The Green Bay Packers are an interesting team this year. When they're on, like against the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, they can look impossible to stop. But when they're off, even for a little bit, they can be brought back to earth. The Seattle Seahawks did it at the start of the year, and the Detroit Lions continued the trend early in the season before Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers caught fire and started dominating teams on a weekly basis.
In the four weeks following their last matchup with Detroit, the Packers outscored opponents 145-68. That doesn't even include the early November wins against the Bears (55-14) and Eagles (53-20). For the season, the Packers' point differential of +128 is second only to the New England Patriots (+163).
It wasn't until the Packers faced off against the Buffalo Bills earlier this month that people started wondering if teams had figured out how to stop the potent Green Bay offense -- much like early on in the season.
So what were Seattle, Detroit and Buffalo able to do to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense? While each had a slightly different way of getting there, the answer lies in making the Packers one-dimensional on offense and getting a pass rush on Rodgers with just the defensive line.
Stop the run
The first goal in dismantling the Packers' offense is stopping the run. The Lions can't allow the Packers to consistently get to third-and-short and must force them into longer down and distances. The good news for the Lions is that they match up well with the Packers. While the Packers have the fifth-rated rush offense according to Football Outsiders, the Lions have the No. 1-rated rush defense.
In their first meeting this year, the Lions limited Eddie Lacy to just 36 yards on 11 carries, including one run for 17 yards. The Lions also kept him out of the end zone and forced a turnover. And in their last three meetings with Green Bay, they've held Eddie Lacy to an average of 50 yards on 15 rush attempts for 3.33 yards per carry. They'll need to continue to show up on Sunday.
The Lions give the Packers fits because they are one of the few teams that can stop the run while playing two safeties deep in coverage.
Rush with four and play solid coverage
Aaron Rodgers is the epitome of an elite quarterback. He's cool, calm and collected and knows how to make the right decisions on the field. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Rodgers has completed over 60 percent of his passes for 971 yards with 13 touchdowns, an interception and a passer rating of 127.0 this season against the blitz. Teams have tried to blitz Rodgers on 115 dropbacks (20 percent) this season and only sacked him five times. The key to beating Rodgers is to create pressure without blitzing.
In Week 3, the Lions only blitzed Rodgers twice out of 29 dropbacks, and while they didn't get a ton of pressure -- only five pressures, according to PFF -- they were able to make Rodgers uncomfortable in the pocket. The Lions simply can't make anything easy for Rodgers on Sunday.
Here's how the Lions lined up versus Rodgers and the Packers with Green Bay in a spread formation. This is a third-and-five play in the third quarter with the Lions only up by five points.
In this formation, both safeties will play from a deep-half. This lets the safeties keep everything in front of them. They can drive on an underneath route and also stay on top of any deep route.
Here, the Lions play man coverage across the board underneath, but the keys to this formation are the deep safeties. That safety help over the top allows the Lions to play tight coverage underneath and be more aggressive, knowing they aren't on an island.
The other key to all of this is getting the quarterback off of his spot. The Lions force Rodgers to roll out to his right, essentially eliminating half of the field. Rodgers has nowhere to go with the ball and is forced to try and squeeze a tight throw to Randall Cobb, but it falls incomplete.
If the Lions are serious about being contenders this year, they'll have the chance to prove it on Sunday. They finally have a chance to show they are, in fact, not the "Same Old Lions," and they also have the game plan to do it.