Lions vs. Packers: Saturday Scoop

The Green Bay Packers get some home cookin' this weekend with the Detroit Lions coming to town.  As is the case with every passing season, it's another year added to the Lions' losing streak in the state of Wisconsin.  They eventually have to beat the Packers in Green Bay, but it won't likely be this weekend.  Not to spoil our weekly picks column, but I'm also hardly alone.  Despite two-straight losses in which the Packers have raised many questions about how legitimate their contention is for a championship season, they're still 6-2 and with a nice opportunity in front of them to gain some ground back.  As in the image above, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford may need a hug when this one is over with.

On paper, neither of these teams is playing great football right now.  Both rank middle-to-lower end of the league, in terms of yardage gained on offense and given up on defense.  The Lions, however, have reverted back to the Lions that we remember from, well, every prior season with the exception of a few recently.  This is already a lost year for Detroit and they recently made major changes among their front office and staff, letting go of team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew.  They also previously let go of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and two offensive line coaches as well.  This isn't a Detroit team that should be striking fear into a Packers team that hasn't lost a regular season home game that was started and finished by quarterback Aaron Rodgers since the opener in 2012.  Yet, somehow, the doubters are alive and well.

Many of these nay-sayers will tell you that they're aware that Green Bay is still 6-2 but it's how they've lost the last two games that has them up in arms.  Yes, there was some awful football played by the Packers, on both sides of the ball.  Allowing 500 yards per game is nothing to write home about and I'm not here to agree nor make excuses.  I'll stop short of saying that defensive coordinator Dom Capers has to go right now, but if this team can't fix the defense and exit the playoffs ugly, that conversation will get hot and heavy really fast.  But again, these are the 2015 Detroit Lions.

This game is almost just what the doctor ordered for a team that needs to build up some confidence and notch another in the "W" column.  Stafford is having one of his toughest seasons, throwing 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  He's been under constant pressure and the Detroit offense isn't getting the same type of production that they had with many of the same players last season.  Defensively, the Lions still have a decent secondary.  Cornerback Darius Slay may not be very bright (he thought Lambeau Field was spelled "Lambo" as in short for Lamborghini), but he's improved a bit over last year and can come up with big plays on occasion.  The biggest issue the Lions have on defense is lost production from the departures of defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.  Haloti Ngata is still a force to be reckoned with in the middle, but he can't make up for everything Detroit lost.

The Packers offense has some fixing to do itself.  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers reached a low point in his play that we haven't seen since 2008 when he took over as starter.  Usually razor sharp, Rodgers missed an opening to receiver Randall Cobb that would have given the Packers a chance to tie the Carolina Panthers late in last week's game.  It's a throw Rodgers has and can make more often than not.  The problem?  The offensive line is out of sync.  These are the same five guys the Packers had last year that helped running back Eddie Lacy eclipse 1,000 yards and kept Rodgers on his feet most of the season.  This year, they're getting blown off the ball and suffering from mental lapse after mental lapse.  This certainly has to be part of what's in Rodgers' head when in the pocket.  Back in 2009, Rodgers faced a ton of pressure and often had "happy feet" as he was looking to throw.  When a quarterback starts moving around the pocket and looks like he's being chased by a defender who isn't there, that's referred to by many scouts as "seeing ghosts".  It's a trait that many young quarterbacks exhibit or guys who don't have the skills to be very good to elite.  Rodgers doesn't need to prove that he can be that, but right now, he's simply not.  By his own admission last week after the loss to the Panthers, he said that something scared him and kept him from pulling the trigger on an "easy pitch an catch" to Cobb.  Rodgers is still, and by far, the best player on this team, but when he's dealing with a mental block that's affecting his physical play, it's not something that can be ignored.

The Lions are giving up over 120 yards per game on the ground and aren't that much better against the pass.  Rodgers has been far from his usual accurate self, but if he can avoid throwing one into a bad spot, the passing game can regain some of its footing this weekend.  The Packers offensive coaching staff needs to continue to add some different looks to help the receivers get free from coverage.  Failure to do so will result in another lull that will challenge this team in winning the division and becoming a legitimate contender for the NFC.  Running back James Starks will get another good opportunity to keep ahold of the first-team spot.  His counterpart, Eddie Lacy, was listed as questionable as of Friday night.  Whether it's a bigger injury that previously thought or the Packers feel that Lacy needs some time off, expect to see Alonzo Harris if Lacy can't go.  I expect assistant head coach Tom Clements to try and establish the run early on and bring some of the pass coverage up to help in run support.  If the Packers can come out fast and running well, the scoreboard operator could get a nice workout on Sunday.

Overall, nevermind that this game comes against a lesser-quality opponent.  The Lions are still a NFL team and divisional opponent who have the advantage of familiarity with the Packers.  We've seen some bad Lions teams beat better Packers teams before.  This brings me to my gut feeling of the week.

Gut Feeling of the Week

The Packers defensive pass rush will get home this week.  The defense, frankly, has to be pissed off after last week's stinker in Carolina.  They were beat deep several times and couldn't get any pressure on Cam Newton.  Capers decided to go with coverage on second and third-and-long yardage and rushed only three guys.  That didn't work in 2011, 2012, 13 or last year, Dominic.  Send.  The.  House.  What happened to this Packers team that head coach Mike McCarthy said would take some calculated risks?

I expect a good game out of the Packers defensive line, specifically Mike Daniels and Datone Jones.  Both have proven ability to not only push the pocket, but get to the passer.  Stafford doesn't run much so there will be opportunities to bring him down.  

What's that?  You're worried about the middle of the field, you say?  Linebackers Jake Ryan stepped in after Nate Palmer was benched and led the team with 10 tackles last week.  I've been waiting for Ryan to become ready for more and his time appears to be now.  He's no Desmond Bishop, but he looks to be the type of guy who will improve and play better the more he's on the field.  Ryan can hopefully take away a chunk of that soft middle area and maybe we'll see more of Clay Matthews there as well, please?!  That would help force Stafford to challenge one of Green Bay's ball-hawking secondary.  That secondary may be without Sam Shields again and let's hope that the Demetri Goodson experiment has ended.  Give me Micah Hyde on the outside before they throw "Meech" out there again after last week.  And that says a lot, given what we've seen of Hyde in coverage this season.  And before you get too down on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (and there were many reasons to last week), let's not forget his better moments this season and that he can get after the ball.  These next few games will show us what kind of pro HHCD is likely to become and how he responds to a major regression in his young career.

Julius Peppers, please feel free to join the party anytime you're ready and act like a 14-year veteran who may be staring his last legitimate shot at a ring in the eyes.  And for the love, can we please see some more Jayrone Elliott?  He had a great game against the Seattle Seahawks in week two and hasn't done much since, mostly because he's not being utilized.  If this Packers team is going to make a serious run, they're going to need role players to start making the most of their time on the field.

If the pass rush can get to Stafford three or more times, I like the Packers to run away with this game.  They need it, as they'll face three more division opponents after this week incluing road games at Detroit and Minnesota.



Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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