Because the Lions and Packers have already played this season, this week’s Honolulu Blueprint will look a bit different. Instead of starting from scratch, we will revisit the keys to victory from Week 4, look at what worked, what didn’t, and what the Lions need to alter their approach in Week 12.
The Lions opened the week as big favorites over the Packers and you can check out the updated odds, as well as player prop odds, for this game courtesy of the folks over at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Packers’ base schemes
A recap of the Packers offense:
On offense, the Packers base scheme is influenced by head coach Matt LaFleur and his time as an assistant coach under Sean McVay (Rams) and Mike Shanahan (Washington). You can see McVay’s influence in that passing game, as they use a lot of West Coast concepts that stem from play-action (which you can also see in the Lions scheme). The ground game is influenced by Shanahan’s outside zone scheme and relies on athletic offensive linemen and backs that can decisively get downhill in a hurry.
A recap of the Packers’ base defense:
Packers’ defensive coordinator Joe Barry—who was the Lions DC in 2007-08—is entering his third season with Green Bay. Barry’s defense scheme is based on 34 concepts, and he alternates between two and three-man fronts (depending on if they are in nickel situations), with two stand-up outside pass rushing linebackers, two off-the-ball linebackers, with a secondary that spends most of its time in man-coverage with single-high looks from the safeties.
Here’s one of their most common looks, a 2-4-5 subpackage set from Week 4:
With this being the second time the Lions face the Packers this season, coaches have a base of information to work off of instead of starting from scratch. From a schematic standpoint, the Packers haven’t changed much about their team. But from an efficiency standpoint, there are several areas that they have improved, while other weaknesses remain, and they have a lengthy injury list.
Those alterations in the Packers’ performance over the last two months will be the focus for the Lions this week and will be the catalyst for any adaptations they make in their approach to this game.
So, with that in mind, let’s re-examine the five keys to victory from Week 4, and take a look at what adjustments the Lions might make.
Key 1: Create pressure without the blitz
Did it work? Yes, sir.
The Lions put on a master’s class in getting pressure with blitzing the first time these two teams met. During the first half, the Lions had four sacks, six tackles for loss, and held the Packers to just seven yards passing and 13 net passing yards.
Against non-mobile quarterbacks, the Lions front has fired off the ball and attacked quarterbacks all season. With the Packers dealing with issues getting traditional production out of their running backs, as well as injuries throughout the position, look for the Lions to use less contain and more attack in this game.
Key 2: Be prepared for the deep shot
Did it work? Yes.
Through three-quarters of play, the Lions had only given up one explosive play: a 24-yard pass to Christian Watson. Then on the final play of the quarter (arguably a play that shouldn't have existed after the play clock expired), Jaylen Reed caught a 44-yard bomb over Will Harris, who was filling in due to injury. Samori Toure caught a 35-yard pass in the fourth quarter to put a wrap on the explosives.
Adjustments? Play from the top-down.
One of the noticeable improvements the Packers have made over the last two months is quarterback Jordan Love getting more comfortable in the pocket and making a variety of throws downfield.
“He’s connecting on some of these throws,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said this week. “I feel like he’s always been pretty poised, really. Just some of these connections—they haven’t been able to connect on some of these critical moments. I feel like he’s making those. He looks pretty composed. He’s certainly, he’s athletic enough, he’s got a big arm talent. [...] he’s executing.”
Love has always had the deep ball in his pocket, and his touch has gotten significantly better, but he has struggled with the short to intermediate passes. As a result, the Packers have used more misdirection—such as bootlegs, end-arounds, swing passes, screen passes, etc.—to help supplement his weaknesses.
The Lions’ secondary will not only need to have solid coverage down the field, but they also need to be conscious of the gadget plays to gain yardage. With Detroit’s secondary getting exposed over the last two games, this is yet another reason Detroit will need to get their pass rush in gear. A healthy pass rush can eliminate time in the pocket and make completing those deep shots harder.
“I think that’s the big thing for us is we’ve got to play this top-down,” Campbell explained. “We can’t give up any of these chunk plays because they are having some success with those.”
Key 3: Focus on Aaron Jones
Did it work? Yes, though he was not as healthy as anticipated.
Jones was returning from injury the last time these two teams faced off, and with the Lions jumping all over the Packers early, Green Bay was forced to abandon the run. In total, the Packers only ran for 27 yards during the game, with Jones accounting for 18 yards, A.J. Dillon went for 11 yards, and quarterback Jordan Love had -2 yards.
Adjustments? Take away the run game and make them one-dimensional.
Jones is reportedly week-to-week with a sprained MCL, has not practiced all week, and is not expected to play in this game. Dillion is also dealing with an injury (groin), though has gotten in some limited work and is anticipated to start. And they’ll need him because RB3 Emanuel Wilson has also not practiced all week due to a shoulder injury and may be unavailable as well.
Finding success on the ground is going to be difficult, especially against the Lions' No. 8 DVOA run defense, but that doesn’t mean they’ll give up on trying.
“I think, for the most part, they’re no different than anybody else,” Campbell said of the Packers. “They’ll have these principles with what they do in the run game and the play pass off of it, to boot off of it, and even if it keeps you honest, they’re going to want to do some of that.”
If the Lions can stop the run early, and Detroit’s offense can find some success, then the Lions can pressure the Packers into abandoning the run and becoming more predictable—like what happened when these two teams met in Week 4.
Key 4: Take what’s there, don’t force things on offense
Did it work? Yes.
The Lions never really forced things on offense and they were finding success on the ground and stuck with it most of the game. David Montgomery had 121 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Jahmyr Gibbs was just getting his feet wet and ran for 40, Kalif Raymond had a 40-yard carry, and even Goff got 10 yards on the ground.
Adjustments? Keep running it in the gaps.
The Packers have talent in their front-7 and they try to use their athleticism to gain advantages.
“They’ve got good personnel and they play good defense,” Campbell said. “They have all year and they have since (defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s) been there, so we have to be ready. They move a lot, they stunt a lot, there’s enough pressure in there. I mean, (EDGE Rashan) Gary’s playing well. (DL Kenny) Clark is always a force in there, (linebacker) Quay Walker, I mean these guys are—(EDGE) Preston (Smith)’s out doing a pretty job over there, so. It’s a challenge, like every week.”
Outside of Walker and Clark, the most notable thing is each of the other guys mentioned by Campbell plays on the outside. Walker’s off-the-ball running mate, De’Vondre Campbell, has a neck injury, has not practiced all week, and is in jeopardy of missing this game. That would be a big loss for Green Bay as he is their best run defender.
With speed on the outside of the Packers front, teams have been attacking the A and B gaps and finding a boatload of success. Green Bay simply lacks the strength and discipline to hold its gaps, and they are very vulnerable to runs up the middle. On the year, they give up an average of 134.7 rushing yards per game (28th in NFL), for 4.3 yards per carry (24th), and have the 20th run defense in DVOA.
Meanwhile, the Lions excel in a gap scheme, and routinely gash teams in the A and B gaps. On the season, they run for 136.6 yards per game (fifth best in NFL), averaging 4.6 per carry (fifth) and have the fourth best rushing offense in DVOA.
Look for the Lions to continue to lean on both Montgomery and Gibbs, as Detroit has a big opportunity to control the trenches.
Key 5: Set ‘em up with new wrinkles on old plays
Did it work? Yes, Amon-Ra St. Brown’s double move.
Update: hat tip to Twitter (X) user @Nemloen for reminding me of the Amon-Ra. St, Brown’s double move on Douglas, which we wrote about when discussing the offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s aggressive play calling.
Adjustments? Play ‘em if you got ‘em.
While the Packers run defense is potentially leaky, their secondary is almost equally as vulnerable due to injuries and in-season moves.
The Packers opened the season with Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas as their starting outside corners. Since then, Douglas was traded to Buffalo and Alexander has missed half the season with injuries. Alexander has not played in the last two weeks, and while he is listed as limited in walkthroughs, his return to the field is in doubt. Even if he is ready to play, his production could be impacted due to so much time off. To replace Douglas, the Packers have turned to seventh-round rookie Carrington Valentine, who has not yet settled in. When Alexander has missed time, Corey Ballentine—who had a cup of coffee in Detroit in 2021—has been forced into the lineup.
Double moves, stacking route runners, and set-up plays—where you show the defense one thing to expect, then do another—are easy ways to take advantage of inexperienced corners in the NFL.
In addition to Alexander, starting safety Rudy Ford and slot corner Keisean Nixon are also banged up and have been limited this week. Additionally, starting safety Darnell Savage is currently on injured reserve, and while he has begun his evaluation window, the Packers have only run walkthroughs this week, making it difficult to see if he is ready to return.
Bottom line, inexperience and injuries have made the Packers secondary vulnerable and it could be just the medicine Jared Goff needs to get back on his game.