The 6-3* Packers take on the 4-5 Lions Sunday in Detroit. Like all NFC North Divisional games, records don’t mean much when these two teams step between the white lines.
Detroit is a dangerous football team within the Division. They have talent and a fiery coach. When this one kicks off the Packers had better not make the mistake of letting up.
The Packers are an equally dangerous football team. Detroit will need their A+ game in order to beat a McCarthy-coached team coming off a bye. This will also be a dome game. The Packers have been one of the most successful outdoor teams in road dome games in the league under McCarthy. The same goes for teams playing after the bye – the Packers are 5-1 post-bye weeks. It will be a surprise if the Packers are not ready to play and play well on Sunday.
Rather than going into the injury situation yet again this week, I’ll leave you with this simple summation: The Packers will again not have several starters available for this game. They will have quality backups for their inured players on the field and those backups will need to play quality snaps and make quality plays. They’ll be closely scrutinized. The team has endured missed games, and missed seasons, by starters before. They’ll simply need to do it again.
Here are some of the things I’ll be watching during the game:
• The Packers offensive line has been shuffled to compensate for the loss of RT Bryan Bulaga. LG T.J. Lang has moved to RT, and G/C Evan Dietrich-Smith will start at LG. The memorable “Suh Stomp” last season was directed at Dietrich-Smith, who would just as soon go out and have a solid game against Suh and his fellow linemen and forget about the whole thing. I’m expecting the O line to be challenged but if they can run the ball with some success, especially early in the game, good things can be expected to happen. Run success or not, they’ll have to protect QB Aaron Rodgers effectively.
• WR Jordy Nelson returns to the lineup this week and though WR Greg Jennings is still out, when the Packers line up with Nelson, Jones, Cobb, Finley, and Crabtree or Driver on the field there won’t be better top-to-bottom receiving corps on any NFL field this Sunday.
I’ll be watching for the receivers to do a better job of catching the ball and not dropping it from here on out too. TE Finley in particular is due for an improved performance. This would be a great time for it.
• The Packers “found” their run game against the Cardinals. Even though chunks of their 176 yard total were contributed by QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Randall Cobb, both James Starks and Alex Green had strong performances against Arizona.
Starks is another player who seems to be primed for a top-level performance. The Lions do not have a strong run defense. Watch for it all to add up to success on the ground in Detroit. And it’s time to practice your “Kuhn” calls everyone- he’s back!
• On defense the Packers will definitely be challenged by Detroit. The improved run defense will be tested by the Lions but it’s no secret Detroit moves the ball primarily through the air. Lions WR Calvin Johnson owns the best individual receiving game the Packers have ever allowed. I don’t expect him to have that kind of success this Sunday.
When QB Matt Stafford puts the ball in the air watch for the young ball hawks in the Packers secondary to break on the ball and when they get their hands on it to do a better job of catching it.
The Packers linebackers, as seemingly usual, have been comprised of a different group every week this season. Luckily every one of them is good to much better than good, and that kind of depth is coveted by every team in the NFL.
Yes, Clay Matthews’ absence will be obvious. Hopefully it won’t be exploitable. Eminently watchable in this game will be LBs Dezman Moses, Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto, and Erik Walden. And their coach Kevin Greene.
• On the D line the Packers get DE Jerel Worthy back. Having played at Michigan State, Worthy looks forward to performing in front of his home state again – this time with the Packers. A consistently high-effort game from Worthy, coupled with similar performances from his D line compadres, will ease the pressure on the rest of the Packers D.
• Expect the Packers to again mix the run and the pass close to 50/50 in this game. It works when the run game is going. And it looks awesome when it works.
• The Packers will run the ball for at least 150 yards, with Starks finally hitting the century mark in rush yards in the game.
• When Stafford puts the ball in the air this Sunday, the Packers secondary will come down with at least two interceptions. One by Hayward and one by Williams. And look for a pick-six. They’re due!
• Even though Stafford is a fine QB, he’s not finer than Rodgers and he knows it. Rodgers will out-yard and out-passer rating him this week.
• The first time there is any kind of extended tussle between Lions DT Suh and Packers LG Dietrich-Smith, Fox will treat us to the slow-motion replay of the “Suh Stomp” from last season. From that point on there will be isolated coverage of Suh against the entire Packers O line.
• If Suh stomps RT T.J. Lang, or for that matter anyone else, things will spin out of control frighteningly quick. And Suh’s reputation as a dirty player, both among his fellow players and the general public, will be reinforced commensurately.
• Jerel Worthy will notch one sack. Erik Walden will get home once. Dezman Moses will also get to Stafford at least once – just as long as he doesn’t draw another PF penalty while he does it. And one of the cornerbacks or safeties will get to Stafford, too.
• This is an indoor game following a bye under McCarthy. The Packers will play their most consistently excellent game of the season this week as the real run to the playoffs begins.
We’ll be attending the regular Packers watch party at Tailgators on FM1488 in Magnolia this week. We’re Packers fans. We won’t bite but we’ll probably yell some. Golly…it’s just too bad there won’t be any Bears fans there – unless they come out just to root against the Packers. They do that you know. Come on out and help us out-root the Texans fans and the Bears fans!
Go Pack GO!