Rams running back Steven Jackson tries to get through the defense of Packers inside linebacker Nick Barnett in a game late last month. The Packers were one of three teams to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense in the offseason. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
For the second consecutive week -- and there'll be a handful more occasions this season -- Detroit is facing a 3-4 base defense in Green Bay.
The Packers joined a growing trend by switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with the arrival of defensive coordinator Dom Capers this offseason. And while Green Bay is the odd duck in the NFC North, more than one-third of the NFL is running some form of a base 3-4, with three down linemen and four linebackers.
"I think it's an evolutionary, copycat thing -- it's inevitable," said Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, in his 28th season as an NFL coach. "I remember when the run-and-shoot (offense) came in and everybody was trying to run it -- and then they lost all their quarterbacks (to injuries). The 3-4 is the same thing: There are some holes in it if you know how to attack it. ... Some teams are doing it and getting hammered."
Some are, some aren't. In fact, the two other teams to make the offseason switch to a 3-4 -- Denver and Kansas City -- are at opposite ends of the statistical rankings. The Broncos rank first in scoring defense, while the Chiefs rank last in total defense.
"It really starts first from a personnel standpoint," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
And that requires patience, something Kansas City appears to have with new GM Scott Pioli, a firm believer in the 3-4 -- and there are a few clear-cut variations -- from his time in New England with Bill Belichick.
Jim Schwartz is a member of the Belichick tree, too, but don't expect the Lions to follow suit. Schwartz and Cunningham believe in the 4-3, and that's the plan going forward, though it's a transition nonetheless -- especially on the defensive line -- from Rod Marinelli's Tampa 2.
"What we'd like to evolve to is to have two giant defensive tackles and two real fast defensive ends -- then you can do anything you want," Cunningham said. "But that's gonna take time to get those players."
In Turk they trust
The defense does have a pair of "giant tackles" inside, but with rookie Sammie Hill (ankle) out and Grady Jackson (knee) on a pitch count, Cunningham turned to a player he trusts last week.
Turk McBride , claimed off waivers Sept. 17 from Kansas City, where he played for Cunningham the last two years, was active for the first time.
A defensive end that shed 20-plus pounds to try to play outside linebacker in the Chiefs 3-4, he saw extensive playing time against the Steelers.
"He played his (butt) off," Cunningham said. "He chases the ball, he plays until the play is over, and that's what he did in the game. He brought us energy. We put him inside at 255 pounds as a tackle for almost the entire second half, and he's the only one in the first five games that even showed up down the middle. And he did it on a consistent basis. So we picked the right guy."
The Lions blitzed on 38 percent of their defensive snaps last week against the Steelers. Cunningham wants that ratio even higher, but his personnel are holding him back.
"It's difficult when you can't call something you have on a call sheet because somebody doesn't do the right thing. ... You lose confidence," he said. "The players have to give the signal-caller confidence that he can call it."
By the numbers
4 Touchdowns for WR Calvin Johnson vs. Green Bay in 2008
6 Wins in six tries vs. Lions for Packers coach Mike McCarthy
3,295 Regular-season points vs. Lions for Packers, most against NFL opponent
Going the distance
Jason Hanson's missed 49-yard field goal last week against Pittsburgh snapped his NFL-record streak of 24 consecutive made kicks of 40 yards or more:
|Jason Hanson, Lions||24||16||8||2007-09|
|Gary Anderson, 49ers-Vikings||15||13||2||1997-99|
|Jason Elam, Broncos-Falcons||15||13||2||2007-08|
|Neil Rackers, Cardinals||15||9||6||2005|
|Punt returns||Returns||Fair catches||Yards/return||Long||Touchdowns|
Catching on quickly
Packers receiver Greg Jennings, a fourth-year pro out of WMU, has had plenty of success against the Lions:
* 2006; ** 2008; *** 2009