The 4-8 Detroit Lions will visit Green Bay to take on the 8-4* Green Bay Packers Sunday night. This is another NFC North divisional showdown with the usual late-season playoff implications for the Packers.
The Lions have no shot at the playoffs so naturally they’ll come into the game with little motivation other than knocking the Packers back a notch. Will that be enough?
The Lions lost their fourth game in a row against the Colts last Sunday primarily due to the efforts of Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck. The Packers have been there and done that. What was different about the Lions loss was the fracturing effect the loss had on the team. Some of this was simmering before the loss to the Colts, but the team is taking shots at each other in the media now, which is sure sign of a team in disarray and on the verge of surrender and adoption of the dreaded “wait-‘til-next-year” mindset.
The Lions have not been getting blown out in their losses, however. Their last four losses have been by 10, 4, 3, and 2 points. They still have Stafford, “Megatron,” and the “usual suspects” on the defensive line. I just don’t see them rolling over for the Packers Sunday night. The Packers will have to earn a hard-fought victory over the Lions. Again.
The Lions have a bunch of players hurting but none confirmed out for the game as of now, so injuries won’t be much of a factor. At least for them.
The Packers won their game against Minnesota last week primarily because of a balanced offensive attack, good performances by players who had to replace injured teammates, and a defense that bent but stiffened and created takeaways at the appropriate times. While no defense could ever be proud of “limiting” Vikings RB Adrian Peterson to “only” 210 yards, they did not allow a superior individual performance like that to be the deciding factor in the game.
The Packers are fully aware that they control their post-season fate and that they need to win every remaining game in order to assure the second playoff seed they want. Even with players like Matthews, Woodson, Nelson, Starks, and Wilson on the shelf now they know the next man up has to get the job done. This is nothing new for the Packers. The football gods always seem to throw challenges like these at the Packers. They’re used to seeing the Packers, too. Spiteful indeed are the football gods.
Returning to active duty this week should be CB Sam Shields and potentially OL T.J. Lang. Lang was a limited participant in practice, so there is a chance he’ll play. If not, OL Don Barclay will stay at RT and EDS will continue at LG. If Lang can play he could move back to his normal LG position and Barclay could stay in at RT.
The Packers could also promote OL Andrew Datko from the practice squad to help out at RT. This is just another example of the Packers dealing with injuries and their next-man-up philosophy. We won’t know how this particular situation will play out until game time.
RB Ryan Grant was signed this week to take RB James Starks’ place while he is out. Grant was with the Packers for several years, knows the offense and is a good locker room guy. I see him playing situational downs only at this point. RB Alex Green will be the featured back Sunday night. I think both RBs will see their share of carries though. Given the forecast of sub-freezing temperatures and snow ( ! ) for Sunday night I think the ball will have to be carried more than it’s thrown.
Statistically a couple of things jump out about these two teams. Offensively the Lions rank second in total yards and first in pass yards in the league. Defensively, they’re twenty-sixth in the league in points allowed.
Offensively the two teams rank eleventh and twelfth in points scored with the slight edge to the Lions. In fact, the Lions outrank the Packers in every offensive category, but the Packers play better defense in every category.
Surprising? It was to me.
Just like every other game these two teams have played over the years, when these two teams play Sunday night the winner will be the team that makes the fewest stupid mistakes and the most plays. Lately the Lions have been making a lot of stupid mistakes and the Packers have been making a lot of plays.
With new or returning faces on the field for the Packers and a lot on the line it’ll be interesting to see which team plays up to their potential and which team plays down to theirs.
Here are a few of the things I’ll be watching with you during the game:
• Packers run game. Ryan Grant’s return was almost inevitable when Starks and the Packers realized the knee bruise sustained against the Vikings was worse than first thought. He’s familiar with the offense. He’s fresh, not having played much at all for Washington and with relatively little wear and tear on his 30-year-old body. Will he have burst? Will he be assignment sure when called upon to block? How are his hands?
I still think we’ll see more of Green than Grant, but over the next four games if Grant shows he can tote the rock securely and effectively then everything else the Packers offense does will be more effective. If Grant fumbles against the Lions the collective groan emanating from Packers fans will be measurable on the Richter scale.
• Packers offensive line. With replacements in at LG and RT there’s plenty to be concerned about. However, neither Evan Dietrich-Smith nor Don Barclay had what could be called a bad game against the Vikings. But the Lions bring a different kind of D line (read better) to Lambeau Sunday night, and the entire Pack O line had better be ready for a real war on the frozen tundra. If the Packers can’t protect Rodgers or open any holes for Green or Grant it will be a long night. I’ll be observing the LG and RT positions in particular to see how EDS and Barclay hold up. If Lang can play will he go back to LG and Barclay stay at RT? We’ll see.
• Packers receivers. Again they follow the seemingly normal (at least for this season) availability routine for this game. Get one back…lose one. Back is Jennings from a decent first outing against Minnesota last week. But lost is Nelson, whose hammy isn’t ready to answer the call against the Lions. Even so, the consistently excellent performances of Jones and Cobb seem to balance out the back and forth between the other receivers. I’ll be looking for Jennings to make a bigger contribution in this game and for Jones and Cobb to continue their steady, and sometimes star, performances. And for all of them to catch the ball!
• Packers defensive line/LBs. The Packers will need to get after Stafford and force him to continue his trend of throwing a few to the other team. To do this I think the Packers will need to blitz more in this game than normal. Packers LBs need to get to Stafford when called upon to blitz. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for the big guys to get home either, but when rushing five or more the Packers have to be more successful than they have so far this season. Too many opposing QBs have escaped from Packers attackers.
• Packers DBs. They’ll once again have their shots at snagging some balls. They’ll need to finish when the ball is in their hands. This is a regular point of emphasis for me and should be for the team. I don’t know if the NFL keeps stats for missed or dropped INTs but if they do I think the Packers would be in the top five teams … for INTs dropped. In this game I’ll be watching for the DBs to work together to keep Megatron from setting some kind of record in the game and to catch some of Stafford’s passes. And to TACKLE!
• Packers special teams. They will be called upon to produce in what may be the worst weather conditions seen so far this season. Even without the potential for snowfall during the game it’ll still be cold. It’s not as if this is anything new for the kickers, but I’ll be watching Masthay closely to see how his punts look in this one. As far as Crosby is concerned I’ll be watching and hoping that his slump is over and that he’ll be accurate … conditions and all.
• Green and Grant, with a few yards from Kuhn and with any luck very few attempts by Rodgers, will combine for more than 150 yards for the second straight week.
• Green or Grant will score a touchdown on the ground.
• Rodgers will once again make his case for MVP to a national TV audience with an 80 percent completion, three TD, no INT game.
• The Packers receivers will catch three TD passes and drop none.
• The Packers will sack Stafford four times. Two by LBs, one by a DL, and one by a blitzing safety. The Packers will pick Stafford off three times. One by Hayward, one by Jennings, and one by Williams.
• The Packers O line will allow fewer sacks and protect Rodgers better than the Detroit O line does for Stafford.
• The Lions will have more penalties in the game than the Packers.
• At least one Lions player will commit a penalty that eventually results in a hefty fine. He will suddenly develop amnesia about the play after the game, then talk himself out of breath denying it was intentional. OK … so this is an easy one but my predictions haven’t been quite as tight as I would like lately. I’ll take low-hanging fruit when I can get it.
• NBC will tie the Stomp to the Kick to something else Suh does in this game. But hopefully it’s not a stomp or a kick.
• Special teams? Cobb. Is. Still. Due. Just don’t give up yards on your returns 18!
• Mason Crosby will not miss a kick in this game. He’s back!
We’ll be watching the nationally-televised game from the comfort of our own home this Sunday night. But for the rest of the regular season (unless the Packers get flexed to Sunday night) we’ll be at our normal haunt – Tailgators on FM1488 in Magnolia. I’ll still be tweeting random thoughts on the game and the telecast to all those who dare to follow at @PackersTX.
Bring it Lions! Go Pack GO!