Packers run defense searches for redemption vs. Lions dynamic rushing attack

The last time the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions met in Week 4 at Lambeau Field, the Lions ran wild on this Packers run defense, totaling 211 rushing yards at nearly five yards per attempt.

It was after that game that Matt LaFleur said that something had to change philosophically about their defense. While Joe Barry likes to utilize that split-safety look to take away the vertical passing threat, he and the coaching staff as a whole can’t be so rigid, as LaFleur put it, and need to be more willing to make adjustments.

“We are going to have to do something different because it’s insane to do the same things over and over again and expect different results,” said LaFleur following the Week 4 matchup. “That is a good offensive line. They got really good runners. I think Gibbs and Montgomery are two of the better backs. That’s one of the best offensive lines in ball, but it’s still inexcusable. We should be able to take one phase away from them. If you want to stop the run then commit to that and make them throw it over your head.”

Since then, the Packers run defense has found pockets of success, but often has still been an issue. It looked like things were trending in the right direction following their performances against Minnesota and Los Angeles, but those two games were followed up by a 200-plus yard rushing game by the Pittsburgh offense—the third time this season that has happened to Green Bay.

Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown can form a formidable one-two punch in the passing game, however, this is a Lions team that wants to run the football, ranking seventh in rush attempts per game this season. In a way, that is one of the more impressive aspects about this team. Opponents know what they want to do and still struggle to stop them. Led by Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery, the Lions’ 4.6 yards per rush as a team is the sixth-best in football.

Schematically, chances are we see a less passive approach this time around by the Green Bay defense, with perhaps fewer two-high safety looks, where there is a gap along the defensive front unaccounted for in the run game, and providing them an additional defender playing closer to the line of scrimmage. As LaFleur said following their last meeting, if you want to try to stop the run, then commit to stopping the run.

However, regardless of what Barry has drawn up, if the on-field execution isn’t there, it doesn’t much matter what the play call is, and that aspect of things has been a big issue for Green Bay throughout the season as well. Missed tackles, an inability to get off blocks, and blown assignments have all occurred too often for the Packers defense, which happened as recently as two weeks ago in Pittsburgh. Following that game, LaFleur noted how, despite their effort at times to limit the Steelers run game by playing single-high, there were two Green Bay defenders occupying one gap—and that cannot be happening.

“I feel like for us, just knowing what we’re supposed to do,” said Karl Brooks on Tuesday about what needs to be different in the run game this time around. “Knowing where we’re supposed to fit and just playing box the right way to slow down their run game.

“I would just say simple things,” Brooks added. “Little techniques. Having your hands in the right spot, having your eyes where they’re supposed to be. Not looking into the backfield and playing a complete game.”

As is the case with every play call, there is going to be give-and-take. In an effort to limit the Detroit run game, the Packers could leave themselves exposed on the back-end in the passing game with the cornerbacks on a bit of an island. Just as good as any team in the NFL, the Lions and Goff have been excellent off of play-action. Goff currently ranks in the top 10 among all quarterbacks in completion rate, yards, and yards per attempt off of play-action, which of course, all starts with the run game.

“I refer to it as sister plays,” said Joe Barry of the Lions play-action pass game. “They’re kind of all in the same family. They have a run play no matter what the personnel is, what the formation is, or the motion is, but they have a run and off that run play, they make it look like run and make it look like play-action pass.

“I think they do as good of job as anybody in the league at making plays that are in the same family look exactly the same and initially the first two seconds of when the ball is snapped, it could be a run, it could be a play-action pass or a built in screen off of it. Jared (Goff) is very good at the mechanics of those play-action passes and making it look all the same. They do a great job.”

Getting Jaire Alexander and Rudy Ford back for this game – both of whom were limited on Tuesday – would be a tremendous help as would Green Bay’s ability to generate consistent pressure, forcing Goff off his spot while disrupting the timing and rhythm of the passing plays.

St. Brown has been one of the most productive and efficient receivers in football this season, along with being excellent at picking up yards after the catch. Jameson Williams has provided a vertical presence in the offense while tight end Sam LaPorta has become a go-to option for Goff, ranking fourth among all tight ends in targets and fifth in yards.

At the end of the day, this is a well-rounded Detroit offense, hence why they are 8-2 on the season. They have multiple ways they can beat you. But any potential success for the Green Bay defense starts with trying to make them one-dimensional, specifically, limiting their impact in the ground game. Doing so at least gives this defense a puncher’s chance, allowing them to do some of the dictating with the Lions in the disadvantageous situation of playing from behind the sticks.

“These guys are the best line in football,” added Barry. “I think their scheme is good. I think the players that they have up front is good. The two backs that they hand the ball off to are very good. They’re a good physical group that makes no bones about it. They want to run the ball and that’s where everything begins with them. Just my time with Jared (Goff) in LA, very good play-action passing quarterback, but to be good in play-action passing it starts with the run. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire