Four Downs: Packers gash rookie Jeff Okudah, Lions’ run defense in rout

Detroit News

Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions’ 42-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. 

First down

One of the primary points of intrigue heading into the contest was the impending debut of cornerback Jeff Okudah, the team’s first-round draft pick. After missing the season-opener with a hamstring injury that had carried over from training camp, Okudah figured to have his hands full with future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a healthy dose of Davante Adams, one of the NFL’s craftiest receivers off the line of scrimmage.

Predictably, it was a disastrous showing for the rookie out of Ohio State. After a quiet first quarter, the Packers regularly picked on him during the stretch of the game where they scored 31 points.

Yes, Adams proved problematic to mirror on his releases, but Okudah also struggled with some deep coverage assignments against Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who torched the young corner for a 41-yard completion down the right sideline and also got open on a route into the end zone, but couldn’t handle the throw from Rodgers.

Given the expectations that come with being a top-five pick, and the earliest cornerback selected in more than 20 years, there’s naturally going to be a rush to judgment. That goes with the territory when there are only 16 games in a season to form assessments. But regardless of his draft status, patience is merited.

First of all, the difficult transition most college cornerbacks face coming into the NFL has been noted many times. Remember, Darius Slay was a train wreck as a rookie, before putting it together in his second season. Coupled with a shortened offseason — thanks, COVID-19 — and a training camp injury that siphoned away even more of Okudah’s limited practice reps, and we can’t act shocked by Sunday’s result.

Second down

While Rodgers, and to a lesser extent Adams, dominated the media chatter heading into this game, it was the Packers’ ground game that terrorized the Lions in the blowout. Aaron Jones doesn’t get the attention he deserves as one of the NFL’s most consistent dual-threat backs, but Sunday further proved he belongs in that conversation.

Jones led the charge with a career-high 168 yards on the ground, fueling a 259-yard output from the Packers. That’s the type of number you might expect to see during the SEC’s “bye week”, when Alabama beats up on some small, nonconference opponent ahead of their annual showdown with in-state rival Auburn. This type of defensive meltdown shouldn’t happen at this level.

How rare is it for the Lions to give up that much rushing yardage? Well, the last time it happened was 2013, on the road against Philadelphia, in a blizzard. At least there was a legitimate excuse that time.

The most rushing yards the Lions allowed last season was 171. The team hadn’t allowed 200 since Nov. 19, 2017 and only exceeded the 259-yard mark one other time in the past 10 years.

For a defense committed to stopping the run first, allowing a league-worst 204 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry might be the most embarrassing thing about the team’s 0-2 start.

Third down

You want a positive out of Sunday’s loss. OK, sure, your punter is good. Really good. Jack Fox, who narrowly edged out undrafted rookie Arryn Siposs in training camp, has been a revelation in his first couple of games with the Lions.

Fox, an undrafted rookie out of Rice a year ago, boomed his five punts an average of 54.2 yards. Of course, distance isn’t worth much without hang time and proper placement. Fox delivers on all fronts. On those five boots, the Packers netted a grand total of six return yards.

If the Lions ever figure out how to play defense, Fox’s ability to flip the field could be a real weapon.

Fourth down

Finally, the elephant in the room is going to be the job status of general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia. Both were granted the opportunity to return this season with the expectation the team would be playing meaningful games down the stretch.

But with the way the Lions are trending, the most meaningful thing about games in December might be the all-too-familiar conversation about draft position.

If Twitter mentions are an accurate reflection of the fan base’s collective mood, the majority would have been content to leave the former Patriots tandem on the runway in Wisconsin. But while the Lions’ hopes for playoff contention are already on thin ice, and the franchise has now lost 11 straight, including blowing double-digit leads in four straight, any real conversation about pulling the trigger on either or both probably doesn’t take place until the team’s bye, after games against Arizona and New Orleans.

And a win against either probably delays it longer.

There are multiple factors in play making it more difficult to get a temperature read on the room. First, the pandemic has reduced already limited access to owner Sheila Ford Hamp to nothing. That same pandemic is also a complicating factor with roster changes, so what does a midseason coaching or front office change look like?

And finally, Ford Hamp’s managerial stylings have yet to reveal themselves. We know she was the right-hand woman for mother Martha Firestone Ford the past few years, but we don’t know if the daughter will be more or less patient than her predecessor.

At 0-4, Ford Hamp might be forced into action, to both appease fans and give her some credibility in her new role. In many ways, it would mirror Mom putting her stamp on things when she fired Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand in 2015, a little more than a year into her own tenure as owner.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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