The Lions and Packers clash at Lambeau Field on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 18 as both teams make their final playoff push in the regular season finale. Detroit needs a win and Seahawks loss to the Rams to make the postseason and Green Bay needs a win.The pivotal game features a matchup of the hottest quarterback in the league, who is surprisingly not named Aaron Rodgers, against the hottest defense in the league.Jared Goff leads the NFL in expected points added (EPA) per dropback since his first matchup with the Packers at Ford Field in Week 9, where Detroit entered with just a 1-6 record. Goff has not thrown an interception since that game and has now thrown 290 straight passes without being picked off, the longest streak in franchise history. He’s suddenly gone from an afterthought to one of the best passers in the league in an dangerous Lions offense. “It’s an explosive offense. I think they do a great job schematically and present a lot of challenges,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said this week.
Goff will be putting his hot streak on the line against a Packers defense that has done a 180 since the start of their four-game win streak. Over that span they are tied for the lead league in interceptions. Looking at the numbers side by side just since Week 13 and you can see how this strength-vs.-strength matchup could decide the game.Pass TD-INT12-0 **4-9 **Passer rating113.0 **71.1** Best in NFLThe Packers’ defensive turnaround hasn’t been an accident. Green Bay has changed its style on defense, going from blitzing at the second-high rate in the NFL during the 4-8 start to the second-lowest rate in the league during the win streak. The Packers have also gone from playing zone coverage at a league-average rate to the highest mark during their hot streak. The results? More defenders in coverage with eyes on the quarterback has led to an opportunistic defense. Case in point: the deflection here by Rasul Douglas into the waiting arms of Darnell Savage for a pick-six last Sunday against the Vikings.Green Bay flexed its muscle by holding Justin Jefferson to just one catch in Week 17, including none in the first half, putting his record-setting season on hold. Jared Goff play action vs. Packers defenseThere is a matchup within the matchup the Lions can exploit, though. When Goff was at his best with the Rams in 2018 he was one of the best play-action passers in the league. Detroit has recaptured that magic in 2022 as Goff leads the NFL in EPA per dropback, passer rating and touchdown passes off play action this season. The numbers are sizzling over the last month or so too. Green Bay allows the third-highest passer rating defending play action this season, compared with the lowest passer rating in the league when it doesn’t see play action. Even during the four-game win streak, the Packers have allowed the highest yards per pass attempt against play fakes (11.9). 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’s 51-yard, game-winning touchdown to Brock Wright against the Jets in Week 15 used a play fake on fourth-and-1.It’s also been nearly unstoppable in the red area. Goff has thrown a touchdown pass on 12 of 16 play-action dropbacks (75 percent) in goal-to-goal situations this year. All eyes were in the backfield on this easy touchdown pass by Goff against the Panthers in Week 16.The Packers defense has faced two prolific play-action passers in the last month-and-a-half with poor results. The unit allowed nearly 20 yards per attempt vs. the Dolphins on these plays, including an 84-yard touchdown to Jaylen Waddle where the middle linebacker was out of position and Douglas took a bad angle on the tackle.The defense allowed 14 yards per attempt against Ryan Tannehill in Week 11. Even though the Packers give up big chunks in the play-action passing game, they still have some playmakers in the secondary who can swing the game with a big play. Douglas’ pick of Tannehill here is one of the better reads this season.
In a prime-time game with a playoff atmosphere at Lambeau Field, it could be this matchup, and maybe one play, that swings the balance of the game.