Decimated Lions’ defense only gives Packers’ Rodgers room to frolic

Detroit News

Nolan Bianchi
| The Detroit News

Detroit — Stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers is harder.

It’s even more difficult when several defensive starters are missing from the roster, and nearly impossible without the presence of an effective pass rush. 

This tall order was left unfilled on Sunday by the Detroit Lions, who suffered the sudden loss of Everson Griffen, sent to the COVID list on Saturday, while also dealing with a defensive line  already missing Trey Flowers, Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara.

Rodgers was sacked zero times and hardly ever felt pressure, as he methodically picked apart the battered Lions defense for 290 yards and three touchdowns on 26-for-33 passing en route to a 31-24 win at Ford Field.

“It’s tough,” safety Duron Harmon said about Griffen’s abrupt departure from the active roster.

“The energy that he brings, the effort that he plays with, obviously he’s a great player. It’s tough, but it’s next man up. Never any excuses.”

Griffen has played in five games with the Lions this season after being acquired from the Dallas Cowboys in October. He has 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks, and is averaging 35 snaps-per game over that span. 

More: Lions’ Matthew Stafford knocked from game with rib injury, taken for X-rays

The four-time Pro Bowler also has the invaluable experience of doing battle with Rodgers, having recorded 11.5 sacks and 53 tackles over 20 career games against Green Bay. The same cannot be said for defensive end Kareem Martin, who was called up from the practice squad to help the Lions shore up their defensive effort. 

“That’s an elite offense. Hall-of-Fame quarterback, great skill players,” Harmon said. “We made it hard on them, but we’ve got to make it a little bit harder.

The lack of pass rush was especially notable on the Packers’ first two drives out of the second half. Rodgers leisurely dinked and dunked all over Detroit’s exhausted defense as Green Bay ran 26 plays, took 16:38 off the clock and jumped out to a 28-14 lead that Detroit’s offense could not overcome. 

More: Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Woeful defensive performance lets Packers operate at will

“We were methodical in our approach,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “Our guys just stuck with it, grinded out in that third quarter.

“We were able to follow up that roughly nine-minute drive with about an eight-minute drive to go up two scores, which I think was really the difference in the game.”

Inability to get in the backfield was especially damaging to Detroit’s secondary, who couldn’t keep up with the Packers receivers while Rodgers danced around, waiting for them to get open. 

Green Bay was given new life after holding was assessed to Amani Oruwariye on the first third-down play of the second half, and again on that same drive after Tracy Walker was flagged on third-and-14 for illegal contact. 

“We put ourselves in that position,” Harmon said. “We had the opportunity to get them off on that third-and-14, and we didn’t do it. That’s on us. It’s nothing they did. We had the opportunity to get off, and we couldn’t get off.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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