As the Detroit Lions look to beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, they have one undeniable edge they can exploit.
Regardless of if they can make the playoffs with a win or not, the Detroit Lions are viewing Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers as a playoff game. The two teams have each had nice second half/late season turnarounds, and are two of the hottest teams in the league heading into Week 18.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff has not thrown an interception since the first meeting against the Packers back in Week 9, a span of 290 pass attempts now. In line with their four-game winning streak, the Packers have a league-high nine interceptions over that span.
Goff’s best times with the Los Angeles Rams came when he had success as a play action passer. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has helped him recapture that, as he’s No. 1 in EPA per dropback, passer rating and touchdown passes off play action this season (h/t to Douglas Clawson of CBS Sports).
Detroit Lions have clearly exploitable edge on the Packers
On the flipside, the Packers is allowing the third-highest passer rating against play action this season and the lowest passer rating when it does not face play action. Even during their current turnaround, Green Bay is allowing the highest yards per attempt off play action fakes (11.9).
The root of Green Bay’s defensive surge is a change in tendency. They’ve gone from the second-highest blitz rate in the league during their 4-8 start to the second-lowest blitz rate since. They’re also playing zone coverage at the highest rate in the NFL during their winning streak. As Clawson put it, the end result feels elementary.
"The results? More defenders in coverage with eyes on the quarterback has led to an opportunistic defense."
Clawson had two more data points regarding Goff/Detroit’s success on play action this year.
"Detroit’s play-action passing game has been particularly effective in the most crucial spots. The Lions have the highest third- and fourth-down conversion rate using play fakes (11-12) this season.Goff has thrown a touchdown pass on 12 of 16 play-action dropbacks (75 percent) in goal-to-goal situations this year."
The Packers run defense has been quite poor this season, allowing 5.0 yards per carry and nearly 142 yards per game on the ground (141.8 yards allowed; 26th in the league). That helps explain their vulnerability to play action, on a core level.
A proficient ground game is not necessarily required to have success using play action. But if the Lions can pick up some chunks on the ground early Sunday night, their clearly exploitable edge over the Packers may become even more profound.