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LaFleur on Packers' defense: 'We've got to get all the guys playing as one'

Head coach also provides injury updates heading into playoff bye week

Packers defensive unit
Packers defensive unit

GREEN BAY – The good news is Head Coach Matt LaFleur believes the defensive letdowns in the Week 18 loss to the Lions are eminently fixable.

The bad news is they reflected some of the same mistakes the defense has made in the past when it's gotten into a rut.

"We just had guys going outside their job responsibilities at many different times throughout the course of the game and doing things that ultimately get you beat," LaFleur said Monday, a day after the Packers wrapped up the regular season with a 37-30 loss at Detroit. "That's exactly what happened. We've got to get all the guys playing as one, owning their responsibility."

The more frustrating breakdowns occurred on Detroit's two trick plays, a double-reverse pass and flea-flicker, that went for 75- and 36-yard touchdowns. LaFleur said unscouted looks are always difficult, but the defense has rules for reading keys and executing assignments, and those were abandoned on those plays.

There was also a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line on which Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown relatively easily caught a TD pass when he was supposed to be double-covered.

Against mostly defensive reserves, St. Brown later had a key 28-yard gain on a shallow crossing route in the fourth quarter as part of his eight-catch, 109-yard day. But the fourth-and-goal was a chance in the middle of the second quarter, with the starting unit still in the game, to keep points off the board.

"That's what I'm talking about in terms of guys doing their responsibility," LaFleur said. "We always want to give our guys tools to play certain things, and unfortunately if you use the tools in the wrong situation, it looks like what it looked like on that fourth down. That was a critical play in the game, obviously, that we did not handle the right way."

The Packers did rest several of their front-line defenders as the game wore on with the playoffs around the corner. But in the end, the Lions racked up 404 yards and scored the most points of any opponent against Green Bay since Week 1.

The film was reviewed Monday, as usual, and LaFleur sat with the defensive unit to go over it and generate conversations from various angles as the Packers prep for the postseason.

"I'm always trying to look at it from a different lens," LaFleur said. "From maybe if we were game-planning against them, some things potentially that I see, where the holes are. How we might want to attack certain coverages, or whatever it might be.

"You always want to try to challenge to make sure we're thinking through everything, and that we're evolving and maybe not be so predictable for whoever we're going against; but that's not just defensively, that's offensively, too, and on special teams. There was really good dialogue in there."

When the players return from their time off Wednesday, they'll begin a series of practices that'll focus on themselves, not knowing who their divisional-round playoff opponent will be.

Without another game looming immediately on the horizon, it's the perfect time to drill down on what went wrong and why the errors occurred.

"I'd rather have them come up in that game than in a future game," LaFleur said. "Obviously we've got a lot of work in front of us, and we're going to have to put the time and effort in in order to get some of these things corrected."

Injury update: There's a chance edge rusher Za'Darius Smith, who hasn't played since Week 1, could return to practice on Wednesday. Smith has been out with a back injury that required surgery.

"We'll get him back out there and see how he looks, see what type of shape he's in," LaFleur said. "If he progresses and checks all the boxes, then he'll be back out on the field."

He added that right tackle Billy Turner, who has missed the last four games with a knee injury, also could return to practice Wednesday.

The status of receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who left Sunday's game in Detroit with a back injury, is uncertain as he rehabs, while cornerback Jaire Alexander is expected to continue practicing on defense, albeit without a definitive role at this point.

"We have a pretty good problem in that we've got some other good players, especially at the corner position," LaFleur said. "How do you get all these guys out on the grass at the same time and where are you placing them? Those are some of the things we're kind of working through as a staff right now."

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