The Packers' defense, in conjunction with the offense, dug themselves an early hole against the Lions and never really recovered in a 34-20 loss at home to open Week 4. After an early interception on the Lions' first offensive drive appeared to set the tone for the defense, the defense surrendered 24 points on the next four Lions drives, a hole a sputtering offense could help dig out of.
The culprit: three key down conversions where players failed to execute the play call and touchdowns given up due primarily to schematic weaknesses in the red zone and the Packers prioritizing matching offensive personnel rather than clogging up space and taking away lanes with bigger bodies.
The defense allowed the Lions to convert 7-17 on third down, 41%. On three of the first four scoring drives, the Lions converted their most important third downs, all but sealing the Packers' fate in Week 4.
Third down issues - player execution
First play, 1st quarter, 3rd-and-5, 9:04 remaining
The first big third-down conversion came on the second defensive drive with the Lions converting and gaining 35 yards in the process with a catch and run by tight end Sam LaPorta.
The Lions are running a Y-cross to LaPorta as the number three in the trips to the right with cornerback Rasul Douglas (No. 29) in coverage.
The defense is in “nickel hole,” Cover-1 strong side safety rotation to the trips side. Since the safety is rotating to the trips, Douglas should cover the tight end with inside leverage.
Douglas covers the tight end with outside leverage instead and quarterback Jared Goff is able to fit the pass outside away from Douglas. Douglas also couldn’t make the tackle as LaPorta caught it. On the next play, Douglas slipped while trying to cover receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who caught a wide-open pass for a touchdown.
Second play, 1st quarter, 3rd-and-3, 6:23 remaining
On the very next Lions offensive drive, the Packers surrendered a 23-yard gain on a third and three that set up another touchdown for the Lions.
The play call is “pull shallow,” run from a 3x1 formation with a dig route over the top of a spot route, and 3rd option, a shallow cross. Goff hit the dig for the conversion.
The defense is running a creeper pressure where they’re showing a possible rush from 45 in the A-gap but are getting pressure from outside linebacker Preston Smith (No. 91). The coverage behind it Cover-3
Safety Darnell Savage rotates down to be the strong hook defender but doesn’t locate the dig route behind him and instead jumps the spot route while the dig route comes free and opens behind him.
Third down issues - player execution and scheme
Third play, 2nd quarter, 3rd-and-1, 4:21 remaining
The Packers haven’t had much success with their 6-1 front defense and this game was no exception. It’s 3rd-and-1 outside the red zone with the Lions on the move needing to pick up just one yard.
The defense, aligned in a 6-1 front with the four down linemen lined up in the interior gaps, is already out-gapped on this play. They’re playing quarters coverage behind, meaning the safeties have to fit the run from depth when a better play call could have them aligned in the box as an extra defender.
The Lions are running inside zone. Safety Rudy Ford is responsible for the C-gap and inside Quay Walker should be running through the B-gap. Ford reacts slowly and Walker is hesitant to run through. Even if Ford could get downhill quickly enough, the Lions still would’ve converted. Alignment and spacing issues plagued the defense in others too.
Third down issues - scheme
Speaking of the 6-1 front, the timing and usage are always confounding, as the Packers show here in the goal-to-go situation where the Lions went up 14-3.
And here, again, defensive coordinator Joe Barry puts the defense into a 6-1 front inside the five-yard line. A 6-man front is not itself the issue. It’s the spacing and putting safeties, who are five yards deep in the end zone, in a position where they have to fit the run in the interior C-gaps.
Rudy Ford was the safety to the strong side responsible for the C-gap here and couldn’t get downhill before being blocked to the inside by a Lions receiver. The four down linemen are each responsible for the gap in front of them with the fifth and sixth defenders responsible for setting the edge. This puts the defense in a bind every time as the middle linebacker cannot adequately fall back to extra gaps created by the running blocking. David Montgomery went untouched.
The other issue the Packers have is putting nickel personnel fronts into the game inside the 10-yard line too.
Again, these fronts leave too many interior bubbles in the B and C gaps opposite each other and get lighter personnel on the field due to matching the offensive personnel. This was an issue I highlighted versus Atlanta as well. In the second clip, they’re using backup outside linebackers Kingsley Enagbare and Justin Hollins down inside the 5-yard line.
After the game, LaFleur said, “We’re going to have to do something different because it’s insane to do the same things over and over again and expect different results.” He then went on to lament that it should not be difficult to commit to taking away one phase of the offense and make it one-dimensional. We’ll see what changes they make, if any, and what their commitment will be to defending the run at the expense of the pass, something offenses are currently having success with against Fangio tree defenses.