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Friday, December 10, 2004

Game Preview: Lions @ Packers

by Thomas Pyc
PackerChatters Staff

Earlier this year, the Green Bay Packers (7-5) shellacked the Detroit Lions (5-7) in Detroit. That victory jump started the Packers six game winning streak and revived their playoff hopes. Meanwhile the Lions managed to lose five of their next seven games and are barely alive in the playoff race. The Lions/Packers series is the longest uninterrupted series in the NFL and it started when the Lions were known as the Portsmouth Spartans. Sunday might not appear as nostalgic as the aura last sentence evokes, but it should provide a better view of the true colors of this Packer team after their disappointing loss last Sunday. Besides, there has to be some reason FOX decided to move this game into the second slot of the primetime doubleheader on Sunday.

The Lions’ Offense vs. The Packers’ Defense

The sensational rookies of the Lions offense did not take the field the last time these two teams met. Wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Kevin Jones are showing all signs of suiting up and hitting the field this Sunday. Williams’ production has tapered off as of late but he keeps improving from his early season injury. Jones, on the other hand, looks phenomenal and is averaging almost 5 yards per carry. Fortunately, for Jones, the offensive line of the Lions is fully intact and playing solid football. They should definitely receive some credit for Jones’ success. Both starting tackles (McDougal and Backus) are former first round draft choices, but the best of the bunch is guard Damien Woody. Joey Harrington still leads the Lions offense but has been a shaky performer since the Packers last saw him. It’s possible with Williams now on the field that the Lions will look to set up the run with the pass after watching the Eagles and Rams attack Green Bay’s secondary successfully.

The Packers’ secondary has been scorched two weeks straight. First, by the St. Louis Rams trying to play catch-up two weeks ago on Monday night and last Sunday by the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half of Fox’s doubleheader. Both games were played in front of a national audience and left a lot to be desired according to the Packer faithful. Last week, the Eagles went after safety Mark Roman successfully, but if health is on the Packers’ side, there’s a decent chance that Darren Sharper and Bhawoh Jue could be the starters Sunday. If Roman remains in the lineup he is going to have to tighten his coverage and discourage Harrington from throwing his way. The Packers’ run defense is statistically 9th in the NFL in yardage; some might argue that is due to the success other teams have found through the air, but others will tell you that Grady Jackson’s presence has steadily improved the unit since his return. The Lions might be the best test to gauge the improvement of this aspect of the Packers’ defense since the Tennessee Titans came to town.

The Packers’ Offense vs. The Lions’ Defense

Brett Favre is coming off one of the worst games in his career but if anyone knows how to perform after being emotionally, physically or mentally in the dumps, it is No. 4. The Packer Nation is also down in the emotional dumps after watching their team’s performance last Sunday, which is understandable. But that was only one game coming off a short week in Philadelphia, there are still four very important games left and things are starting to heat up across the NFL. Talk of next season is premature but Packer fans are always looking ahead. The Green Bay offense is as good as any in the league if they play their style of football and avoid looking ahead to the next play. Mike Sherman tried to get cute with his play calling against the Eagles and it cost his team momentum and subsequently the game. Against the Lions this stellar offense needs to get back to basics and control the game, play by play. It does not hurt to get a little fancy with a trick play to keep the defense in check once and a while but Sherman managed to outthink himself calling the offense last week and the team paid dearly. Wide receiver Robert Ferguson was a tiny twinkle in an otherwise dismal game and he should help fellow receivers Javon Walker and Donald Driver exploit the Lions secondary. Rookie center Scott Wells will get the start this week and he will have his hands full with an excellent defensive line. Wells is surrounded by potential Pro Bowlers but as the center his line calls are going to have to be crisp for this unit to be effective on the ground.

Detroit’s defensive tackles, Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson, are the best in the NFC North. When both of them are playing on a full tank of gas they wreak havoc. Throw in defensive end James Hall’s pass rushing ability (9.5 sacks) and D-Line for D-town can be down right lethal. But unfortunately for Detroit that might be where it stops. The line backing corps have two first year members, Lehman and Davis, and one adequate run-stuffer, Holmes. The unit as a whole has not been playmakers. The secondary has some good names like Bryant, Marion and Bly, but only Bly is performing up to par this year. Fortunately, for Detroit, there’s not too much of a drop off in talent when their nickel and dime backs take the field. Overall, this unit seldom blitzes but changed their pace a little against last week against Arizona and rookie John Navarre.

Key Matchups

- M. Wood

Joey Harrington vs. Green Bay Secondary/Defense – Harrington needs to successfully establish himself as the Lions’ future and nothing would cement that better than a win in Green Bay where the Lions have yet to win since 1991. Green Bay is coming off of a game where they got completely torched by Donovan McNabb who threw for 464 yards on 43 attempts with 32 completions. Green Bay's defense has been completely unsatisfactory. The passing defense is 30th in the league, and the overall defense has been ranked just 27th. The Packers' 7 interceptions have shown the lack of playmakers. Total yards given up has never been the indicator of a bad defense, but points allowed per game could be considered traumatic to a team. The Packers are allowing 24.5 points per game which is good enough for just tied at 24th overall. The front four managed to get 4 sacks last week, they need to continue to get pressure on the quarterback this week. How the Pack is even at the top of the division with this defense is truly amazing.

Packer Receivers vs. Lion's Secondary – The Lions' secondary is naturally lead by Bryant, but this coming weekend Bryant is doubtful which means the 5 foot 9 Dre Bly needs to be the key playmaker out there in the secondary against Javon Walker and Donald Driver. Bly is the leader on the team in interceptions (4) and passes defended (11). Brock Marion will need to step up his game from the safety position if the Lions hope to hold Favre under 250 yards of passing. Javon Walker is due to have a big game.

Time of Possession of both teams – Clearly the Green Bay Packers need to hold onto the ball by running the ball and short passing routes in order to cover up their defense's inability to stop opponents. Equally, the Detroit Lions need to maintain possession to compensate for the missing Bryant and Boss Bailey.

Packers' O-line vs. Lions' D-line – This becomes a match up due to Packer's center Grey Ruegamer’s ankle. It will fall on rookie center Scott Wells to stonewall the Lion's Shawn Rogers. Last week the Packers allowed almost as many sacks in the game then they had allowed all season. Meanwhile, the Lions have the 10th highest sack total in the league lead by James Hall's 9.5 sacks. The Packers O-Line needs to show its dominance once again and prove to the league they are still one of the top units in the NFL.

The Bottom Line

The Lions are going to be playing with their backs against the wall each game from here on out. That makes them a very scary opponent. The Packers were just exposed in front of a national audience and cannot help but feel a little uncertainty. The winner of this match up should make a solid run to the playoffs. If resiliency is the key for this game then the Packers and Favre know what it takes to bounce back and this game presents a great opportunity to do just that.

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