Assessing the Opponent is a weekly series where we take a look the schemes, tendencies and matchups regarding the Green Bay Packers upcoming opponent.
We’ve got one of the NFL’s weakest teams on paper coming to Lambeau for some primetime action this week but the presence of Dan Campbell in Detroit can assure you that they will not go quietly. All data comes by way of the great folks at Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Focus.
Part 1: Detroit Lions Offense
In Goff we trust
The Lions are a sneaky candidate to be one of the league’s most pass heavy teams in 2021.
To this point in his career, QB Jared Goff has played in McVay’s run first Rams offense. In his Lions debut, Goff dropped back to pass an insane 63 times! The most of his career, the most in the NFL last week and one of the most you’ll ever see in an NFL game.
The Lions figure to be trailing a lot of times this season, justifying their pass heavy nature. But even at that they slightly exceeded expectations on early-down pass rate.
Success after the catch
When I say the faith is in Goff, I don’t quite mean he’s going out there, dropping back and slinging the ball downfield as much as possible like Pat Mahomes or Russell Wilson.
Goff’s average depth of target has picked up right where it left off last season… 27th in the league. The Lions passing offense instead finds success is through yards after the catch.
The Lions led the league in YAC in Week 1. This is a little bit skewed due to the high volume of throws, but of their 314 passing yards, 191 of them were amassed with the ball in somebody’s hands.
Jared Goff is going to utilize the short passing game, with D’Andre Swift and TJ Hockenson taking the brunt of the offensive workload.
Hockenson and Swift amassed 22 combined targets in week one (40% of the overall target share), and you should expect that trend to continue for the duration of the season.
As for manufactured touches, the Lions dialled up three RB screens last week — one of which popped for a 43-yard touchdown from the ever elusive Swift.
Packers combatting Hockenson
Hockenson lined up in the slot a lot more last week than he typically did in his first two seasons. 39% of his snaps in 2020 came in the slot — that number was 64% last week against the 49ers.
The Packers key defenders against tight ends last year were Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, but specifically Amos. He did a good job preventing Jared Goff from utilizing his tight ends when the Rams came to Lambeau in last year’s playoffs.
On 34 total routes, his TE duo of Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee had just two catches for 5 yards between them. They were completely eliminated from the game plan.
However in actuality, it’s a team effort to stop Hockenson. Evidence for this can be seen in the Packers and Lions last meeting, whereby Hockenson amassed nine targets and every single one of them against a different defender in coverage!
On the whole last season, the Packers allowed the 6th fewest yards and completions to tight ends in the NFL last season. They also had the 4th best EPA/play on all plays where tight ends were targeted in 2020.
Lions WR vs Packers CB Matchups
- Kalif Raymond vs Jaire Alexander
- Trinity Benson / Quintez Cephus vs Kevin King
- Amon-Ra St. Brown vs Chandon Sullivan
This is about as ugly as an NFL WR core has ever been. Tyrell Williams was the best of a bad situation in Detroit but now that he’s entered concussion protocol, the Lions have been left with a perennial WR3 in Raymond going against Jaire Alexander.
Some Packers/Wisconsin connections here too with former Badger Quintez Cephus and the younger brother of *former* Packers WR EQ St. Brown — Amon-Ra — rounding out the league’s worst receiving corps.
Jamaal Williams is tailor-made
I’m delighted that Jamaal Williams has been able to go somewhere he can thrive as the physical downhill runner that he is. Ben Fennell describes it well here so I won’t bore you by rephrasing his words:
Jamaal Williams is a great RB to run trap because he's a downhill back that just wants to hit it – very little vision or creativity…
Great way to get those 2nd level defenders blocked! pic.twitter.com/KJQgRbQsvZ
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 15, 2021
Williams is better suited to this running scheme than D’Andre Swift is. I’d expect the consistent carry share to continue all season, while Swift will have firm control of the pass catching duties.
Lions O-Line looked good last week
LT Taylor Decker was placed on IR in the lead up to last weeks game due to a finger injury that required surgery. That meant rookie 7th overall draft pick Penei Sewell was able to return to his natural position on the left site after being destroyed throughout preseason in the unfamiliar right tackle role.
Sewell held up really well in his debut against stiff competition in the form of Nick Bosa. Left guard Jonah Jackson’s impressive run blocking made up for a measly performance in protection, allowing nine total pressures and earning a pass blocking grade in the 20’s.
Center Frank Ragnow remains the strongest link of the unit. He’s phenomenal in the run game which was reflected by his league leading run blocking grade of 87.0 in Week 1.
In his last meeting with the Packers, Kenny Clark racked up four pressures and fractured Ragnow’s throat in the process, who played on like an absolute warrior. NFL players are insane.
The Packers need to get more production out of their interior defensive line this week after getting walked over against New Orleans.
Part 2: Detroit Lions Defense
Rookies vs Rookies up front
Josh Myers and Royce Newman held up as you would expect in their debut, but that’s not to say they were dominant. They were fine.
The same could be said for Lions rookie DT Alim McNeill. He played 27 snaps on the interior and forced 3 run stops on Shanahan’s 49ers.
Alim McNeill is going to be a problem for a lot of centers in his career pic.twitter.com/y15lvHBmWs
— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) September 16, 2021
Along with McNeill is fellow rookie DT Levi Onwuzirike, who missed week 1 with a hip injury but is set to make his professional debut on Monday night. This’ll be a fun matchup of young players with tons of potential.
Underrated presence off the edge
Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers won’t generate the hype that Khalil Mack or TJ Watt will in the NFL’s mainstream, but they form the crux of a pass rush slept on by most.
Okwara’s 4 pressures on 21 pass rushing snaps last week is a great start for him on his new contract. Meanwhile Flowers’ 89.9 PFF grade was the 6th best of any edge rusher last week.
Flowers isn’t quite what he was in New England in 2018, but the 28 year old consistently brings a high floor of play each and every game.
Green Bay have kept the two at bay in the past. Okwara’s three lowest graded games of the last two seasons all game against the Packers. Granted they had David Bakhtiari for those games, but Elgton Jenkins removed what little doubt remained about starting him at LT last week.
Linebackers struggled against Shanahan
Kyle Shanahan is a linebacker’s boogeyman, so I’m not going to be too harsh on Detroit here. That being said, MLB Jamie Collins was completely exposed by the 49ers running game as somebody called Elijah Mitchell pranced his way all over the Detroit Lions.
If you watch Jamie Collins vs the 49ers run/play action – you gotta be licking your chops if you are Matt LaFleur… That was horrendous LB play. #DETvsGB MNF
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 15, 2021
To Collins’ credit, he took his opportunities to make plays when they were presented to him. But the constant threat of play action and read option had him in a bind all game long.
Matt LaFleur thrives in this area. He’s constantly using the threat of jet sweeps, RPOs and even some motion out of split back formation which in particular crushed the Rams in the divisional round.
Lions CB vs Packers WR Matchups
- Davante Adams vs Amani Oruwariye
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs Ifeatu Melifonwu
- Allen Lazard vs AJ Parker
Jeffrey Okudah tearing his Achilles is undoubtedly a loss for Detroit, but he wasn’t a significant upgrade over these guys right now anyway.
Enter Ifeatu Melifonwu. The Lions curiously had the lanky rookie playing snaps in at Dime LB against the 49ers before Trent Williams threw him out of the club.
Hopefully Melifonwu is back out at his natural role of outside CB this week as I’ve projected, because he versus MVS is a really intriguing matchup of two similar body types.
With Okudah out, we should be getting a really fun matchup in MVS vs Ifeatu Melifonwu on Monday night.
Melifonwu is 6-4 and ran a 4.40
MVS is also 6-4 and ran a 4.37
— Daire Carragher (@DaireCarragher) September 16, 2021
Will the Lions adjust their Coverage Shell?
The ‘blueprint’ for neutralizing Aaron Rodgers was a hot topic over the past week. The Saints gameplan of not blitzing, and sitting back in two high coverage caused fits for the Packers who abandoned the run far too early.
The Lions led the NFL in total cover 3 usage in Week 1. The numbers say that Rodgers has been elite against 3-deep coverages over the last year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Lions implement any of the Saints ideas this week, or if they stick with what they’re used to.
This is a rough looking secondary
We already mentioned the WR/CB mismatches but on the whole this is a really poor looking secondary in Detroit. No matter how sound their scheme is, they’re simply so devoid of talent that it’s going to cause problems.
25-year-old FS Will Harris is starting for the first time in Detroit this year. His 38.3 PFF grade in week 1 was the worst of any starting safety. He missed two tackles and allowed Deebo Samuel three catches for 29 yards. Tracy Walker provides a sprinkling of consistently at strong safety.