GREEN BAY – The recipe for the uptick in the Packers' defensive performance in the second half Monday night could be described as one part adjustments, two parts circumstance.
One change involved putting rookie cornerback Eric Stokes on the boundary and sliding Kevin King into the slot for the nickel package, which worked better as the game wore on following an early coverage bust on Detroit's first TD pass. On the whole, Head Coach Matt LaFleur liked how the strategy played out.
Similarly, a shift with defensive tackle Kenny Clark's alignment up front in the second half also helped solidify the point of attack for the defense.
But it was the game situation – specifically, playing with a lead – that turned the defense's fortunes more than anything and helped produce a second-half shutout in the 35-17 win over Detroit.
When the Packers scored a touchdown on the opening possession of the third period, Green Bay held a lead, at 21-17, for the first time in the season's first seven quarters. And as the lead grew in the second half, the defense continued to seize the momentum and make life difficult for Lions QB Jared Goff, who was 13-of-20 for just 109 yards with an interception in the second half.
"Getting them into more predictable situations where it's more of a drop-back passing game (made a difference)," LaFleur said Tuesday. "Every team loves playing from a nice lead because it makes the opposing (team) one-dimensional."
Goff was in command of the game in the first half (13-of-16, 137 yards, two TDs), with Detroit running the ball effectively and the play-action game giving Goff plenty of time to throw. The hardest task for any defensive front is to transition from playing run defense to rushing the passer and still generate pressure. For the most part, the Packers couldn't, and the Lions scored on three of four possessions, putting up 17 points.
But after the fourth-and-1 stop at the Green Bay 25-yard line in the third quarter, the Packers extended their lead with two TDs sandwiched around a fumbled snap by Goff. Essentially, Detroit's deficit went from four points to 18 without having an offensive possession, and Goff was never comfortable the rest of the way.
The task for the Packers moving forward will be to impact the opposing QB in a similar fashion in close, competitive situations, and without the defense's most disruptive pass rusher in Za'Darius Smith, who's out a minimum of two more games, if not longer.
"You've got to find different ways to manufacture that rush, and whether that's sending pressure, or you've just got to play coverage behind it, right? And hope that you can take away the quarterback's reads," LaFleur said, referring to zone looks that have a chance of holding up longer than man-to-man. "Either make him check the ball down, or he'll hold it too long and the rush will hit home."
The Packers' special teams also showed progress and contributed significantly to the victory, as rookie seventh-round draft pick Kylin Hill returned a kickoff 41 yards. The team's longest kickoff return since late in the 2019 season gave the offense the ball on its own 44, trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, and it took advantage to score a tying touchdown.
LaFleur noted Hill bounced off his own blocker, linebacker Oren Burks, and then found a void along the Detroit sideline to get upfield before hurdling Lions kicker Austin Seibert at the end of the run.
"He's a pretty dynamic young player and a guy I think can continue to improve," LaFleur said. "He's given us a little something, a little jolt in that area, which is much needed."
New punter Corey Bojorquez also played a part in winning the field-position battle, as his three punts averaged a 43.3-yard net. He hit a 46-yarder out of bounds, boomed a 56-yarder that pinned Lions returner Kalif Raymond right on the sideline before a 10-yard runback, and forced a fair catch at the Detroit 9-yard line with a 38-yard effort.
"He did an outstanding job just in terms of the location of the punts," LaFleur said. "Now we've got to continue to do a little bit better job of covering … but I thought the punt location was absolutely fantastic."