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Lions film breakdown: Examining pass rush, secondary issues vs. the Packers

Breaking down the All-22 Film of the Lions’ defense in their Week 12 loss to the Packers.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images

The relationship between a pass rush and coverage is a delicate one. With both working in unison, a team’s defense can thrive. When one is really strong, the other’s deficiencies can be eliminated, or, at the very least, masked.

However, when both are performing at sub-par levels, NFL offenses will almost always make you pay. And over the last three weeks for the Detroit Lions, we have seen just that. A pass rush that is lacking in juice and timing, and a secondary that is having issues with communication and staying in-phase.

Despite the bumps in the road over the last three games, the Lions managed to win two of three, with the loss coming in Week 12 to the Green Bay Packers. Packers quarterback Jordan Love got into a rhythm early, and the Lions defense did little to bump him out of it.

Let’s get into the All-22 Film and see how Love and the Green Bay offense were able to find success after such a rough showing in their Week 4 loss to the Lions earlier in the 2023 season.

First-and-10 on the Green Bay 25. 15:00 left in the first quarter

The Packers decided to try the Lions right out of the gate, dialing up a shot-play on the first play of the game. Out of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end), Green Bay has receivers Christian Watson and Jayden Reed stacked towards the top of your screen.

Reed runs an in-breaking route while Watson uses his elite top-end speed and runs a go route. The Lions are what looks like a cover-three look defensively, meaning it is cornerback Cam Sutton’s job to travel with Watson as he runs his route.

Circled in the middle of the field you will find Lions’ safety Tracy Walker. Responsible for one-third of the deep portion of the field, Walker’s eyes seem to be temporarily occupied by Reed running in front of him, before noticing Watson and turning to run with the receiver.

At this point, Walker is already out of position and subsequently has a difficult time covering the ground needed to make a play on the ball. And since the pass rush had zero effect, Love has all the time he needs to uncork a bomb to Watson, resulting in a 53-yard completion on the first play of the game.

Second-and-6 on the Green Bay 29. 7:53 left in the first quarter

Next up we have another chunk completion for the Packers, this time on their second offensive series of the afternoon. Once again working out of 11 personnel, Love sends tight end Tucker Kraft in motion towards the top of your screen, where you will also find Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson circled in red.

Playing man-coverage on the back end, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn elects to send four pass rushers. Unfortunately for Glenn, nobody gets home, allowing Love to operate from a clean pocket.

It certainly seems like Packers’ coach Matt Lafleur wasn’t going to allow Hutchinson to do what he did to Green Bay in Week 4 where he racked up 1.5 sacks and eight pressures. In Week 12, Hutchinson consistently had extra blockers rolled his way, or had an in-line tight end to his side.

On this rep alone, Hutchinson was chipped by the tight end, and had center Josh Myers and running back A.J. Dillon waiting for him after that.

Nobody else wins their one-on-ones along the defensive line and the result is Love having a nice throwing window right down the middle of the field.

Sutton actually does a decent job of staying in-phase with Heath, but if you make it easy for a talented thrower like Love, he can definitely make you pay—sticky coverage or not.

Second-and-5 on the Detroit 45. 7:40 left in the second quarter

As mentioned earlier, Green Bay devoted a lot of resources to ensuring that Hutchinson would not wreak havoc in their offensive backfield.

This time, the Packers have two tight ends lined up to Hutchinson’s side, and both stay in to block once the ball is snapped, forcing the defensive end to take a wider route to the quarterback.

And similar to the rest of the game for the Lions, nobody else along the defensive line was able to collapse, or even threaten the pocket. Time and time again, Love would hit the back of his drop back and be right on time with his pass-catchers. He didn’t hold onto the ball long, but still, allowing any quarterback to be this comfortable in the pocket is going to cause issues for a defense.

Another aspect of the pass rush that seems to still be causing problems for the Lions defense is their ability to flip the switch from defending the run to getting after the passer. The play-fake by Love to the back isn’t really sold all that well, but these fakes hold weight, and can compound a defensive line’s inability to rush the quarterback.

Watson runs a go out of the slot, which occupies Lions safety Kerby Joseph momentarily. On the outside, wide receiver Romeo Doubs runs a deep in, and Love delivers a strike. First-down, Packers.

First-and-15 on the Green Bay 42. 9:23 left in the 3rd quarter

Remember that relationship we were talking about earlier? Well, consider this an instance in which one person in the relationship is way out of pocket, and all they can do is ask their significant other for forgiveness.

Now in the second half, the Lions defense has actually somewhat found their way—especially when compared to their first half performance on Thanksgiving. Once again, Detroit only rushes four, and again—it burns them.

You won’t see much from the angle provided, but the back end of the Lions does a great job of sticking with Green Bay’s receivers, even when Love begins to scramble. Initially, the pass rush does an okay job of at least moving Love off of his spot. John Cominsky wins to the inside of right tackle Zach Tom, forcing Love to escape to his right.

Knowing he needs to keep containment, Cominsky runs almost laterally with Love, before turning back upfield to rush Love once the quarterback resets his feet. Defensive tackle Benito Jones arrives, but is also late to the party.

Love flicks his wrist and lands a dart of a throw all the way across the field to Heath. It wasn’t a big play or even a first down, but these instances can begin to weigh on a secondary as the game goes on.

Asking even the best secondary to cover for extended periods is a tough ask. Asking the Lions’ shorthanded secondary? A recipe for disaster.

Second-and-17 on the Detroit 30. 4:18 left in the first quarter

Later on in the third quarter, the Lions defense has the Packers working behind the sticks, just outside of the red zone.

Green Bay is in 12 personnel (two tight ends, one running back), with Love working out of the shotgun. The Lions create a bit of pressure with four pass rushers thanks to defensive tackle Alim McNeill’s bull rush on the interior, and Hutchinson’s quick win on the edge against Tom.

With that said, the relationship goes both ways, and on this occasion, it was the Lions’ coverage that ended up letting them down. It looks as though the Lions are in man-coverage on this snap, with Tracy Walker as the single deep safety, and Kerby Joseph as the robber.

I am not sure if cornerback Jerry Jacobs is being taught to give up an inside release here, but Jacobs appears to try and re-route Doubs at the line of scrimmage. Doubs quickly wins inside, and as you can see in the image above, Jacobs is in catch-up mode almost instantly.

Doubs does a good job of stacking Jacobs behind him, and runs a precise in-breaker, allowing for yet another crystal-clear throwing lane down the middle of the field for Love.

At the end of the day, the Lions played three games in 11 days, so to an extent—it kind of makes sense that they appeared to be flat at the end of that stretch. With that said, things still need to improve, especially if the Lions have hopes of winning multiple games in the playoffs.

Sure, the defense could get guys back later in the season that would help. Players like defensive back Ceedy Duce, edge rusher James Houston, and newly-signed veteran Bruce Irvin all could be back on the field in the next several weeks.

Personnel aside, part of me believes that some of the changes defensively need to come from the top. I get it. Aaron Glenn and the rest of his staff really place a big emphasis on stopping the run. Making a team one-dimensional can certainly help get to those obvious passing downs that pass rushers salivate over. But the year is 2023, and getting pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback on all three downs is also essential to winning.

Whether it is loosening up on their “contain” approach to rushing the quarterback, or sending extra blitzers from the linebackers or nickel position, something needs to give in order to help this secondary.

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