Lions' No. 1 run defense to confront Packers' Lacy

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Allen Park — When the Lions beat the Packers 19-7 at Ford Field in Week 3, they allowed just 223 total yards — a season low for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and company.

Deploying, for the most part, a normal six- or seven-man box, the Lions limited running back Eddie Lacy to 36 yards, his second fewest total on the season. And because they could keep both safeties deep, they limited leading receiver Jordy Nelson to five catches for 59 yards and didn't allow a single play of 20 or more yards.

"I don't really know what they did, but we hurt ourselves," Nelson said. "First possession we had a turnover for a touchdown. We had a lot of penalties, and we never got ahead of the chains. They had a part in that, controlling the run game and making it difficult for us on third and long.

"But both teams are probably completely different from what they were in Week 3. We are looking forward to the opportunity to play them again."

Among the advancements made by the Packers offense since Week 3 is the unleashing of Lacy. He has topped the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year and since Week 12 he has amassed 492 yards — third most in the NFL in that span.

"That's been big for us," Nelson said. "To get another threat on the field and to have that balance, it makes defenses bring an extra guy down into the box and it allows us to get into our play-action game."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy joked that the reason Lacy has been so productive of late was because the play caller finally decided to give him the ball. McCarthy calls the plays.

"Eddie has been playing great football for us for a long time," McCarthy said. "I don't know what the statistics are, but it's been at least two months that he's had over 100 yards of production (per game). Sometimes if people are going to use statistics as a basis for overall analysis, you have to look at more than rushing attempts.

"The fact of the matter is, he is a three-down player, which he wasn't last year. So opportunities are coming in the passing game as well. I am very pleased with the way he's played."

The Lions maintain the stingiest run defense in the league, allowing 957 yards and a 3.1 average. And for the most part, they have done that without having to bring extra help from the secondary.

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a major part of that run defense, and he will occupy a lot of time in the Packers offensive line meeting room this week.

"I think this is probably his best football," McCarthy said. "We all recognized his talent when he came into the league, but I think we see him now as a more experienced, smart and instinctive player.

"He not only has a great understanding of what they are doing with their schemes, but his anticipation and recognition of offensive concepts is very impressive."

The Lions ability to again contain Lacy without bringing extra defenders into the box could play a pivotal role in the game Sunday.

"That will be the feel-out part of the game," Nelson said. "We know what they have up front. They rely on their front four or seven to handle the run game and keep their safeties back where they like to play.

"We have to get the running game going, force them to bring a guy down and allow us to get one-on-one matchups in the passing game."