Welcome to Opposition Research, where I'll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Detroit Lions. In contrast to Week 4's monumental and record-breaking showdown with the Vikings, this week's game is a "ho hum, it’s the Lions" kind of game. The line is 13.5 and the city of Detroit cares more about the upcoming bidding for the Silverdome than this week's game. Nevertheless, I'll see what I can do to hype up the matchup between the injury-riddled Lions and the bye-rested Packers.
Coming into this game, the Lions are…not content with making a good "effort" or winning "moral victories." Halfway through last week's game (in which they were competitive against the Steelers until well into the 4th quarter), Ed Hochuli negated Eric King's interception of Ben Roethlisberger by invoking the "Tom Brady Rule." While in line with the new rule, the call extended a drive that led to 7 more Steelers points, instead of giving the Lions an opportunity to score. Even so, they were in position to tie the game with 3:07 to go (own 29, 2 TOs left). The Steelers needed 3 straight sacks – and their incredible traveling fanbase - to keep the Lions (already without Calvin Johnson) at bay. There's no telling whether coming thisclose to victory will demoralize or galvanize the Lions for Sunday's game, but even the Packers know that this is a different team than the 2008 Lions.
There are several people who believe the Lions are better than their 1-4 record. The local writers in Detroit do not. (Let's not forget, the Lions only made it inside the red zone once, for a FG.) The Lions themselves hope they're improving, but know the game's all about wins. Still, Yahoo's MJD offers praise:
If you watch the Lions week after week, you see the embryonic signs of improvement and competitiveness so foreign to the franchise in the Matt Millen era.
The fans at home are…busy talking about the new Lions players. To address issues in the secondary (of which there are many), the Lions signed CB Demarcus Faggins after CB Eric King was placed on IR. To counteract the despair-inducing possibility that Calvin Johnson may not play on Sunday, WR John Standeford was added to the roster. Even with these two moves, fans are making trade wishes and checking them twice. And…hating the Packers, but that’s hardly newsworthy.
When looking at the Packers on film…the Lions are concerned that if Calvin Johnson doesn’t play, they'll have no deep threat in the passing game. And, even if the Packers stack eight in the box, Matthew Stafford knows that Charles Woodson and Al Harris know how to bait a QB into bad decisions all by themselves. Having just played a 3-4 defense, the Lions look at the Packers D and say, "Here we go again." They also have heard that Aaron Rodgers isn't moaning about being sacked a league-high 20 times – they expect him to throw it all over the field.
A Lions fan looks at film from Mike McCarthy's time as OC in New Orleans in 2003 to draw conclusions about the Packers offensive tendencies heading into Sunday's game. Comparing A-Rod to Aaron Brooks strikes me as a little…odd…but he does talk about it with enough stats to (try to) make the following claim:
Based on the Packers' reliance on the passing game, inability to protect the quarterback, and an decided systemic advantage for the Lions on both sides of the ball, the most probable outcome is a medium-scoring, close-margin game that the Lions win.
Something to chew on…the Steelers allowed the Lions to convert 11 of 18 third-downs, gave up over 100 yards on the ground, and lost the time of possession battle. Yeah, they sacked Culpepper seven times, but those are not the kinds of numbers you expect from the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. You can say that the Steelers weren't playing like themselves, but if the Packers don't play up to their potential, Sunday's game could turn out to be far more interesting than it ought to be.
What We’re Up Against: The Lions defense (31st total & vs. pass, 18th v. run) has allowed 73.3 percent completions, gives up a league-worst 32.4 points per game, and has only managed 3 interceptions. Pete Dougherty, in his excellent scouting report, generously calls the unit a mess. DC Gunther Cunningham is living up to his promise of benching players who underperform (starting CB Anthony Henry was the third DB benched in 4 weeks). Henry's account is priceless:
I don't know who made the decision, but I know a player came in for me and they said, 'You out. You're done.' I thought a certain package was coming in, so I was like, 'What?' And he's like, 'Nah. You out.' I'm like, 'All right.' So I knew what that was about.
With King and S Daniel Bullocks out for the season, it's no wonder the secondary has struggled to find cohesion. Only one guy, rookie FS Louis Delmas, has started each game thus far. There's definitely room for Rodgers to throw the ball around, and after Jennings went off this past week, there could be some big plays coming his way.
Jim Schwartz knows that injuries are chewing up his team on both sides of the ball. In addition to a decimated secondary, both rookie and best-of-the-NFL’s-Young-Guns QB Matthew Stafford and Megatron WR Calvin Johnson are question marks for Sunday's game. (Seriously, Phil Simms…you'd take Stafford over Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez? Really?) While the step from Stafford to Culpepper isn't a significant one (Culpepper has shown himself to be more of a mobile QB this year), Calvin Johnson is hard to replace. Still, and this may be the most damning of all, it's hard to field a good team when even the coach thinks the roster lacks talent.
With the Lions offense (28th per FO), we could either see the A-Team of Stafford and Johnson, against whom teams have to plan, or we could see the B-Team of Culpepper and…Bryant Johnson? Dennis Northcutt? 1st round draft pick Brandon Pettigrew is a fine TE, but with the Packers restricting TEs to 3 touches and 35 yards, the JV personnel may not cut it. Plus, even if Stafford and Johnson do play, they're expected to be a step off. Bottom line? Expect to see a ton of Kevin Smith. He's coming into the game with a chip on his shoulder, and will be looking for paydirt. NFL calls the Smith-Barnett matchup the one to watch.
- The Lions have not won in Wisconsin since Dec. 15, 1991, when the 4-12 Packers lost 23-14 – the Lions have since amassed a 17-game losing streak. A loss on Sunday ties the league record for road losses against an opponent, which is held by…the Detroit Lions vs. Washington (0-18). The Lions haven't won there since…ever, really, as the last time the team won, it was the Portsmouth Spartans over the Boston Redskins, 13-0, on October 15, 1933. (In case you were wondering, the 5-7-1 Packers split that year– we won 17-0 at home, lost 7-0 on road.)
- Meanwhile, the Packers dope sheet reminds us that at the last meeting, the Packers had an NFL-first 2 rushers and 2 receivers topping 100 yards (106 for Wynn and Grant, 111 for Driver, and 101 for Jennings). Is it going to be that kind of game again? We'll find out.
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