DETROIT - The Green Bay Packers are so wary of cornerback depth that they signed veteran Bashaud Breeland off the street and promoted Tony Brown from the practice squad over the past two weeks.
And still, they were hurting at the position again.
Rookie Jaire Alexander, who had been starting for injured Kevin King (groin) the past two weeks, was inactive. It was a little surprising since Alexander practiced last week, but the 2018 first-round pick said it was clear he was not ready to return after working out in the morning.
“I tried to go, I tried to work it out before the game, but we were just like, ‘No, can’t do it,’” Alexander said of the decision made in consultation with the medical staff. "We shut it down.
“Luckily, I’m running. I’m able to run, but just not to my maximum duty yet.”
Another key player missing was safety Jermaine Whitehead, who has played safety, linebacker and cornerback. He could have helped the defense out in pass coverage or with blitzing, but a back injury he suffered in practice last week left him inactive.
Breeland was inactive for the second straight week because at the time he was signed, he had not practiced since the previous season. A foot injury sidelined him for most of the offseason and training camp and so he has only had two practices in pads the entire year.
King, who had missed the past two games with a groin injury, returned but did not look like his usual self. He was late on some coverages and didn’t appear to have the same catch-up speed as normal. He was involved in two red-zone touchdown passes and committed three penalties.
With King back in the starting lineup, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine went with rookie Josh Jackson in the slot. When the Packers went to dime coverage, they used Brown, who is lightning quick but showed he’s not ready for prime time when he made a third-down stop and then was penalized for taunting, extending the Lions' drive
King suffered a bad gash on his chin after taking a cleat there in the fourth quarter and had a bandage covering some stitches after the game.
The absence of Alexander probably hurt the most because he would have been able to allow King to slowly work his way back into the lineup. Playing nickel, Jackson had a facemask penalty and was beaten deep once.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 14 of 26 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns, but he was not intercepted. The Packers could not stop him when he got into the red zone.
“Mentally, as a defense, I think we stuck in there,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I don’t think guys ever got down and thought we were in big, big trouble at that time. But we don’t want to start like that. We have to figure out what it is.”
In the way
Williams said an official told him the first-quarter punt that he let drop in front of him hit a Lions player before it hit anybody else.
However, the replay booth said that was not true.
The replay official ruled it hit King first and so since Detroit had downed the ball at the 1-yard line, they were awarded the ball at the 1. Instead of having a first-series stop, the defense was back on the field.
The Lions scored on the next play.
“It’s tough from a standpoint that a guy is locked in on his block and he can’t really hear what you’re saying because he’s so locked in,” Williams said of the call he made so King would get out of the way. “So that’s why you try to run over there and try to give the gestures to try to get him out of the way because he’s in line with the ball.
“When a guy is locked in like that, I’ve been in that position before, you can’t hear anything. You just try to make the block for your teammate. That’s what he was trying to do."
The Packers are on a penalty tear.
They committed 12 for 112 yards against the Lions and that doesn’t include the ones that were declined or offset.
“We don’t like to get into the referee talk too much but, at the end of the day, we can’t let them factor into it,” receiver Davante Adams said. "We can’t make stupid plays, taunting, all of this stuff. All that stuff has got to go and we’ve got to play football.”
In five games, the Packers have committed 55 penalties. They’re on pace to commit 138, which would finish short of NFL season record of 158 set by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1998.
While the Packers have committed 43 penalties for 413 yards this season, their opponent has committed 30 for 262.
At the end of the day, the scoreboard never lies. The Packers' defense knows this. They lost 31-23 Sunday at Detroit, allowing four touchdowns.
It’s a textured 31, however.
One Lions touchdown drive began at the Packers’ 1-yard line. Another drive that led to a field goal began at the Packers’ 22. Another touchdown drive traveled 29 yards. That’s 17 points covering 31 net yards.
“I don’t think the score reflected our play style throughout the game,” Packers defensive lineman Dean Lowry said. “I thought down in and down out, I thought we played very strong against the run. They had a few big runs, but the story was a few big plays on third down and we gotta make sure we’re getting pressure on the quarterback.”
There are layers on top of that, too.
There was a 46-yard Lions touchdown called back due to a penalty, with Kenny Golladay running freely past Williams in the first quarter. That penalty helped result in a Lions punt, instead of points. There was a 50-yard completion to Marvin Jones Jr. down to the Packers’ eight-yard line that was nullified due to another penalty. That drive also led to a punt.
And all in between were other moments that counted and helped lead to 31 points allowed. Like the 60-yard Golladay catch over Josh Jackson. Or drive-lengthening penalties on Jackson, King, Mike Daniels and Brown.
Yet on the final stat sheet, the Packers allowed just five third-down conversions (38 percent) and 264 yards of total offense, its second-best effort of the season in that category. They may actually climb up from No. 6 in the league in total defense because of it.
"It's football, man. It's ugly football,” Daniels said. “Obviously, we did a lot of really good things. Then unfortunately we did just as many really bad things. We've got to get rid of the really bad things, that's all there is to it. Get back to the film and correct it."
Williams said he wasn’t sure what kind of team Detroit was because of the short fields they were presented, but when asked if he knew what kind of defense he was part of, he was just as unsure.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I guess I can say inconsistent because that’s what we’ve been so far. We’ve been inconsistent mainly getting off to good starts. Whatever reason that is, we just have to figure it out. If we knew the answer, we would have corrected it already but evidently we don’t. We’ll just keep working and see what happens.”
Running back Aaron Jones rushed seven times for 40 yards in the first half, but he spent a good portion of the second half on the bench and did not carry again.
With the Packers trailing 24-0, coach Mike McCarthy threw the ball 35 times in the second half and ran it just six times. Because Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery are considered better pass blockers, they played the majority of the snaps in the second half.
“It was fine,” said Jones, who is averaging 6.1 yards per carry on 24 carries this season. “Jamaal and Ty were doing great. I didn’t have any problem with it at all.”
In addition to King’s chin, the only other known injuries were to Nick Perry (ankle) and Kenny Clark (back/side).
Neither was considered serious. Clark appeared to be in intense pain when he went down in the first quarter, but he returned to the game a short time later and finished out.
He said he got twisted in an awkward position, but that he recovered quickly.