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Opposition Research: Detroit Lions (W4)

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Opposition Research: Detroit Lions (W4)

Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Detroit Lions.  Unfortunately for me, I will be in the backwater woods of Georgia and will miss this game, but I couldn’t leave before I got you up to speed on the 162nd divisional throw-down of two teams frustrated by losses.

Coming into this game, the Lions are0-3 for the fifth time in C Dominic Raiola’s 10-year career in Detroit, following a 24-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.  The Lions capitalized on a Corey Williams (ex-Packer) pick of Brett Favre (ex-Packer), and were up 7-0 with 3:04 left in the first quarter. They would hold this lead for two precious minutes before Brett Favre threw one of those passes and the Vikings were back in it.  Ty over at the Lions In Winter (a fantastic blog, btw) summed up the game thusly:

Yesterday’s game was one of the most brutal football games—in every sense of the word—in my memory.  Brutal, as in physically violent and punishing.  Brutal, as in unfeelingly cold and vicious.  Brutal, as in “unpleasantly accurate and incisive” (H/T: Mirriam-Webster).

The Lions converted only 3 of 12 third downs (with a 32% conversion rate thus far in the season), and managed only 63 net yards rushing against the Vikings' (grudgingly, excellent) defense.  Still able to move the ball all game (295 net yards), the Lions scored only one touchdown despite four trips to the red zone.  (Opponents, meanwhile, have managed 413.7 total yards and 10 touchdowns, making the Lions the 3rd most generous defense in the league.)

After the early score and a field goal in the second quarter, the Lions were shut out the rest of the game (QB Shaun Hill’s two late-game picks in the end zone didn’t help).  The second-half sputtering of Detroit’s offense has been startling to some, given the team's off-season beefing-up.  With the addition of free agents WR Nate Burleson and TE Tony Scheffler and rookie do-it-all RB Jahvid Best, how could the Lions offense be stifled so effectively?

But not all have been so shocked -- many in the media are unsurprised that the Lions remain winless after 3 games:

Help me out with something here. Didn't just about everybody on the planet predict the Lions would lose more games this season than they would win? And a lot of folks, like me, had them going around 4-12.

So, how is it that people are now shocked that the Lions are losing games?

Michael Rosenberg certainly wasn’t light on the scorn following Sunday’s game:

After this game, the Lions should have been forced to sign a scorecard. They earned the loss in almost every way. With many Lions' road losses, it can be hard to find a turning point: Was it when they got off the bus, or when the schedule came out?

The Lions players themselves are losing their patience. During the game last week, QB Shaun Hill charged after Jared Allen during a scuffle in the second half:

Hill said afterwards that the Lions' wouldn't be anyone's "punks."

In an odd sense of déjà vu for Packer fans, coach Jim Schwartz thought that the Lions beat themselves, saying in his post-game press conference on Sunday that many of the negative plays (penalties, Adrian Peterson’s crazy 80-yd scamper to the end zone, etc.) were “self-inflicted wounds.”  I wonder if he watched Monday night’s Packers-Bears game and realized that, even in the battle of “who tried harder to lose the game in W3,” the Packers still won by a landslide.

The fans at home are… still peeved over their loss to the Bears.  In fact, one columnist is still so bent out of shape about the rule that negated Calvin Johnson’s touchdown that he’s invoked Saddam Hussein’s Intelligence Chief:

One has to go all the way back to the invasion of Iraq and the daily press briefings of Mr. Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf — nicknamed Baghdad Bob — to find a more comical example of brazen and absurdly made falsehoods.

Sadly, if not surprisingly, the NFL has easily convinced the public and media that its integrity is intact and all was fair and square when it stole the touchdown from Mr. Johnson and the game from the Detroit Lions. Many in the media have gone through more contortions defending the decision to rob the Lions of victory than Mr. Johnson went through making the catch.

Other than that, fans know that this team is better than it was last year, or the year before.  With Suh and Best, it has to be…right?

Something to chew on…a loss on Sunday gives the Lions 23 straight road losses, 2nd in NFL history behind only…themselves.  Coach Jim Schwartz, being a numbers guy, looks that the Lions’ current season and tries to spin it positively:

There's been a lot of teams that have lost -- had losing streaks in the season.  If you get off to a good start, you can sort of point to the good start and work through your losing streak. Ours is at the beginning of the season.

And it’s true -- the 1995 Lions overcame an 0-3 start to finish 10-7, earning a wildcard berth.  They did it by leaning on two first-team All-Pros, RB Barry Sanders (1500yd/11TD) and WR Herman Moore (1686yd/14TD).  The only member still left from that team is PK Jason Hanson, now in his 19th year in the league.  Going into Sunday’s game, Hanson has missed only 8 extra points following 568 touchdowns, and has scored 1847 total points for the Lions.

Also of note? The Lions took Hanson in the second round (#56 overall) of the 1992 draft.  Wow.  The next specialist? At #299, to the Philadelphia Eagles, punter Pumpy Tudors.  Not even joking.

When looking at the Packers on film… the Lions have to have been impressed by the ability of the Packers to implode against the Bears on Monday night:

Before we crown the Bears, let's take a moment to bury the Packers. (At least for the moment.) Quite frankly, this was an epic collapse for a team that has its sights set on the Super Bowl.

As far as the upcoming game at Lambeau on Sunday, the Lions are banking on their pass rush (which have resulted in multiple roughing-the-passer penalties for Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, and Corey Williams) to set the tone.  Coach Schwartz has commented that he’s not going to “penalize his team’s passion.”  Given the ferocity of the Lions’ front four, one reporter makes the following prediction:

Don't be surprised if Vanden Bosch is kneeling over a crumpled Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, or Williams is snarling over a prone Sam Bradford the following week.

The Lions are coming. They will rush the passer within the rules, and with honor, sportsmanship and wholesome goodness.

But, hey, mistakes happen.

Latif over at Pride of Detroit has a very good breakdown of the Packers defense. After looking at film from both teams against Philadelphia and Chicago, Latif doubts that linemen Gosder Cherilus of Jeff Backus will be able to block Matthews effectively one-on-one. If the Lions take Latif's suggestion, we'll be seeing fullbacks come in to chip and the Lions offense running directly at Matthews.

Detroit News has a section identifying players for Lions fans to watch, and all the usual suspects are included: Rodgers, Jennings, Finley, Woodson, and Matthews.  (Also comes with graphs showing how the Packers outrank the Lions in every statistical category this year. Eep.)

This tweet made me laugh aloud (once I googled what the show was about):

@TerryFoster971: Detroit 187 will be on ABC Tuesday night. The replay is Sunday (1 p.m.) at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

What We’re Up Against: If the Packers were looking for an easy win to take the sting out of that Monday night loss to the Bears, they may not get it.  The Lions are 0-3, but they have been competitive in each contest, and appear to be adjusting to the loss of quarterback Matt Stafford (to a Julius-Peppers-induced injury in W1) by featuring rookie Jahvid Best.  Best will likely be slightly hampered on Sunday due to turf toe, but there are superlatives flying about this kid --- and for good reason.  He already appears to be the most exciting player in Honolulu Blue since Barry Sanders himself.  His 232 total yards and 3 TDs against Philadelphia were simply obnoxious.  Watch him play, and, with flashbacks of LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick fairly fresh in our minds, you have to be concerned about how the Packers are going to match up against such a dynamic player (consider, the Vikings were concerned more about him than MegaTron).

With Stafford out, Shaun Hill will be starting on Sunday, but make no mistake – Hill is a backup (solid, but still not a starter).  Like many quarterbacks not named Aaron Rodgers, he plays poorly when blitzed (PFF puts his rating at 34.6 in such instances).  He lacks the arm strength to make full use of Calvin Johnson (who’s trying to say the right things now that he’s not getting the ball), and the reliance on short passes significantly handicaps the Lions offense.  The ground game has struggled to gain tough yards in crucial situations, and Hill’s inability to fit a pass into tight windows won’t help against an aggressive Packers defense.  RB Kevin Smith may be back from a torn ACL this week, but I wouldn’t count on him being too big a threat.

Second year TE Brandon Pettigrew has buckets of talent, but has struggled with drops already this season (two against Minnesota), and may still be favoring his knee (tore an ACL last year on Thanksgiving against Green Bay).  His 14 catches coming into the game equal those of Calvin Johnson, so fans should expect to see him targeted underneath.  Ex-Broncos TE Tony Scheffler is a common target as well, in another way – twice, a pass intended for Scheffler has found its way into a defender’s hands.

I worry a little about the Lions defensive line.  Suh is a beast (and one who doesn’t seem to have the best handle on what constitutes unnecessary roughness ---- I love the announcers: “Tries to take the head with him…a quarterback needs that…”), and Vanden Bosch was a stalwart on the Titans line for years.  If this is the game that the Packers decide to go with Bulaga over Clifton, I think we’ll get a good view of how our line matches up against pressure….because, even if the Lions can’t put up points, they certainly can make Rodgers move out of the pocket on Sunday.

But let’s be realistic here.  There are very few teams in the NFL that Aaron Rodgers has played better against than the Lions. Yes, he had higher QB ratings against the Rams and the Browns, but that was one game each – consider that, in 4 games against Detroit, he has averaged 335.5 yards and 2.75 passing touchdowns a game. Not too shabby, right?  The Lions have done little to upgrade their secondary in the offseason – in fact, second year Louis Delmas remains the only consistent player on the back end who Rodgers should really concern himself with.  Left starting corner Chris Houston is new this year from Atlanta, but he’s hardly more than a band-aid in a pass defense that’s allowed 265 yards per game.  As long as Greg Jennings catches those deep passes that Rodgers throws…ahem…you may very well see some great aerial efforts by the Packers in this one.

I feel bad for the team, frankly…it seems to have the worst luck ever. As far as injuries are concerned, four other starters were missing from Wednesday’s practice:  WR Nate Burleson, RB Jahvid Best, LB DeAndre Levy, and S Louis Delmas. While Levy, Delmas, and Best are likely to play, Burleson is doubtful.  The Lions realize that injuries don’t help your ball club:

When you're going on the road to play the Green Bay Packers -- where you've lost 19 straight games dating back to 1991 -- it would be helpful to have a healthy roster of players. Right now, that's not the case with the Detroit Lions.

Still, as Mike Kowalski said in his oh-so-memorable rant after the loss to Minnesota, the Lions aren’t going to roll over for the Packers no matter what players are able to make it to game time:

Sunday against the Vikings, the big plays included a muffed punt, a blown coverage for a touchdown and surrendering an 80-yard touchdown run. Those three things will pretty much get you beat every week, but then sprinkle in the poor short-yardage blocking and the penalties and you've got the recipe for the same brand of Lions football that we've been watching for a decade.

Just because we don't expect wins doesn't mean we expect more of the same.

It's absolute lunacy to say winning is the only thing that matters. There's a difference between going down swinging and going down in a fetal position.

The Lions will play the Packers tough on Sunday. Can they actually make good on any threats? Yet to be determined.  Pete Dougherty does his damndest to come up with complimentary things to say about this Lions team (Bob McGinn doesn't try quite as hard), and the Scout Inc. folk at ESPN determine that the only advantages the Lions have going into Sunday rest on the defensive line and special teams.  Rob Reischel of the Journal-Sentinel doesn’t even give the Lions the DL, saying the position is a push.  Reischel does give the Lions the edge at running back, but he also notes that, if Best is injured, the dropoff to backup Maurice Morris is significant.

The preview on Lions in Winter will be a must-read (Ty's predicting that the Lions will suffer a painful 17-24 loss). Let’s not forget how well Brandon at Acme Packing Co. can break down the game…not to mention the rest of SB Nation. Not sure if it's a new feature, but Jabooty's take on how the teams match up is also a good read.  Be sure to also check back in with the NFL’s video preview of the game once it’s up.

If I managed your fantasy team… I would start Finley, and if I didn’t have Finley on my roster, I might trade for him.  The Lions front seven isn’t stellar in coverage, and even against stout linebackers, Finley makes plays all over the field.  If the Bears weren’t able to keep the Packers pass offense under 300 total yards, you have to figure that Rodgers, Jennings, Driver, Finley, all are good bets against a Lions secondary that hasn’t been able to stop much.  The Packers defense is also a good bet, as Clay Matthews has to be frustrated that his zero-sack game came far earlier than expected.  On the Lions side, Calvin Johnson is likely to see a good deal of Charles Woodson and Jahvid Best may not have his normal burst. While each is a big-play threat on any given Sunday, I'm not sure any of their offensive playmakers are solid enough to start with Stafford out.  Maybe Jason Hanson at kicker. Maybe.  Otherwise, consider this a quasi-bye week for the Detroit contingent of your fantasy lineup.

Parting Shots:

The Packers remain locked in a battle with the Washington Redskins over who owns the longest home field winning streak against a team (the Lions) in NFL history. Both teams are tied at 18 games, and the Packers can extend that on Sunday. The Redskins just lost to the Rams, and play the Lions on October 31. Cross your fingers that the Lions are victorious in Week 8.

Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks pretty much sums up the plight of the Detroit Lions this week:

Tough to see anything but 0-4 on the way with this week's trip to Lambeau, where the Packers should be in the mood to take out their aggression on someone.

I think the Packers win this game, and win it convincingly.** I think they show us what the passing game ought to be (a la the 3rd preseason game against Indianapolis), and I think that this game starts getting our hopes back up (perhaps a little too high).

I do think that the Lions, overall, are better than they have been.  I know I said that twice last year, but it’s hard not to believe it, when they draft players of obvious talent (Suh, Best). I like the Lions to hang tough against just about anyone. I think the Packers just come out swinging this week.

Frankly, I think they have to.

** I continue to wait for the Packers to play good football in all phases for 60 minutes. It hasn’t happened yet. I don’t expect it to happen this week.  I half-expect the Lions to lead at some point, if only by a fluke play.

Want even more Packers talk?  Be sure to catch CheeseheadRadio (w/ me, CD Angeli, Jersey Al, and John Rehor) every Thursday night at 8pm CST. This week's guest is Michael Schottey, Lions blogger/writer extraordinaire.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (7) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Cuphound's picture

Brilliantly methodical as always, Holly! Your column is one of the highlights of my week!

cheap detroit lions tickets's picture

Great post as usual.. Lions fans still hope for the best

NickGBP's picture

Wow. Great work as always. Going to have to break this reading into parts. Off to work.

Ryeguy812's picture

The backwoods of Georgia?!?!? Good luck with that.
Great stuff per usual

Ruppert's picture

Excellent, Holly. And with the way our Tackles played the other night, I am more than a little worried about Vanden Bosch. I seem to recall him having pretty good luck against a healthy Clifton in the past.

MarkinMadison's picture

Bulaga.

foundinidaho's picture

What? You are missing the game? Not acceptable! ;)

Great as always. I couldn't even begin to write about "technical stuff, though I'm finally learning more of it.

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