Lions’ Jared Goff vs. Packers secondary: Key matchup to watch in Week 18 in Sunday night’s regular season finale

The Lions and Packers meet at Lambeau Field on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 18 as both teams make their final regular season playoff game. Detroit needs a win and Seahawks loss against 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 surprisingly isn’t 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 game 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 has suddenly gone from an afterthought to one of the best passers in the league in a 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 put his hot streak on the line against a Packers defense that has done a 180 since the start of their four-game winning streak. Over that span, they are tied for the league lead in interceptions. If you look at the numbers side-by-side since Week 13, you can see how this strength-on-strength matchup could decide the game.

Passed TD-INT

12-0 **

4-9 **

Passer assessment

113.0 **


** Best in the NFL

The Packers’ defensive turnaround hasn’t been an accident. Green Bay has changed its style on defense, going from having the second-highest pace in the NFL during its 4-8 start to the second-lowest pace in the league during the 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? Multiple defenders in coverage with their eyes on the quarterback has led to an opportunistic defense.

Case in point: Rasul Douglas’ deflection here into the arms of Darnell Savage waiting for a six last Sunday against the Vikings.

Green Bay flexed its muscles by holding Justin Jefferson to just one catch in Week 17, including none in the first half, putting his record-breaking season on hold.

Jared Goff plays action against the Packers defense

However, there is a matchup within the matchup the Lions can exploit. When Goff was in his prime 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 rejections per game this season. The numbers have fluctuated in the last month as well. Green Bay is allowing the third-highest passer rating to defend the game this season, compared to the lowest passer rating in the league when not seeing play action. Even during their four-game winning 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 on fake plays (11-12) this season. Goff’s 51-yard, game-winning touchdown to Brock Wright against the Jets in Week 15 used a fake play on fourth-and-1.

It has also been almost unstoppable in the red zone. Goff has thrown a touchdown pass on 12 of 16 play-action dropbacks (75 percent) in target-to-target situations this year. All eyes were on the backfield on this easy touchdown pass by Goff against the Panthers in Week 16.

The Packers defense has faced two productive players in the game in the past month and a half with poor results. The unit allowed nearly 20 yards per attempt vs. Dolphins on those 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 if the Packers give up big chunks in the 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 primetime game with a playoff atmosphere at Lambeau Field, it could be this matchup, and perhaps one play, that swings the balance of the game.

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