Behind Enemy Lines: A must win game for the Packers vs. Detroit

Jan 9, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams (30) stiff arms Green Bay Packers linebacker Jonathan Garvin (53) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams (30) stiff arms Green Bay Packers linebacker Jonathan Garvin (53) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

It feels a little early in the year to be calling this a must-win game for the Green Bay Packers–but it’s a must-win game.

At 3-5 and with their playoff hopes barely hanging on, the Packers have to come away with a win over the 1-6 Lions, who have the league’s worst defense.

In order to get some insight into this 2022 Lions team, Zach Payne of SideLion Report was kind enough to answer five of my questions. I also provide some of my own thoughts along the way.

What has been the strength of the Lions this season?

Zach: Detroit’s strength, in general, is the offensive side of the ball, which runs through the offensive line. Over the past several years, the Lions have invested a lot into the trenches, and this year it’s begun to pay dividends. Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell have become one of the better tackle duos in the league, Frank Ragnow is a top 3-5 center, and left guard Jonah Jackson is coming off a Pro Bowl season a year ago. A vast majority of the Lions’ offensive success is due to the offensive line playing at an elite level. It’s also very important that they’ve been playing so well because Jared Goff is notoriously poor at playing whilst under pressure.

Thoughts: The Lions’ run game has been very effective this season, averaging 5.2 yards per rush. Green Bay’s run defense, meanwhile, has been very porous. With the Detroit defense really struggling, we could see the Lions’ offense really lean into the run game as they try to control the time of possession. In pass protection, the Lions have given up the 11th fewest pressures this season, but getting after the quarterback is where the Packers excel–although they haven’t been great at converting those pressure opportunities into sacks. If they can get to Jared Goff, there will likely be some turnover chances for the secondary.

It will be interesting to see what Joe Barry prioritizes trying to slow down because the Lions have been effective in the run game, but they also rank ninth in downfield passes under Goff and have the most explosive plays in the NFL this season. My guess is that, as he always does, Barry will try to limit the big passing play, leaving the run defense susceptible.

On the flip side, what is the Lions’ weakness?

Zach: The defense, in general, is a mess. However, the secondary has been slightly more of a disaster so far this season. The situation reached a breaking point last week against the Dolphins, as defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant was fired in the wake of another terrible game from the secondary. Jeff Okudah has looked competent and flashed some of the potential he has as a young player. Rookie safety Kerby Joseph has also shown some promise as a rangy safety that can cause turnovers.

However, everything aside from those two has not been anything aside from disastrous. Amani Oruwariye has played the worst football of his career so far, grading out as one of the worst corners in the league, according to PFF. Mike Hughes and A.J. Parker have both failed tremendously in the nickel corner role. And the other safety spot opposite Joseph has not been stable either. DeShon Elliott has been inconsistent and injured, Tracy Walker was lost for the season due to a torn Achilles, and JuJu Hughes, quite frankly, is not someone who should be getting significant snaps on an NFL defense.

Thoughts: The Packers’ passing game has obviously struggled this season, from dealing with inconsistent offensive line play to dropped passes and receivers running the wrong routes, among other things. However, if there was ever a game for Green Bay to turn things around, this is it. Detroit is allowing the most points per game by a wide margin, and the secondary is allowing the highest completion percentage, the most passing yards per attempt, and they rank 27th in total passing yards per game.

Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure can hopefully build off of strong performances in Buffalo, while it looks like Allen Lazard and Christian Watson are trending in the right direction towards being available.

If the Lions are going to beat the Packers, what does that path to victory look like from Detroit’s perspective?

Seeing as the Lions’ defense is such a travesty, the Lions need to be able to sustain long drives offensively. That means Detroit is going to have to lean on the ground game. D’Andre Swift is still battling injury, so former-Packer Jamaal Williams will likely see the majority of the work on Sunday. Detroit is going to have to do whatever they can to keep the offense on the field.

Defensively, the Lions will need to rely on a bend-don’t-break style. The Packers’ offense is weird in the sense that the longer their drives are, the further behind the average scoring rate they fall. Detroit likely won’t be able to stop Aaron Jones, which they haven’t been able to do for years now. That being said, if they can at least limit the explosive plays, they should be able to keep the game close. If it’s a close game in the fourth quarter, Detroit might be able to steal a win.

Thoughts: With Detroit’s ability to run the ball and Green Bay’s issues with stopping it, the Lions’ controlling the time of possession and potentially the game is in play. It’s going to be vital that the Packers’ defense finds success on early downs and puts Jared Goff and the Lions’ offense in obvious passing situations so the Green Bay pass rush can pin its ears back. With that said, while the run game will be important, as already mentioned, the Lions do like to push the ball downfield and have three receivers who rank 31st or better this season in yards per catch, along with Amon-Ra St. Brown being one of the best in picking up YAC.

As far as the Lions’ defense goes, the front seven will have to control the line of scrimmage, pressuring Rodgers, which will provide needed help to the Detroit secondary, but also limiting the run game–two things that the Lions haven’t been very good at this season, not to mention that very few have been able to limit Aaron Jones. While the Packers haven’t played well this season, they are the more talented team, and hopefully, the game plays out that way.

Where I do really get worried about this game, however, is with the intensity of both teams. Under head coach Dan Campbell, we know that the Lions are going to play hard for four quarters. I can’t confidently say the same thing about the Packers. In fact, earlier in the week, Rodgers said the Buffalo game was the first time this season that they had real energy beforehand, which is incredibly concerning.

Who is one player on offense and one on defense that Packer fans may not be as familiar with but could have an impact on Sunday’s game?

Zach: Offensively, rookie tight end James Mitchell. After tearing his ACL in September of his draft year, Mitchell missed all of minicamp and OTAs. Once training camp did start, he was behind the eight ball as he was still rehabbing his knee. He began the year as TE4 on the Lions’ depth chart, but his upside made him worth keeping around. Now, as we approach Week 9, Mitchell might be the starter. Shane Zylstra was waived earlier in the season, T.J. Hockenson was traded to the Vikings on Tuesday, and Brock Wright is in concussion protocol. Quite the opportunity for Mitchell, who has one career catch to his name.

Defensively, defensive end Josh Paschal. Another rookie, the Lions selected Paschal 46th overall to pair with Aidan Hutchinson as the two pillars of the future to bookend their defensive line. Paschal has only appeared in two games, as he started the season on the PUP list. However, in those two games, he has already proven to be a major piece of the defensive front. He’s an explosive and powerful athlete that can set the edge very well. The contrast to Paschal being in the lineup as opposed to Michael Brockers is jarring. The pass rush is lacking and something that likely won’t come into play on Sunday. The run defense, however, is something that could provide an underrated boost to the Lions.

Thoughts: Mitchell has had minimal opportunities this season as a pass catcher, but he could be in store for more snaps, as Zach points out, given the Lions’ tight end situation. The tight ends, in general, will be worth watching as it looks like the Packers could be without De’Vondre Campbell at linebacker. Paschal, meanwhile, has played in only two games and totaled three pressures during that span, according to PFF ($$). If the Lions can’t pressure Rodgers and he has time in the pocket, he should be able to pick apart this struggling secondary.

What is your prediction, and how do you see things playing out?

Zach: Detroit has been marred by inconsistency offensively and consistently poor defensive play. Detroit should be able to put up a respectable amount of points, but they will come in bunches. Green Bay, on the other hand, will likely be able to do whatever they want to on the offensive side of the ball. The only thing that should reasonably stand in the Packers’ way is themselves. Divisional games are usually close, and a single score will likely decide this game, but it’s hard to imagine the Lions’ defense could get a stop when they need it the most. I predict the Packers to win and a lot of the bad vibes surrounding the team to be pushed to the side for a week while the Lions continue to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Thoughts: It’s hard to pick the Packers right now, given their play over the last month, but that’s what I’m going to do for many of the reasons I’ve already mentioned. The defense will give up some big plays, but they’ll do enough, while hopefully, we see the Green Bay offense have a get-right game against a defense on a historically bad pace. If the Packers can’t find success this week, then this season is officially a lost cause.

Packers 27 – Lions 20