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Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Game Preview: Packers @ Lions
By Dan Stuart
You don’t have to look hard to see desperation. The Green Bay Packers are in the midst of it. At 1-4 to even sniff at a successful season it has to start with a huge run. The feeling has been that it will just get better. We just knew they would be 2-3 after Monday night. Well, now it’s full on desperation mode. Do or die. Every game. No questions asked.
So bring on Detroit. Two teams seemingly headed in two different directions. The Detroit Lions are 3-1, tied with the Vikings for the division lead. The Packers are in the NFC North cellar. It looks pretty bad, heading into Ford Field absolutely needing a win against a team that just came off a huge win in Atlanta. Seems like everything is pretty well stacked against the Packers. They enter the game as a slight underdog to a team on a hot streak. But it might not be THAT bad.
Packers Defense vs. Lions Offense
The good news is, the Lions are definitely not an offensive juggernaut. They rank just ahead of only Miami in total offense and have the 4th worst rush offense in the league. The Packers have had, quite obviously, just an atrocious time stopping the run. In the process, they have gone up against Tiki Barber, Chris Brown and Thomas Jones. These three backs are among the top 11 in yards/game this season (and obviously the Packers have helped them do that). Coming into the Lions game, the Packers biggest, awful Achilles heal will be placed up against the likes of Artose Pinner. Needless to say it’s a giant jump down in skill level. The Lion’s O-Line is solid, if not spectacular. Kevin Jones, the highly touted rookie addition is likely to be either out or at the very least limited. While the Packers have made backs look like Hall of Famers so far, I think it’s a good shot to get some production and confidence going up against Pinner.
The Lions Passing game has again been solid, but nothing special. Roy Williams has shown flashes of the ability of a serious playmaker, definitely worthy of his high draft status. Another piece of good news for the Packers is that he is likely a game time decision to play this week with an ankle injury. If he does not play the talent level of the receivers falls by a good margin. Joey Harrington has played mistake free football. The passing game for the Lions has basically done what they needed to do to win and not too much more, ranking 4th worst in football in total passing offense.
For a defense that NEEDS some confidence and can’t stop explosive plays, the Lions don’t bring to the table too much explosion to exploit the Packers weakness at this point.
Lions Defense vs. Packers Offense
The Lions have again played solid defense, but nothing spectacular. They rank 22nd in total defense (28th against the pass, 9th against the run). The strength of the team is definitely the defense at this point, and the front 4 is the keystone. Shaun Rogers has been a man among boys at defensive tackle, posting 3 sacks already and just generally causing chaos wherever he roams. James Hall has shown flashes in the past, but this year seems to really have it all together. He has 4.5 sacks and caused a critical fumble against the Falcons Sunday. The linebackers are very young and definitely hampered by the loss of Boss Bailey, but the front 4 really helps them a ton to keep opposing O-Lines away for them to make plays. The secondary should be helped a ton by Dre Bly’s return, who proved to be a thorn in Favre’s side last year, picking off 2 of his passes. How in the world have the Lions won all these games then? Turnovers. The Lions have forced a ton of turnovers, mostly fumbles (3rd at +9 in turnover ratio). They are a very opportunistic defense that takes the ball away even if they allow a few yards in the process. Considering this is obviously a problem for the Packers (3rd worst at –9 in turnover ratio) that should be an absolute determining factor in the game.
Three Key Matchups
James Hall/Shaun Rogers vs. Chad Clifton/Mike Wahle
Talk about strength vs. strength. In both pass and run protection, Wahle and Clifton are going to have to win their battles against the left side of the Lions D-Line. The Lions haven’t faced too many quality LG/LT combinations so far and it will definitely be a test for them and the Packers O-Line to keep them off of Brett Favre and Ahman Green.
Ahman Green vs The Football.
Ahman Green may have some problems running the ball against the Lions. They are stout. I can’t see the Lions jumping out to a big lead however and the Packers will likely keep running the ball throughout. If Green fumbles, it plays into the strength of the Lions defense. They have caused a ton of fumbles so far. Green has lost a ton. Advantage Lions. Ahman HAS to hold onto the ball.
Brett Favre vs Dre Bly/Fernando Bryant/Brock Marion/Bracy Walker
Simply put. Brett Favre’s interception number will have more to do with the final score then pretty much anything else in this game. Bly and Bryant are a good combo. If Favre gives the ball to them, the Packers are going to have a long day ahead of them.
The Bottom Line.
The Lions are 3-1. They don’t play great defense. They don’t play great offense. How in the world could they have a 3-1 record? Turnovers. Pure. Simple. To the point. Turnover margins. Against the Bears. 4-1 and a Win. Against the Texans. 3 – 1 and a Win. Against the Falcons 4-1 and a Win. Against Philly? 1-1 and a Loss. The Lions don’t have enough offense to punish the crappy Packer defense. They don’t have enough Defense to fully stop the Packer offense. But if they win the turnover battle by more then one… you can chalk up a ‘W’ for the Lions and mail in the rest of the season for the Packers.