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Packers' defense mustn't let Lions create a shootout

Green Bay needs to halt trend of prolonged poor stretches on D

LB Preston Smith & DL Dean Lowry
LB Preston Smith & DL Dean Lowry

GREEN BAY – In a matchup of two teams that have lost a combined nine games in a row – Lions five, Packers four – and in dire need of a victory, Sunday's contest at Ford Field in Detroit very well may come down to this:

Can Green Bay's defense, which has struggled through a multi-possession scoring binge by the opposition every week of the team's four-game losing streak, avoid another bad stretch, or at least minimize it, against a Detroit offense that has lit up the scoreboard at home?

For the 1-6 Lions, if there's one thing they can hang their hat on, it's an offense that has been highly productive in front of its home crowd. In four games at Ford Field this season, Detroit has scored 143 points, or nearly 36 per game.

Contrast that with the 30 points the Lions have scored in three road games, or just 10 per game away from home.

It's just one way Detroit's season has been strange and unsettling, and while that applies to Green Bay's as well, that sentiment hangs in particular over a defense that was expected to be the backbone of the team.

This isn't to say the defense is solely responsible for the four-game losing streak, because the offense hasn't done its part either. But the defense has been the healthier, more veteran unit being counted on for consistency and reliability, and its play has been anything but.

The Packers have played effectively at times and in spurts, but when things have started to go south defensively, rough moments have extended into game-changing stretches.

It started back in Week 4 vs. New England, when the Packers were putting together a solid defensive effort against a couple of Patriots backup QBs (Brian Hoyer and rookie Bailey Zappe). Then suddenly the worm turned.

After producing just three points over its first six possessions (one field goal, four punts, one fumble), New England out of nowhere drove for two touchdowns covering 75 and 66 yards. Most upsetting, the Patriots didn't even face a single third down on either possession.

The Packers survived for an overtime win in part because the defense turned itself back around and didn't allow the Patriots a first down on any of their last three drives. But the sudden and extended stretch of breakdowns foretold of the disturbing trend to come.

During the four-game losing streak since the New England win, the Packers have allowed three or more consecutive scores by the opposing offense in every contest.

Against the Giants in London, it was five straight drives for 27 points. Against the Jets at Lambeau, it was three straight for 17 points. At Washington, it was three straight for 13 points. At Buffalo, it was five straight for 27 points again.

In other words, when the other team has gotten rolling, it has taken too long for the Packers to stop the onslaught. Every loss has included periods of good defense, but every bad stretch hasn't been curtailed soon enough to find a way to win.

That's why this trend continuing, or shifting, or ending, could decide Sunday's game, because the Lions' offense has been difficult to handle at home.

"They're hitting on all cylinders as far as offense," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "We just gotta be better. We gotta play better across the board."

Detroit's equation changes now that QB Jared Goff, whose current 93.2 passer rating is his best since 2018, doesn't have T.J. Hockenson to throw to anymore. Earlier this week, the tight end who was leading the Lions with 395 receiving yards was traded to Minnesota.

But the Lions also could benefit from the return of running back D'Andre Swift, who played sparingly last week following a three-game injury absence. Swift is averaging a robust 7.4 yards per carry this season in limited action (32 carries, 237 yards), and he may rejoin workhorse and former Packers running back Jamaal Williams (102-464), who ranks second in the league with eight rushing TDs.

If there's a recent trend the Packers would like to maintain defensively, it's the turnover opportunities they've generated the past two games. At Washington, a pick-six was the defense's biggest play of the year, and only a ticky-tack penalty wiped out a fumble return for a TD later that same quarter. Other chances at interceptions got away against the Commanders, and then another early in the Buffalo game, before the two fourth-quarter picks of Josh Allen, which could portend more takeaways to come.

Whether or not those materialize, the Packers will have their hands full against the Lions, whose 1-6 record means nothing when Green Bay is struggling just as much.

While responsibility certainly falls on Green Bay's offense to get on track and score a bunch against a Detroit defense ranked last in the league (in yards and points), the best thing the Packers' defense can do is prevent, or at least limit, any letdowns from becoming yet another prolonged poor stretch.

The Eagles, Seahawks and Dolphins all have won shootouts at Ford Field this season. The Commanders lost one. Maybe the Packers coming off a 200-yard rushing performance could win there that way, too, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said they "better be" able to.

But it wouldn't bode well moving forward if that's what's required.

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