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Packers vs. Lions: 5 Things to Watch and a Prediction

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Packers vs. Lions: 5 Things to Watch and a Prediction

Erasing a part of history will be an objective of both the Green Bay Packers (1-1) and Detroit Lions (1-1) Sunday at Ford Field. 

The Packers will return for the first time to the setting of last November's Turkey Day Massacre. The 30-point drubbing under the holiday lights represented the second-worst loss of the Mike McCarthy era. The Lions have years of misery to put to bed, most notably a 2-14 mark against the Packers since McCarthy was hired in 2006 and a winless record against a healthy Aaron Rodgers. 

One team will get its redemption Sunday, and in the process gain a foothold in the early NFC North standings. Implications abound. 

Here's five other things to watch and a prediction:

 

1. Two Important Tests

The Packers have big assignments on both sides of the ball. On offense, rookie center Corey Linsley will get 60 minutes worth of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley inside. Linsley has played unexpectedly well during his first two weeks, but Suh and Fairley can be as disruptive as any interior pair in the game. The rookie needs to play well against another tough road test. 

On defense, receiver Calvin Johnson presents an annual challenge. He has 606 receiving yards and three touchdowns over just his last four games against Green Bay, and nine of his 12 career games versus the Packers have ended with at least 100 yards or one touchdown. Green Bay can counter with a trio of capable corners—Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Davon House—but no cover man is Johnson's equal. Expect the safeties to be stressed to keep everything in front of them. 

 

2. The Start of Jordy vs. Darius?

This might be a matchup to get familiar with over the long term. Jordy Nelson is just reaching the height of his powers, while the Lions look like they have a legitimate cornerback in Darius Slay, a second-rounder from 2013. This week, Slay rightfully called Nelson one of his top five receivers. Aaron Rodgers' favorite target leads the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and targets through two weeks. (Just for kicks: Nelson is currently on pace for 144 catches and almost 2,400 yards.) 

Meanwhile, Slay has emerged as one of the game's better young cornerbacks. Both Eli Manning and Cam Newton challenged him extensively during the first two weeks, but he's allowed just six catches and 10 yards after the catch. He has the speed to run with Nelson and the length to compete on jump balls. It's worth noting that the Packers are 12-2 when Nelson goes over 100 yards receiving and 7-0 when Nelson catches two or more scores. Bottom line: when Rodgers and Nelson are on, the Packers are almost impossible to beat. Slay needs to play well for a beat-up secondary Sunday.

 

3. Running in Place

The Packers' slow-starting running game will meet one of the league's toughest run defenses. Detroit has allowed an average of just 95 rushing yards over the last 18 games, which ranks fifth in the NFL. The Jets are the only team that have allowed fewer rushing yards this season, but Detroit leads the league in opposing yards per carry (2.5). 

A year after finishing sixth in the NFL in rushing, the Packers have started 2014 ranked 29th in attempts and 26th in yards and yards per carry. The Seahawks stopped Eddie Lacy and Co. with a suffocating front seven and mostly one-high safety looks. The Jets remained in base defense for most of last week, even when the Packers brought in sub personnel. The Lions are good enough in the front seven to play similarly to Seattle, but a lack of healthy cornerbacks could force Detroit to also play less subpackages. Lacy might find space hard to come by again this week. That said, the Packers rushed for 180 yards with Rodgers and Lacy both healthy last season. 

 

4. Ain't That a Kick in the Head...

If field goals become a factor, the Lions might be in trouble. Rookie kicker Nate Freese is currently last in the NFL in kick accuracy (40 percent), which can be blamed solely on his 0-for-3 start on kicks over 40 yards. Confidence has to be an issue, and his hold on a roster spot is now tenuous at best. A miss or two Sunday and Freese is likely gone. 

The Packers, on the other hand, have ultimate confidence in Mason Crosby, who hasn't missed since early November of last year. He's made 39 of his last 43 attempts. His 55-yard boot last week was one of the more impressive makes of his career; it was hit right down broadway and would have been good from 65. Neither of these offenses want to settle for field goals, but it's clear which club has the advantage if this becomes a bend-but-don't-break affair. 

 

5. To Blitz, or Not to Blitz?

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to dial up blitzes—he's called 28 of them so far in 2014—but it's worth wondering if he'll tone down the looks this week. In Week 1, Matthew Stafford was 5 of 5 for 101 yards and a touchdown against six Giants blitzes. Last Sundaay, the Panthers held Stafford to a 72.5 passer rating despite blitzing on just six of 53 dropbacks. So far, Stafford's splits read as follows: 141.1 passer rating against the blitz, 86.0 when not blitzed. 

The underlying lesson: sending extra rushers at Stafford presents opportunities for big plays, while playing coverage forces the Lions' volatile quarterback to make many consecutive good decisions to score. However, playing coverage only works when there's an accompanying pass rush. It's a difficult balancing act Capers has struggled with in recent years. To uncomplicate things, the Packers simply need to play well at the line of scrimmage. 

 

Prediction: Packers 33, Lions 31 (2-0)

This originally read "Lions 31, Packers 26." On Tuesday, I put down "Lions" for my weekly pick at Bleacher Report. But given the mounting injuries at cornerback for the Lions, it would be foolhardy to pick against Aaron Rodgers, who has a passer rating of 111.0 over 10 career games against Detroit. He should make enough plays against a depleted secondary—the Lions scrambled this week to find a third corner—for the Packers to overcome any shortcomings on defense. Bad decisions can be reversed in the presence of new evidence, right?

 

Zach Kruse contributes to Cheesehead TV. He is also the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (8) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

4thand1's picture

Lacy is facing another good run defense for the 3rd straight week. I'm not worried, no one runs the ball well against the Hawks, Jets, or lolions. Take what else they give you...............shitty secondaries. (except seachickens)

Clay Zombo's picture

I expect to see Detroit running some Jet sweep type plays with Bush, Jeremy Ross, Golden Taint and maybe even Theo Riddick. They will also use a good amount of playaction fakes and bubble screens if they are smart.

aj's picture

Good choice mr. Kruse! Go pack!

Oppy's picture

The make-or-break factor for corners attempting to cover Jordy Nelson isn't speed or length- even though both certainly are necessary.

What makes Jordy such a handful for DBs that separates him from other large, fast targets is his ability to mask his routes and intentions. From the line until he makes his break- or double move- his routes look nearly identical. The man has very few 'tells' that tip off the defender. It is something that Jordy puts a special emphasis on in his training.

A DB who aims to be successful at containing Nelson needs the ability to READ and REACT first and foremost. Yeah, he needs speed and length and strength, too.

Nerd's picture

This would be an ideal week to get DuJuan going on some screens. Slow down that pass rush, get those big DL pursuing sideline to sideline. But we all know that won't happen. If they do run one or two screens to a RB, they'll look like Chinese fire drills.

And yes, I blitz Stafford. Our guys have been getting to the QB, as evidenced by Tramon's INT last week. We've been going up against mobile QBs and still getting home. Stafford can't move that well.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I'd like the blitz if we bump and run some WRs (not Calvin). It's '14 and I still see 6-8 yard cushions. Easy hitch route targets/completions.

JnC4GB's picture

I agree about the screens. Was thinking Starks, but Harris will do too.

JnC4GB's picture

I have a hunch that James Starks is going to factor in this game in a surprisingly positive way.
As Aaron's weightlifting partners like to say, "Hear me now; believe me later."

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