Detroit Lions

Looking Ahead: the Detroit Lions

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This week’s matchup features two teams looking to string some wins together and make a push into the postseason- the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.

Believe it or not, the Detroit Lions are just one game behind the 7th seed Vikings. The Lions are coming off a divisional win against the Bears but this game felt more like a going-away party for the Bears than a welcome party for the Lions. It took a late sack-fumble on Mitch Trubisky, deep into Bears territory, for the Lions to have a shot. They capitalized on that field position and left Soldier Field victorious. It was ugly but it counts as a win all the same.

The Lions may be 1-0 without former Head Coach Matt Patricia and former General Manager Bob Quinn, but they are by no means a better team. This is still one of the worst defenses in the league and just an average offense.

 

Gameplan

Defense

This Lions’ defense just allowed the Bears to put up 30 points, which ties the Bears’ highest total on the year. The unit is giving up an average of 395.6 yards per game (5th worst in the NFL) and 29.8 points per game (2nd worst).

In their lone game without Patricia, the Detroit Lions and Defensive Coordinator Cory Undlin were still running a base 4-3 with plenty of 4-2 nickel, which is how they’ve operated for most of the season. However, Undlin mixed in some zone coverage against the Bears, straying from the man-heavy scheme we grew accustomed to under Patricia. We should expect to see more zone, going forward.

Like Patricia, Undlin is still blitzing linebackers like he has no pass-rushers, probably because he doesn’t have any pass-rushers. Reggie Ragland, Christian Jones, and Jahlani Tavai blitz often. It looks like Undlin wants to apply some of that classic Pete Carrol Cover-3

We often see five players on the line of scrimmage, with the weak-side edge defender in a two-point stance. Jayron Kearse is the box-safety/nickel Will-backer and the cornerbacks often bail into cover-3. There’s still some of that classic Patricia 4-3, but there’s much less of it now.

There are even some reps where Undlin puts all seven on the LOS – he did it back to back on the Bears’ first possession and it ended that drive. The moral of the story is… don’t expect to see that boring Patricia defense. It doesn’t really matter what Undlin does, though, with that personnel.

The Detroit Lions can’t find a pass rush and the defensive backfield still can’t cover. There are some players that can defend the run but it takes a team to stop the run and the Lions haven’t been able to do that. This is a vulnerable defense, capable of allowing record-breaking performances on Sunday – though I said that the last time these two teams met.

Offense

Darrell Bevell is getting his first shot at a head coaching opportunity, albeit in an interim situation. Still, it’s the opportunity Bevell’s been waiting for. He’s bounced around the league a bit but is mostly known for his time as offensive coordinator of the Seahawks. However, real Packer fans remember Bevell’s time in Green Bay, as Brett Favre’s QB Coach.

This is Bevell’s second year with the Detroit Lions and he brought his West Coast offense with him. Quarterback, Matthew Stafford is an adaptive dude that’s seen under-center and shotgun-heavy offenses. He’s seen Spread and pro-style offenses. He’s worked in a lot of offenses but he was on pace for arguably his best season last year, his first with this Bevell offense, before a back injury cut it short.

This season, the offense has been average. The Lions are 19th in yards per game (356.4) and in points per game (23.8). Bevell’s offenses are typically predicated on balance but they aren’t getting enough production on the ground right now.

The stable of running backs, Adrian Peterson, D’Andre Swift, and Kerryon Johnson, have not been able to consistently tote the rock, even behind an offensive line that’s currently grading as the 10th best run-blocking unit per Pro Football Focus. Swift has been the Lions’ most productive back but he’s been inactive lately.

As a former quarterback, Bevell is capable of manufacturing a productive passing game, independent of the ground-game, however, his offenses have always been at their best when both are operating efficiently. Bevell will have to scheme some more production on the ground for this offense to be successful.

 

Three Factors for the Detroit Lions

Health Along the Defensive Line

The Detroit Lions have been without three of their four starters on the defensive line. Trey Flowers and Danny Shelton are both on IR. Flowers is set to return soon but likely won’t be ready in time to face the Packers. Shelton, meanwhile, is not likely to return this year. Da’Shawn Hand is recovering from a groin injury and may suit-up this weekend.

Depth players Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant have missed significant time as well. Okwara is practicing again but remains on IR. Bryant was listed as doubtful prior to this weekend before becoming a late scratch – he could return this week. Everson Griffen and Romeo Okwara have seen most of the reps at edge rusher, with linebackers Jahlani Tavai and Christian Jones occasionally manning the edge, as well.

Nick Williams remains a starter at defensive tackle, while John Penisini, Kevin Strong Jr, and Frank Herron have been thrust into more significant roles. This is not the personnel the Lions were hoping to roll onto the field this year. The defense as a whole has struggled because of these injuries. We’ll monitor the injury reports leading up to the game.

Up and Down Offensive Line Play

Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow are both top-ten performers at their positions – left tackle and center, respectively. Decker has allowed 2 sacks on the year, while Ragnow hasn’t allowed any. And yet, Stafford has been sacked 33 times this year. He deserves some of the blame for his inability to avoid pressure but he’s been pressured 131 times this season.

The other remaining starters on the offensive line (Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jonah Jackson, and Tyrell Crosby) haven’t been efficient pass blockers. The Detroit Lions need more out of those three.

Full Strength at the Skilled Positions?

WR1 Kenny Golladay missed the first two games of the year and the last five due to a lingering hip issue. He hasn’t been practicing but there’s reason to believe that he returns this week. The Detroit Lions just released fellow receiver Marvin Hall, opening an active slot for Golladay.

D’Andre Swift is likely to return this week as well. He was listed as questionable leading into the game against the Bears before eventually dropping to doubtful, then out. He wasn’t able to recover in time from his non-COVID related illness. He should be healthy this week and recovered from the concussion that kept him out the two weeks before.

If Matthew Stafford gets all his weapons back again, this offense could be deadly.

 

This is the second matchup between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. While the first game was a victory for the Packers, it didn’t start out pretty. The Lions held a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter before Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense went on an absolute tear.

We’re looking for the Packers to play four quarters of solid football in this weekend, something they haven’t done often this year. The Packers are early 7.5-point favorites which is fair. I expect this to be a high scoring game and another Packer victory

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