Packers’ Defense Eventually Strangles Stafford-Led Lions

Bill Huber

For a little more than 15 minutes on Monday, the formerly red-hot Green Bay Packers defense was a red-hot mess.

After giving up 332 passing yards in the second half alone last week against Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was once again having his way against the Packers’ defense. On the first play, a flea-flicker turned into a gain of 66 yards by big-play receiver Kenny Golladay. On the first play of the next series, Stafford beat cornerback Kevin King deep once again, this time for 58 yards to Marvin Hall.

Saved only by a collision between Stafford and fullback Nick Bawden on the first series and tight end T.J. Hockenson’s inability to come down with a jump ball in the end zone on the third series, the Packers trailed only 13-0 through the first 16 1/2 minutes.

But then, like a boa constrictor, Green Bay’s defense got its grip.

And it tightened.

And it tightened.

And it tightened some more.

On a night when Davante Adams’ absence and Aaron Jones’ struggles made everything difficult for Green Bay’s offense, the Packers’ defense did what great defenses do.

It won the game.

“It was a character win, that’s what I said in the locker room,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “What that means is it revealed a lot about our squad, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Starting the game, obviously, they hit a couple plays. They held up in the red zone. They kicked five field goals (and) a lot of those were red-zone drives. That’s huge. And the way they played in the second half was pretty impressive. I think they held them to about 100 yards or so in the second half.

Actually, it was a lot less than 100 yards. Here are the quarter-by-quarter stats.

First quarter: Stafford was 8-of-9 for 168 yards and a 118.8 passer rating, and the Lions gained 188 yards.

Second quarter: Stafford was 4-of-7 passing for 51 yards and an 80.1 rating and was sacked once, and the Lions gained 48 yards.

Third quarter: Stafford was 5-of-10 passing for 39 yards and a 60.0 rating and was sacked twice, and the Lions had 39 yards.

Fourth quarter: Stafford was 1-of-6 passing for 7 yards and a 39.6 rating, and the Lions gained 24 yards.

“They did a great job,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “It started off a little ugly. They had almost 200 yards early in the second quarter or right at the end of the first quarter, but those guys continue to fight. They believe in one another and it’s a testament to their character.”

Green Bay won the game on third down and in the red zone. The Lions converted only 3-of-13 third-down plays. Stafford was 5-of-9 for 48 yards and three conversions but the Packers collected all three of their sacks on third down. With the Lions trying to run out the clock, Jaire Alexander broke up a pass to Marvin Jones on third-and-6.

In the red zone, the Lions scored one touchdown in three opportunities – a controversial fourth-and-goal score by Kerryon Johnson in which the official nearest the play signaled it was Green Bay’s ball.

“They started off with a lot of trick play and they gashed us on the first two but we had to come together, take a break and bring the defense up and we had to talk about what we could control, and we did the job,” outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith.

Meanwhile, Green Bay’s downtrodden run defense has found some fangs. After getting gashed by Minnesota, Denver and Philadelphia for consecutive games of 149-plus rushing yards – a dubious first for the team since 2008 – Green Bay limited the Lions to 56 yards on 20 rushes. Detroit’s longest run of the night was a 10-yard scramble by Stafford. Johnson, the team’s top back, averaged just 2.6 yards per try.

“It was huge, man. It was huge,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “Just confidence-wise for our whole room, for our whole front seven. I think we just got back on track with that because we know we’ve got the guys in the room to be physical, to hold the point of attack, get off blocks and make plays and I think we showed that today. And everybody had a part in it.”

Added safety Adrian Amos: “Other than those big plays, I feel like we stopped everything.”

The Packers had feasted takeaways, with 11 in their opening four wins and zero in the lone loss to Philadelphia. Against the Lions, the Packers never got close to getting a turnover. But on this night, the defense came up big without big plays – a good sign, because the league’s top teams generally aren’t so giving.

“It was a great team win,” Amos said. “Everybody had to contribute. We were down early. A lot of little mistakes and we allowed some big plays on defense, but we battled back and fought back. That’s a sign of a great team when you can win those games where it looked like you’re not supposed to win, when you turn the ball over, lose the turnover battle. But we overcame, and that’s a sign that of greatness to come.”