Monday night football will be back in action at Lambeau this week as the Packers take on the rival Detroit Lions in primetime. Back when I was coaching, one of the most important things I did week to week was scout the opponent. As a writer, it is no different for me. As soon as I have thoroughly reviewed the Packers all-22 footage I move on to the opponent.
It’s important as fans to know the opponent so we can know what to expect throughout the course of the game. For example, when the Packers took on the Eagles earlier in the year I had noticed on film that the Eagles had a stout offensive line. I expected the Eagles to pound the football at the Packers defense throughout the game simply because that’s what I noticed on film. I feel like it’s my job to help prepare you for games each week just as I used to prepare to face an opponent when I coached. Needless to say, scouting is one of the most important aspects of football. Here’s what I found when preparing this week for the Packers-Lions matchup:
Here’s a chart of Kerryon Johnson’s run game against the Kansas City Chiefs. One key thing I notice right off the bat is how successful he was at attacking the edge. Some of his most successful runs came when he was targeting the B and C gap. When I look at the Chiefs defense, I think that they have a solid gameplan for turning plays back into the inside. Their edge players take on reach blocks well. This tells me that Detroit did exceptionally well when running the stretch and toss plays.
In order to counter the outside run, the Packers defense has to be on high alert to turn plays back to the inside and avoid getting reach blocked. When the edge is reached by the tackle or lead blocker, the secondary players have to be quick to read and come up and help in run support. It has to be a quick “key well and fill fast”. If not, the Lions could hit the edge all game.
This also could factor into what Mike Pettine does with his fronts. I don’t anticipate many reduced fronts that could expose the edge. Mike Pettine likes to play a lot of 50 front, meaning that the interior defensive lineman are shaded on the offensive guards while the edge players line up outside of the tackles. He might want to consider running more 4 man fronts with 2 inside linebackers lined up at linebacker depth and anticipate the cutback run when the outside run play is forced back inside.
When taking a look at the passing game, I noticed that the Lions are going to want to “dink and dunk” passes. They want to hit high percentage throws and steadily move the ball down the field. Very west coast-ish. Most of his completions are going to be over the middle of the field. The Packers run a lot of cover 3, meaning that there are going to be 4 underneath defenders. The strong safety will roll down to play the strongside flats with the short side linebacker pushing to play the hook route as well as the flats. There should be 2 other underneath defenders to play the hook/curl route. I think this is a good game plan when countering Detroit’s quick passing game.
Cover 2 looked very effective for the Packers last week against the Cowboys. Pettine hasn’t gone to it much this year, but when he did against the Cowboys it seemed to work well. In a cover 2 call, there will be 5 underneath defenders with 2 safeties playing the deep halves. This is a great coverage for underneath support, however, the seam routes are vulnerable in this coverage. As you can see on the chart, Stafford hit one seam route for a touchdown against Kansas City.
Marvin Jones had a good game against the Chiefs and was the leading receiver. On only 6 catches, he had 101 yards and a touchdown. As you can see, he was most effective when lined up to the right side of the formation. The Lions, like most offenses, is a right-handed team in the passing game. What I’ve noticed so far this season is that Mike Pettine wants to match Jaire Alexander up on the best wide receiver in man coverage. That’s something that I would not change this week. Good coaches know what works best for their teams. Football, after all, is a game of matchups. This is one that I feel confident that Jaire could win more often than not.
Because Detroit favors the right side of the formation in the passing game, I would like to see Pettine call a lot of “cloud” coverages. Cloud coverage is simple: the strongside corner plays the flats with a 3 deep rotation in the secondary. Here’s a simple diagram to show you what cover 3 cloud would look like:
Jaire playing as the cloud corner could really shut down the release of the number one receiver and quick rotation in the secondary could confuse Stafford. It would be a good look to go to that we haven’t seen a ton of this season. This defense is good enough where I think they could adjust and play this look well.
The Lions have a very multiple defense. Patricia isn’t really a 3-4 or 4-3 kind of coach. He integrates concepts from both philosophies that make it so unpredictable for an offense. That’s the hardest thing about watching this defense on tape. They do so many different things up front and are always jumping in and out of different looks. The offense will really have to communicate in order to know who has who in the run game.
The Lions like to mirror their 5 man fronts with 4 man fronts. They run a lot of things similar to what Mike Pettine likes to do. Patricia likes to have a player shaded on the guard and the center. This might make LaFleur want to hammer the edge game again this week, as Aaron Jones made a living on the edge against the Cowboys. As I mentioned on The Pack Strike Back Podcast earlier this week (which you can listen to here at Pack To The Future), LaFleur wants to make the outside zone a staple in his offense. Aaron Jones is good enough to see the cutback run and hit it, which the outside zone sets up well.
The Lions are committed to running single high coverages in the secondary. This usually limits a defense to either cover 3 (zone) or cover 1 (man). Take a look at Mahomes pass chart against the Lions in week 4. Mahomes hit a lot of his throws towards the boundaries, which is one of the most vulnerable spots in a cover 3 look. That’s the gamble that the Lions take. The strong safety or nickel has to be quick enough to get to the flats. Because the Lions seem to favor cover 3, I could see the Packers wanting to exploit the flats early in the game, bait Detroit into running cover 2 defense, and then burn the defense with vertical throws. It comes back to taking high percentage shots to establish the passing game. The offense doesn’t have to take big shots early. I think the biggest thing for them is being patient and letting things develop throughout the game.
Players To Watch
The Lions have some key playmakers. The Packers must find a way to limit these players role throughout the game:
- Kerryon Johnson
- Justin Coleman
- Matthew Stafford
- Frank Ragnow
Keys To A Packers Victory
Here are a few things I think the Packers must do in order to come out on top in this game:
- Establish the run game.
- Tackle well and get players to the football.
- Limit the big plays.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers.
- Play 4 solid quarters of football.
This should be a fun matchup. It’s always fun to watch primetime football in Green Bay. The Packers have a good chance to go 5-1 but they must do the little things well in order to win this game.
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