Packers vs. Lions: Defensive Review

Leon Halip

This was another week where the defense carried the day for the Packers....especially in how they shut down the best passing attack in the NFL.

Okay so the offensive review was a bit bumpier than we all care to admit. But the worst part of talking about the Lions game is over because the defense offered up a slew of pleasant surprises. Whether we talk about how the pass rush faired absent Clay Matthews, or how the secondary faired against "the best passing offense in the NFL" [snicker], or even how the rush defense held up all things considering…there are plenty of positives to build on going forward. Best news of all about the defense is that the defense should only get better as they heal up. Getting Matthews and Charles Woodson back will be a huge boon to this defense. It’s nice to see the Packers get back to being able to win football games based on dynamic defensive play.

Pass Defense Review

Key Performances

Matthew Stafford – 17/39 266 YDS 6.6 AVG 1 TD 2 INT 19.3 QBR 54.0 RTG

Calvin Johnson – 5 REC 143 YDS 28.6 AVG 1 TD 53 LG 11 TGTS

Tony Scheffler – 2 REC 22 YDS 11 AVG 16 LG 10 TGTS

Casey Hayward – 5 TOT 4 Solo 1 INT 5 Passes Defended

M.D. Jennings – 2 TOT 1 Solo 1 INT 1 Pass Defended

Davon House – 4 TOT 2 Solo 1 Sack 1 QB Hit 1 TFL 1 Pass Defended

Dezman Moses – 1 TOT 1 Solo 1 Sack 1 FF 2 QB Hits

That’s a lot of key performances…and to be honest I got giddy while typing up those stats. The Lions came into the game against the Packers with the most passing yards in the NFL…so naturally they were the best passing attack in the game right? Well, maybe not, but they are definitely a good one. They can move the ball on anyone…and typically they have had to since they played from behind for most of the game. The interesting thing though is that their offensive line has been no joke when it comes to pass defense. The last couple years the Lions have allowed very few sacks, and PFF had them rated as the second best offensive line in football coming into the game. Yet the Packers front seven, minus Matthews mind you, thoroughly abused Detroit all day long to the tune of 5 sacks and 7 QB hits on Matthew Stafford.

This impressive pass rush mostly came from the interior of the line….which is a change frankly. Ryan Pickett downright owned the Lions interior line and probably would have been the most dominate defensive lineman that day if Nick Fairley hadn’t of shined the way he did. Ironically this leads Pickett to shadows as per normal despite having a phenomenal pass rush day. B.J. Raji and Mike Neal also got in the action with some good push as well.

The outside linebackers basically came as advertised. Erik Walden put up good stats (6 TOT 5 Solo 2 Sacks 2 QB hits) but most of his work was done after Stafford was flushed out of the pocket rather than straight up beating his man. Dezman Moses was able to get some dynamic plays in, but not on a consistent basis. Frank Zombo and Vic So’oto were MIA. Imagine the slaughter that would of taken place if the Packers had this sort of inside push and Matthews was running free. It would have been glorious.

Perhaps most surprising though was the effectiveness of the secondary in blitzing the QB. Morgran Burnett logged another sack this year (another sack courtesy of Ryan Pickett). Davon House logged a sack too as well as registering an additional hit on the QB. The Packers miss Woodson to be sure, but if the young guys can blitz this well consistently that hole in the defense may not be as big as we all thought it would be.

By the way, could you think of a more complete game coming from Davon House? Look at his stats again…he had four tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, a pass defended (in addition to the incompletions he forced due to strong coverage), and a QB hit. House is not going to be quite like Casey Hayward in the flash play department but that doesn’t mean he is not as good a corner. I love me some Tramon Williams, but it may not be long till we see House and Hayward as the top two corners for the Packers with Sam Shields taking nickel responsibilities.

All this and we haven’t gotten to the two of the biggest contributors in the pass defense. Okay, maybe three. Burnett once again played all over the place and displayed the leadership that is expected of the playmaking safety this defense needs. He could be a bit stronger in coverage…and he has to make that interception late in the game…but other than that he did pretty well. M.D. Jennings may have finally earned the nickname "the Doctor" with his surgical running after the interception. Besides that game changing play, he also defended a pass and displayed solid tackling. Jennings competition, Jerron McMillian, also had a great day with two passes defended – one of which sealed the game for the Packers at the end of the game.

Finally, what can we say about Casey Hayward? The expectations rise for him out of Packer fans week after week and he continues to exceed them. This week it was five passes defended (which is outrageous) as well as a crucial interception deep in our own territory. He keeps playing lights out…which is exactly what this defense needs.

All in all the pass defense was fantastic. Did Calvin Johnson get his yards? Yup. He also caught less than half the balls thrown to him as well. In fact all of the Lion receivers who were targeted more than twice caught less than half the balls thrown in their direction. Part of that is inaccuracy of Stafford (who played an awful game) the other part of that is the pass rush and coverage coming together to play an amazing game.

Run Defense Review

Key Performances

Mikel Leshoure – 19 CAR 84 YDS 4.4 AVG 1 TD 15 LG

Brad Jones – 4 TOT 3 Solo 1 TFL

A.J. Hawk – 10 TOT 8 Solo 1 TFL

The running game did not look pretty at times on Sunday. Leshoure got off some good runs and had a pretty healthy average per carry. He even scored a touchdown. Despite this the run defense did pretty well. Brad Jones came up with some great stops at critical junctures late in the game. A.J. Hawk turned in a solid performance running dudes down and making the tackle (fun fact: Hawk, House, and Hayward all made PFF’s Team of the Week).

Most telling though is that the defense was able to gum up the Lions run game for the most part while playing the game exclusively in nickel and dime packages. They dared the Lions to beat them with the run…and the Lions either refused or just couldn’t capitalize.

Special Teams Review: Punt Coverage

Key Performances

Tim Masthay – 4 Punts 176 YDS 44.0 AVG 0 TB 2 Inside 20 56 LG

Lions Punt Returners – 1 PR 0 YDS

Tim Masthay is good…..really good. Jarrett Bush showed again why he is one of the better gunners in the league with a couple key plays on special teams. Not much else to say here.

Special Teams Review: Kick Coverage

Key Performances

Detroit Kick Returners – 4 KR 64 YDS 16.0 AVG 25 LG

Once again, the coverage units have been good this year, and this week they did their job once again.

Conclusion

This game was won by the Packers defense. This injured unit stepped up without their superstars and made the plays necessary to win….shutting down an explosive Lions’ offense. The best part is that when the Lions have traditionally been good this year, the fourth quarter, the defense completely shut them down and gave the offense a chance to save the day.

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