In fact, Vegas lines had the over/under set in the 50s for this game – the highest of any contest this week.
Instead of a barnburner, the Lions and Packers played out a game featuring only two offensive touchdowns – with the Lions defense stealing the show.
“I think we did a tremendous job in terms of our defense,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “Did a great job of keeping them under control. When you keep Aaron Rodgers out of the end zone that number of times, with the possessions that he had, is quite a feat.”
Holding the Packers to seven points and 223 yards on offense is impressive, so is outscoring them by registering nine points (a defensive touchdown and a safety). Perhaps the most impressive fact is the team did this while missing several starters.
Safety James Ihedigbo hasn’t played yet this season, defensive back Don Carey started the game as the nickelback but left early in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch also left early and did not return. The team also has lost cornerbacks Bill Bentley and Nevin Lawson for the season and entered today's game without cornerback Cassius Vaughn.
Due to all the injuries, the Lions have had to adjust the personnel in their defensive backfield on the fly this season but don’t call them patchwork.
“I wouldn’t call them patchwork,” said defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. “Everybody in the league is a great player to be in this league, so you have to give them respect. At the end of the day guys have stepped up in the position that they had to do that in. We’ve had tough injuries but we understand that’s part of the game and we’ll continue to do that when things come our way.”
To Suh's point, the NFL is filled with great athletes and - for that reason - coaching can be a separating factor between winning and losing. Enter new defensive coordinator Tyrel Austin, who is at the heart of the progress made by the Lions defense early this season.
Austin, who most recently spent three seasons coaching defensive backs for the Baltimore Ravens, was brought on by Caldwell and is drawing rave reviews from his players.
“I think he just brings a different flavor type of defense,” said Suh. “Moves around quite a bit, at the same time, allows us to go out there and make our own calls. He’s definitely a guy who is open to advice of something that we see. We can talk about it, it’s not just his way or the highway. I think that’s the great thing about a defensive coordinator like that, someone you can have give-or-take conversations with.”
Austin has done well in preparing his players. Not just by putting together a defensive game plan but by ensuring the players on the team – and not just the starters – get on-the-field work to ensure readiness.
“He’s doing a great job right now,” said Linebacker DeAndre Levy of Austin. “Like I said, that’s him getting guys reps, making sure when someone goes out the next guy comes in and doesn’t miss a step. I think he gets a good feel for what the offense is doing, makes adjustments, comes in cool, calm and corrects what we need to correct and calls the plays we need to call.”
Austin has helped elevate the Lions defense to the point where it can be considered a strength rather than the liability it was perceived to be. To illustrate that point, consider that the last time the Lions had won a game while scoring less than 20 points was in 2010, when the Packers only scored three points in a game where Rodgers left with a concussion.
With heavy investments into the offense during the offseason coupled with several injuries to key players, Austin wouldn't be blamed if the defense had some early-season struggles. However, rather than struggle, the defense has flashed brilliance at times and Austin appears to have the group headed in the right direction.