Prescott).
“Well, if you look at the film, a lot of those are not just a guy beating a guy,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodger said. “It’s second, third effort.”
The Lions could present a problem for the Packers in that regard, as Rodgers has been sacked nine times and hit 19 times the last three weeks.
“Where they get a lot of their sacks, especially at the linebacker position, when they play the guard bubbles and you’ve got a guy and you’re set on him and you think he’s dropping (into coverage) and you go look to help and he just comes,” Packers guard Byron Bell said. “You gotta be disciplined with your eyes. Feel what’s coming to you. Snap stunts off. Keep guys away from ‘12’ so he can work his magic.”
Breakdowns in blitz recognition and protection are now on film for the Green Bay offense, however, and they ended Thursday’s practice without having Davante Adams, Randall Cobb or Geronimo Allison participate.
That has the Packers expecting Patricia and Pasqualoni to send extra pressure, even if generally speaking, McCarthy and Rodgers would prefer that to happen.
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“I think he’s incredible at the line of scrimmage,” McCarthy said of Rodgers. “We’ve always been in favor of pressure because of our ability to pass protect and the pressure adjustments with Aaron’s ability to get the ball out and make big plays.”
The big plays have been few and far between, however.
The Packers enter Sunday with a below-average offense, ranking 17th in the league in total yards and 19th in scoring (23 points per game). They have three explosive touchdowns of over 39 yards, but two of those came against Chicago back in Week 1.
Rodgers exploited Buffalo’s defense with four pass plays of 25 yards or more (Aaron Jones added a 30-yard run as well), but Allison’s 64-yard touchdown was the only explosive play against Washington in Week 3.
The Lions are No. 8 in the league in total defense, though just 24th in scoring (28.5 points per game). They have fallen victim to the big play, as five of the 10 defensive touchdowns they’ve allowed have covered at least 20 yards.
To exploit that, the Packers will have to slow that persistent Detroit pass rush.
“It’s a testament to their head coach, a defensive-minded guy and of course when he comes in on Monday’s he’s going to expect effort from the guys, especially on the defensive end,” Bell said. “Those guys play hard. They’ve got some young guys over there, but they’ve got some older guys that know how to play football. It’s not the first reaction, it’s the third and fourth reaction. Don’t think you’ve got a guy locked down.”