A few things are true about the Detroit Lions. Yes, their defense has by and large been quite bad this year, but they’ve scratched and clawed their way to an 8-8 record despite their porous tendencies on that side of the ball. How? Scoring just as many points as they allow and outdueling opponents in high-flying shootouts.
The Lions have scored the fourth-most points in the league and rank sixth in passing yards, and they’ve done this despite lacking the services of wide receiver DJ Chark for most of the season, including their first meeting with the Packers in Week 9.
Chark signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Lions this spring after an overall fairly productive four-year stint with the Jaguars. An elite athlete with great size, Chark’s best season was in 2019, where he caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns, making the Pro Bowl for his trouble.
Injuries limited him to 13 games in 2020 and his production dropped accordingly, then the real trouble began in 2021. A foot injury kept him out of all but four games, and a re-aggravation of that same injury earlier this season landed him on injured reserve after a couple of setbacks.
But since returning from that injury, Chark has been a significant part of the Lions’ offense. After only seeing one target in his first game back, Chark has caught 20 passes for 390 yards and two scores over his last six, averaging 19.5 yards per reception.
He’s been notably productive on a per-route basis. According to Pro Football Focus, Chark has averaged at least 2.39 yards per route run in four of his last five games, a level of production which would put him just outside the top 10 in the NFL.
Importantly, Chark does most of his work on the outside, leaving Amon-Ra St. Brown to carve up defenses from the slot. He’s lined up outside in just under 80% of the snaps he’s played this year, splitting his time basically evenly between the left and right sides of the formation.
Chark probably won’t destroy the Packers all by himself, but his production post-injury has been noteworthy. Having him on the field can only make an already potent Lions offense better, and the Packers should be prepared to deal with his speed, even on a potentially slow track on Lambeau Field. Packers fans shouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of big catches from Chark if he can find a seam in the secondary.