Lions vs. Packers: Defense Review

USA TODAY Sports

Another game where the first half was wildly different from the second half. This time the team won and the play of the defense was much more palatable.

As we broke down the individual performances on Monday the phrase "tale of two halves" kept creeping up again. There have been many games that seem to have this theme….the Seattle Seahawks game, and the Indianapolis Colts game being the two best examples. Unlike those two games though, this game is a "W." Now I’m sure many will say that is the main reason why I’m not grading harshly, unlike those two stomach churning games, but I’m not so sure. This game feels different….the stumbling and bumbling feels more palatable when you look at what happened in those two previous games and what happened in this one.

In Seattle, the Packers just came out with an awful game plan and did not make the necessary corrections until it was nearly too late in the second half. Once the corrections were made the Packers still did not execute well with their worst performance in the red zone all year. Oh and if you hadn’t heard the officiating was terrible too, but that’s a different story….the Packers played poorly in the beginning and not strong enough at the end in order to prevent the officials from taking over the game in the way they did that night.

In Indianapolis, had a great game plan and executed in ruthless fashion…but then took their foot off the gas and let an emotional and desperate team back into the game. As the Colts have proved many times since that fateful week, they are a team that is not going to go down quietly and have more talent than one would first expect. As a result the Packers lost control of the game and could not turn things back on. They folded.

On Sunday night the Packers had a combination of the two games come back, but in a much different format than either game gave alone. Like in Indy the Packers had their foot off the gas, but this time it was in the first half…not the second. Like in Seattle the game plan did not fit the opponent, but this time it was because the opponent gave a completely new look. If you say that you expected the Lions to come out running the football on Sunday night then you sir are lying. The Lions have been running the football less than the Packers. Their best, and most transcendent, player is a wide receiver and everyone knows for the Lions to have any chance they need to feed him the ball…….a lot. So even though the weather was terrible and the Packers were weak in their front seven, any one really looking at the Lions offense would expect lots and lots of passing….and the Packers game planned accordingly.

There is a line at the beginning of Lord Of The Rings, where Bilbo Baggins explains what getting old feels like, he says it feels like butter being spread too thin on a piece of toast. As I stood in the stands and watched the Lions march up and down the field during that first quarter that’s what it felt like for our defense. With two defensive linemen missing, including one key run stopper in C.J. Wilson, and an entire set of starting linebackers, the defense was stretched too thin. They had to line up in nickel sets most of the night and a 2-4-5 alignment is going to be weak against the run…especially without Charles Woodson in the lineup.

The good news is that eventually the defense tightened up and the Lions turned to their passing game….which played right into the Packers strength. There is still plenty of talent on the defense, the problem is right now most of it is concentrated on the back half of the D.

The Packers need to get healthy in the front seven. They need Mike Neal back (he may not be consistent but he has been able to produce). They need C.J. Wilson back (if only to help stop the run and add to the rotation). They need to get Charles Woodson back. Most of all they sorely need Clay Matthews back. If the Packers can get a pass rush going again then the playoff run should be fine. The problem is that Clay Matthews may not be enough to get the pass rush needed…..

Pass Defense Review

Key Performances

Matthew Stafford – 27/45 264 YDS 5.9 AVG 1 TD 1 INT 74.7 RTG

Calvin Johnson – 10 REC 118 YDS 11.8 AVG 20 LG 13 TGTS

Tony Scheffler 3 REC 20 YDS 6.7 AVG 13 LG 10 TGTS

Tramon Williams – 1 TOT 1 Solo 2 Passes Defended

Sam Shields – 4 TOT 3 Solo 2 Passes Defended 1 INT

Casey Hayward – 4 TOT 4 Solo 2 Passes Defended

There is a very apt comparison to be made right now to the 2009 version of this defense. In 2009 the Packers made a roaring return on the defensive side of the ball after a lackluster 2008 campaign. The secret was the transition to the 3-4. Charles Woodson was a playmaker extraordinaire and rookie Clay Matthews flashed so much promise. That defense feasted on lesser teams and was shredded by "elite QB’s." At this point there are some very good reasons to make this comparison, the most apt the beat down that Eli Manning put to this defense.

Despite the fact that there are lessons to be learned from the 2009 defense, a full comparison is a bit unfair. The best lesson to learn from that 2009 defense is that the Packers need a consistent pass rushing threat to pair with Clay Matthews. This cannot be overstated, and unfortunately this is a true deficiency with the Packers defense. At the time the Packers did not have this due to injuries to Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampman. Just like then, the Packers are lacking this due to the injury to Nick Perry. Sure there are some potential pass rushing threats, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, and Jerel Worthy have shown some ability but are inconsistent. Dezman Moses has the potential but he is still pretty raw. B.J. Raji needs a true running buddy to free him up in the pass rush. The rest of the front seven are primarily run stuffers or a waste of space. This means that when Clay does get back one of these potential threats needs to step up and become a consistent threat, or at the very least they have to take turns stepping up and winning in one on one situations. If this doesn’t happen then there are going to be problems with teams that are good at shifting their protection.

Perhaps the biggest difference from that 2009 team though is the sheer talent in the secondary. I could bore you by listing out the names of our young secondary players, but instead I’m going to ask you a simple question…where would Davon House fit in on the 2009 team? Surely he would get more playing time then Brandon Underwood, Josh Bell, and Jarrett Bush right? Well right now House is looking like the fifth corner in the rotation once Woodson returns. Yeah, they are looking much, much better at corner than back in 2009. There is a similar story at safety as well. M.D. Jennings is not a superstar, but he’s better than Charlie Peprah or Atari Bigby. The same is true of Jerron McMillian too. Heck, keep in mind that things got so bad at safety in 2009 with injuries they had Brandon Chillar play back there on occasion. A secondary needs a pass rush in order to prevent the big plays from happening, but this secondary can hang with any of the passing attacks in the NFL given an even average pass rush.

Sunday is a good example of this in action. The Packers were able to effectively limit the single best receiver in the game. Calvin Johnson got his catches and his yards, but there was no big play. There was no touchdown catch. For as important as Johnson was to the Lions he was simply not a major factor in the game….and the credit to that has to go to Tramon Williams who continues to make a living neutralizing the best receiver for the opposing team.

Despite having a shaky, to nonexistent pass rush, the secondary was still able to do its job. In fact the night could even be better for the secondary considering that amount of interceptions that were dropped. Casey Hayward, Williams, and House could have each had an INT that night, and Shields could had his hands on a second pick of Stafford. If these guys can produce this against a pretty good QB with zero pass rush imagine what they could do with a decent pass rush.

Run Defense Review

Key Performances

Mikel Leshoure – 14 CAR 49 YDS 3.5 AVG 9 LG

Joique Bell – 12 CAR 49 YDS 4.1 AVG 13 LG

Brad Jones – 12 TOT 8 Solo

A.J. Hawk – 8 TOT 4 Solo

Ryan Pickett – 6 TOT 3 Solo

Who really expects the Lions to come out and run the ball? Who really expects the Lions to take a receiver off the field on such a consistent basis and try and play power football? It’s simply not who they are and I don’t blame the Packers for getting caught off guard by it. As a result I’m going to give more props than I probably should just for the ability of the Packers to man up, change up the plan and effectively play smash mouth football with the Lions…even with one hand tied behind their back. The Packers were able to effectively neutralize these overloaded sets of the Lions with two defensive linemen most of the game. At the same time they were rotating only four big bodies to keep those players fresh. With that they were able to control the line of scrimmage throughout the second half.

Not bad.

Another good night for run stopping from Brad Jones. He is showing some real power in the middle of the field. It’s uncertain if he has done enough to warrant a real chance at a starter’s gig next year, but he’s getting there. The guy who is looking more and more expendable? A.J. Hawk. Hawk is a lot like Walden for the inside, early in the year he seemed to be playing with passion and purpose…forcing his detractors to change their tune a bit. But down the stretch he has regressed back to the same average to below average player that he was last year. He still pretty good in the run game, but not better than Jones and probably wouldn’t be much better than Desmond Bishop or D.J. Smith either.

Special Teams Review – Punting

Tim Masthay – 3 Punts 133 Yards 44.3 AVG 1 TB 1 Inside 20 53 LG

Someone needs to come up with a Ginger Wolverine Ale in honor of Masthay. I can already see the commercials now....do some montage similar to the Most Interesting Man in the World shtick with Masthay looking at the camera at the end and saying: "I don’t often kick touchbacks, but when I do it’s typically Sam Shields’ fault."

Seriously, if Shields turns around Masthay’s numbers look so much better. As they stand now they are still pretty good, but that one touchback does stick out a bit. Bottom line though…the Ginger Wolverine is pretty darn good.

Special Teams Review – Return Game

Key Performances

Lions Kick Returners – 4 KR 81 YDS 20.3 AVG 27 LG

Lions Punt Returners – 0 PR 0 YDS

Yup, the return units continue to be pretty good. Granted, the Lions aren’t exactly known for their special teams play.

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