World’s Best Preview: Inside the Lions

Bill Huber

CARRYING ON WITH KERRYON: While the fulcrum of the Detroit Lions’ offense remains prolific quarterback Matthew Stafford, the running game has taken on a big role under first-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Led by second-year running back Kerryon Johnson, the Lions are running the ball 45.4 percent of the time – the seventh-highest percentage in the NFL. That philosophy suggests they’ll test a porous Packers run defense that has given up far too many big plays while making too few key stops.

According to Inside Edge’s weekly “Remarkable” notes, Green Bay’s defense has a stuff rate of 11.4 percent; a stuff is a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage vs. the run. That’s the worst in the league. For perspective, Philadelphia has a league-best stuff rate of 30.9 percent.

While the defense isn’t making the big plays to create second- and third-and-longs, it’s given up far too many big plays. Green Bay has allowed 18 rushes of 10-plus yards, tied for the ninth-most in the league. That’s played a big role in giving up 5.3 yards per carry, the second-worst in the league.

However, coach Matt LaFleur and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine saw signs of progress last week against Dallas. While Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott averaged 5.2 yards per carry, it was only 4.3 once you eliminate two meaningless carries at the end of the first half.

“When we watched the film, we felt really good about where we were from an execution standpoint in the run game,” Pettine said. “We felt we gave up a couple of those runs early and made some corrections. There were some yards they gained before the half, that were meaningless to us. And then the score obviously got them out of running the ball. But we improved from the standpoint of how we were attacking blocks and understanding the call and being where we were supposed to be and then triggering when it was time to trigger and violently release off a block and make a tackle. So, still a work in progress, and this week’s going to be another big challenge for us.”

Stafford the stat machine: A Bleacher Report cartoon poked fun at Stafford for doing just about everything as a quarterback other than win. With Joker-style face paint, Stafford gleefully exclaims, “We almost beat the Chiefs!” The cartoon is a bit weird but it hits at the crux of Stafford in that he’s put up marvelous numbers but has nothing to show for it as far as team success.

“I didn’t see it,” Stafford told reporters in Allen Park, Mich. “Somebody disrespecting us? Do I need to check it out? I’ll not look at it some other time.”

Stafford might make some history on Monday. With 39,648 career passing yards, he needs 352 to reach 40,000 for his career. This will be the 146th game of Stafford’s career. The fastest to 40,000 in NFL history is Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who required 151 games to reach that milestone.

A good chunk of that production has come against Green Bay. He’s thrown for 4,921 yards and 34 touchdowns against Green Bay. Fran Tarkenton’s 4,978 yards are the most against the Packers, and Stafford and Johnny Unitas are tied for the most touchdown passes.

Video: The Smiths talk about 'Gunslinger' Stafford

Stafford’s got an excellent group of skill players with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones at receiver, Danny Amendola in the slot and a budding star at tight end in T.J. Hockenson. With that, Stafford has gone deep more than any quarterback in the league. The results have been so-so – Stafford is 12-of-31 with three touchdowns, two interceptions and a rating of 86.1 on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, according to Pro Football Focus. Nonetheless, he’ll stress a Packers defense that gave up more than 400 passing yards to the Cowboys’ receiving corps alone. Dak Prescott completed 7-of-9 passes on passes thrown 20-plus yards despite getting hit frequently by Green Bay’s pass rush.

“They’re a really good defense,” Stafford said. “They’ve got guys up front that wreak havoc on the game and guys in the back end that are really sticky in coverage and do a great job when the ball is in there of going and making plays on it. We’ll have our work cut out for us. It’s always a tough environment to go play there. It’s a lot of fun playing there. It’s a great stadium, but they’re a really good football team.”

Roster makeover: Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and his counterpart, Detroit’s Dan Quinn, should be front-runners for NFL Executive of the Year if their teams continue their early success.

Quinn made some big moves in free agency by signing cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin, defensive end Trey Flowers, defensive tackle Mike Daniels and Amendola. While Daniels has barely played because of a foot injury and is out for Monday, Coleman and Melvin have been instant upgrades in the secondary, and Flowers is a rugged three-down performer.

“I think it’s real important, no matter where you are in your organization, that the GM and the head coach work together just to find guys that fit the profile of what they’re looking,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said in a conference call, echoing what’s been said by LaFleur and Pettine about Gutekunst. “Guys that fit the need that they may have on their team at that particular time and the type of players that they’re trying to bring in, all of that kind of goes into it. Certainly for us, we had an opportunity to bring in some guys that we were familiar with, which was great. But we had some guys that we were not familiar with that we just thought were really good players and had the same mind-set that we did and want to go out and compete and try to do everything possible to win. I think you’re always starting there from that standpoint.”

Patricia perspective: Patricia comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Belichick’s defensive philosophy has been taking away what the opponent does best.

“There’s definitely a lot of similarities,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “I think whoever they think we want to get the ball to, they’re going to try to do everything they can to take that away. That’s always been their MO. They’re going to do their best to take away anyone. We just have to adjust and other people are going to have to step up and win their one-on-ones. That’s the big key versus this defense. They’re going to try to create as many one-on-one battles as possible. From the line to the wide receivers, the tight ends, that’s what they want to do. The big challenge for our guys is they’re going to have a lot of one-on-one opportunities, which if you win gives you some opportunities for explosive plays.”

With Davante Adams likely out for the Packers, Green Bay’s best offensive weapon is Aaron Jones. Thus, it stands to reason Patricia will try to take away Jones, who had four rushing touchdowns and 182 total yards against Dallas last week. As weird as it sounds, Detroit’s game plan might be to force Rodgers to win the game, with the belief that their cornerback trio of Pro Bowler Darius Slay, Coleman and Melvin are better than a Packers receiver corps that caught just 4-of-12 targeted passes against Detroit.

“They’re very well coached,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, that lineage they have, they don’t necessarily hang their hat on one specific defense the entire season. They’re going to adjust according to their own personnel and who they’re playing and try and take away what you do well every single week, much like we’ve seen going against the Patriots over the years. I think Coach has a fantastic mind. They obviously have some great players. They added some guys to the mix, some pass rushers. They’ve got some young guys in the secondary playing well.”

Patricia perspective: Patricia comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Belichick’s defensive philosophy has been taking away what the opponent does best.

“There’s definitely a lot of similarities,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “I think whoever they think we want to get the ball to, they’re going to try to do everything they can to take that away. That’s always been their MO. They’re going to do their best to take away anyone. We just have to adjust and other people are going to have to step up and win their one-on-ones. That’s the big key versus this defense. They’re going to try to create as many one-on-one battles as possible. From the line to the wide receivers, the tight ends, that’s what they want to do. The big challenge for our guys is they’re going to have a lot of one-on-one opportunities, which if you win gives you some opportunities for explosive plays.”

With Davante Adams out for the Packers, Green Bay’s best offensive weapon is Aaron Jones. Thus, it stands to reason Patricia will try to take away Jones, who had four rushing touchdowns and 182 total yards against Dallas last week. As weird as it sounds, Detroit’s game plan might be to force Rodgers to win the game, with the belief that their cornerback trio of Pro Bowler Darius Slay, Coleman and Melvin are better than a Packers receiver corps that caught just 4-of-12 targeted passes against Detroit.

“They’re very well coached,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, that lineage they have, they don’t necessarily hang their hat on one specific defense the entire season. They’re going to adjust according to their own personnel and who they’re playing and try and take away what you do well every single week, much like we’ve seen going against the Patriots over the years. I think Coach has a fantastic mind. They obviously have some great players. They added some guys to the mix, some pass rushers. They’ve got some young guys in the secondary playing well.”

MORE PACKERS-LIONS PREVIEW

Packers putting QBs under pressure cooker

History lessons

Bulaga's brilliance

Two-minute drill (coming Monday)

Comments (2)
No. 1-2
GRIDIRONCoach
GRIDIRONCoach

Let’s hope that Kenny Clark will have more solo tackles than penalties. He has a grand total of 4 Solo Tackles and 4 Penalties.

Bill Huber
Bill Huber

Editor

He's also - and my computer is being stupid so pardon me if I'm a bit off - got 23 quarterback pressures this season, which is two off the league lead among interior defensive linemen.


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