Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers might not have known the name of the defensive end new to the Detroit Lions this year who was helping to make his work day miserable at Ford Field earlier this season, but he’s well aware of him now from what he saw in that game and in film study since then.
Romeo Okwara led the pass rush in that game that sacked Rodgers four times and forced him to fumble away the ball twice in the Lions’ 31-23 victory in Week 5. Okwara had two of the sacks and forced one of Rodgers’ fumbles.
It was a highlight of the season for Okwara, but not the only one he can look back on as the Lions and Packers prepare for the rematch in Sunday’s season-ending game at Lambeau Field.
A strip-sack by Okwara late in the first quarter forced a fumble that the Lions recovered and turned into a field goal. Okwara closed too quickly for Rodgers to react, forcing the fumble.
“I didn’t know (he was there) until the last second on the first one,” Rodgers said after the game.
Okwara has been a bright spot on an improving defense in an overall dismal season.
He arrived in Detroit unheralded after two seasons with the Giants when the Lions claimed him off waivers on Sept. 5. Okwara was primarily a backup with the Giants, playing 22 games with four starts and registering one sack.
His stock and stature have risen with the Lions. Okwara leads the Lions with 7.5 sacks, a half sack ahead of linebacker Devon Kennard, a former Giants teammate.
Okwara has been a good fit on a defense that lacks a premier pass rusher – a role Ziggy Ansah could have filled had he been healthy – but has manufactured 40 sacks. The Lions are tied for 11th in the league and have five more sacks than the Lions had all of last season.
Okwara didn’t doubt that there was a place for him on the Lions’ defensive line.
“I knew I fit the defense,” Okwara said. “That’s why they brought me here. Matty P (head coach Matt Patricia) knew what kind of player I was. That’s why he brought me here.
“I think it fits me pretty well, the type of style I play. Just aggressive, physical. I like playing in physical defenses.”
The coaches had to get to know him better to find out what they really had. That didn’t take long. He was inactive for Game 1 and a starter for Game 2.
“He’s come in, and he’s been a productive guy for us,” defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said in a recent interview. “He really has. He’s got long arms. He’s got a knack to rush the passer. He plays very hard, and he’s getting better.”
Series history: The Packers have a 98-71 series lead, with seven ties dating to the first game in 1930 when the Lions were still in Portsmouth, Ohio. The Lions have a three-game winning streak vs. the Packers and a 6-5 edge in the last 11 games, starting with a split in 2013.
Week 5 rewind: The Lions had a 24-0 lead on the strength of turnovers and the worst game of kicker Mason Crosby’s career. Two of the Lions’ touchdowns were set up by fumble recoveries. Crosby missed four of five field-goal attempts and one kick for an extra point.
Philbin-Patricia, familiar foes: Packers interim head coach Joe Philbin sees similarities in the Lions’ defensive schemes under Patricia to what he saw from the New England Patriots during his tenure as head coach of the Dolphins.
Philbin was Miami’s head coach from 2012-14 and for the first four games of 2015. Patricia was New England’s defensive coordinator at the time.
“Absolutely,” Philbin said in a conference-call interview this week. “I think some of the things they do coverage-wise are some of the best. I think those things that they do are and have been doing for a while are cutting edge – if that’s the right term.
“I think they know it. They understand it, and you see on film that they execute it awfully well.”
Philbin referred to the Lions’ loss to Minnesota last week, when they held the Vikings to one first down in the first 28 minutes.
“They were way out in front, and really presented problems for a good team in Minnesota,” Philbin said.
A good Joe: Rodgers doesn’t need motivation to play at a high level, but he might have some based on his postgame comments after last week’s overtime win over the Jets. Rodgers seemed to be campaigning for Philbin to get the job permanently. He was a Packers assistant before being hired as Miami’s head coach.
Rodgers talked about pride when explaining why he plays with no chance to make the playoffs, adding: “It matters for Joe. We love Joe. We want to play for Joe and give him the best opportunity possible.”
Prediction: If the Lions’ defense has come to play – as it has the last few weeks – it can keep the game close with a modicum of help from the offense. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 48 times. Four more would break his personal high of 51, set in 2012. The Packers have as many problems as the Lions overall, but Rodgers can produce enough offense to overcome them.
Packers 31, Lions 27.