The Green Bay Packers head to the Motown to take on the Detroit Lions in an NFC North showdown in Week 5. The Packers are 2-1-1 after four games while the Lions are a disappointing 1-3-0 after losing a close game to the Dallas Cowboys in the closing seconds last Sunday.
The Packers and Lions first met in 1930 with the Packers holding a 98-70-7 lead in the regular-season series. The Lions swept both games last year although Aaron Rodgers didn’t play in either contest. The Pack has won two of the last three meetings in Detroit.
Here is a look at the key matchups and situations that will determine who wins on Sunday afternoon.
1. Get Some Receivers Open
The Packers top three receivers may not play in this game. Randall Cobb will miss his second consecutive game. Geronimo Allison remained in the concussion protocol as of Friday night and must be cleared in order to play while top receiver Davante Adams missed practice Thursday and was listed as a limited participant on Friday due to a calf injury.
If the Pack is without all three of these receivers, rookies J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will be asked to step up and get significant playing time for the first time in their young NFL careers. Thus far, Valdes Scantling has two catches in limited playing time while neither Moore nor St. Brown have caught a pass in a regular-season game.
This means the Packers may have to use TE Jimmy Graham and/or RB Ty Montgomery as wide receivers Sunday. They also may feature more two TE sets with Lance Kendricks being thrust in to a bigger role in the passing game.
Either way, Green Bay needs to find a way to get some targets open on Sunday. They also need to get those receivers where Aaron Rodgers expects them to be in if the passing game is going to be effective. This will require some creativity by head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. It will require Rodgers to extend plays and improvise despite not having familiar targets.
It will be interesting to see who the Lions have their best cover corner, Darius Slay, match up against.
The Packers offense is a pass-first attack. That means they need effective receiver play to make it work.
2. Slow Down the Lions WRs
The Lions have three very dangerous and effective wide receivers on their roster and this will present the inconsistent Green Bay secondary with a challenge. Veteran Golden Tate is very dangerous after the catch and always seems to play his best against the Packers. Kenny Golladay has stepped up his game in his second season while Marvin Jones remains a very strong third option. Running back Theo Riddick is also an excellent receiver and the Packers will have to contain him out of the backfield.
The Packers are fortunate to be getting their best cover corner back as Kevin King returns to the lineup to help slow down Tate. Some other DBs are banged up but may play. Jaire Alexander is nursing a groin injury while safeties Kentrell Brice (ankle) and Jermaine Whitehead (back) are also on the injury report.
The Green Bay DBs must take away the quick strike, big play offense that the Lions are very capable of producing and make Stafford and company earn each yard. To do that, King, Tramon Williams, Alexander and Josh Jackson must all have solid games. It is also important that the safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Brice (if healthy), help on double teams and take good angles to the ball after the catch to prevent big plays.
3. Pressure Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford has been officially credited with 165 passing attempts in the first four games of the season, but he’s only been sacked six times. The Green Bay defense had seven sacks last week alone, albeit against a much weaker offense with an inexperienced quarterback.
The Lions offensive line will be without former Packers star T.J. Lang who will miss the game with a concussion. This should allow the strength of the Green Bay defense, linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, to have a more favorable matchup. Kenny Wiggins will likely fill in for Lang and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine needs to take advantage of this potential mismatch.
The Packers don’t necessarily need to accumulate a lot of sacks on Sunday, but they do need to pressure Stafford consistently and force him to throw sooner than he’d like to disrupt his rhythm.
4. Establish the Running Game
The Lions defense ranks dead last in the league against the run, allowing 157.75 yards-per game over the first four contests. Opponents are averaging more than five yards per carry against Detroit. Green Bay must take advantage of this weakness, especially if they are thin at WR this week.
With Rodgers healing, he may be able to line up under center for the first time since Week 1 which would give the running game additional formations and options.
The Packers need to run the ball consistently. While McCarthy likes to rotate his backs, Aaron Jones has clearly shown he is the best, most explosive option out of the Green Bay backfield and he should get more touches as a result.
Even if it doesn’t produce big chunks of yardage at first, the Packers should not abandon the running game on Sunday unless they fall behind by a large margin. The Pack should be able to wear down the Detroit defense and move the ball on the ground, especially later in the game.
5. Aaron Rodgers Must Play Better
Let’s face it, Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been himself for most of this season. Sure, he has an excuse due to a painful knee injury, but Rodgers was taken off the injury report Friday and truly seems to be getting close to full health.
If the Packers are truly going to be contenders this season, they need Aaron Rodgers to be Aaron Rodgers. That means his accuracy must be better and he needs to find his comfort zone with this revamped offense, something that hasn’t happened often this season.
Rodgers can complain all he wants about the game plan, but on the field, he needs to execute this offense and he needs to do a better job of it. The Packers need to end more drives with touchdowns, not field goals.
If the Packers are thin at receiver, they will need their quarterback to step up and orchestrate this offense.
Prediction: The Packers injuries at wide receiver are a concern, especially with Rodgers struggling in recent weeks. This is the type of game the Packers need to win if they hope to have a shot at winning this division or even making the playoffs. Look for the running game to have its best performance thus far this season and for Rodgers to find a way to get this done.
Packers 31, Lions 27