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Lions vs. Packers Preview

The Lions will be playing in front of a full house on Sunday when they host the Green Bay Packers.  The Lions have sold out six of their seven home games this year, although this sellout may come at the hands of a large contingent of travelling Packer fans.

The Lions came up just short of breaking their intradivision losing streak after another solid performance against the Bears and they look to break it against the Packers on Sunday.  The Lions gave the Packers all they could handle back in Week 4, when they score the most points against the Packers than anybody else this season.  Both teams have suffered some major injuries since then and both teams desperately need a win.  The Packers need to keep pace with the division leading Bears and the Lions need to make some progress in the win column.

Offense:

There is a reason the Lions had more offensive success than other Packers’ opponent.  Numbers 84 and 85.  The Packers’ linebackers are terrible in coverage and Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler ate them up in the first meeting.  Lions tight ends caught 14 passes for 154 yards in the first meeting and that allowed Calvin Johnson to face fewer double teams and score two touchdowns.  The Packers’ safeties had to help the linebackers cover the tight ends, but the Packers eventually did elect to take their chances with the tight ends burning them rather than Calvin Johnson.  The Lions did not have Nate Burleson in the first game to stretch the field on the other side, so they will have an additional weapon in this meeting. 

The Lions had little to no success running against the Packers in the first meeting.  Jahvid Best suffered his twin turf toe injuries the week before and Kevin Smith was still trying to get into game shape.  Best looked significantly more explosive last week and Maurice Morris has jump started the Lions running game the last couple of  weeks.  The Packers’ linebackers may be forced to play farther from the line of scrimmage to aid them in their coverage schemes, so a potent running game would really open things up for the offense.

There are only two players on Green Bay’s defense that need to be game planned for, but they are two of the best at their positions.  Clay Matthews is a dominating pass rusher and he’s developed into a force against the run.  His speed will be an issue for Jeff Backus, so the Lions may not be able to attack as with the tight ends as much because they may need to help Backus block Matthews.

Charles Woodson used to be one of the best cover corners in the league, but he’s lost a step and has found a new role in the defense.  Dom Capers uses Woodson in a Troy Polamalu role, blitzing, covering and free to make plays all over the field.  Woodson will still cover Calvin pretty frequently, but that’s a matchup that favors the Lions.  The key to protecting against Woodson and Matthews is to know where they are at all times.  If they line up on the same side of the formation…be ready for a blitz.

Defense:

The Lions have had trouble defending the run lately and the Packers have had trouble committing to the run for years.  When Ryan Grant was healthy, he forced the Packers to run because he was such a weapon, but he has been out all season.  The Packers will use a committee approach against the Lions, but nobody really stands out as a threat.  Brandon Jackson is dangerous on screens and the Lions haven’t tackled well, so expect the Packers to exploit that.

In the passing game the Lions are dealing with one of the league’s best quarterbacks.  Aaron Rodgers is athletic, has a great arm and knows the offense inside and out.  He hasn’t made many mistakes this season either, so the Lions have to capitalize on any mistakes he does make.  Greg Jennings is an interesting player because on paper he shouldn’t be very good.  He doesn’t have great size, he doesn’t have elite speed and he just seems like an ordinary player.  On the field he is able to catch short passes and turn them into big gains, he can beat coverage deep and he has a great rapport with Rodgers.  Chris Houston will see a lot of Jennings and he does matchup well with him.  However, the Packers will attack Amari Spievey with combination routes where Spievey has to decide if he surrenders his deep responsibility to cover shorter routes.  That’s where Jennings can cause a lot of damage, if Spievey jumps a short route and Houston doesn’t have help over the top there will be some opportunities for big plays.

Donald Driver has had a down year due to injuries, but he is still effective on short routes and he’s like a bull in a china shop once he has the ball.  The worst thing the Lions can do is tackle poorly against the Packers’ receivers because they can all make plays after the catch.

Wild Card:

The Lions are well equipped to move the ball on the Packers as long as they take care of the ball.  The Packers thrive on turnovers and when they aren’t able to force them, their defense is actually only an average unit.  If the Lions win the turnover battle they can dictate to the defense, if not the Packers can be aggressive on defense which is when they are most dangerous.

Prediction:

Everything tells me to pick the Packers tomorrow.  They are in a must win situation, they have owned the Lions and they are facing a third string quarterback.  The Packers have a brutal schedule after the Lions when they face the Patriots, Giants and Bears so there is a letdown possibility.  I have just had a feeling that the Lions are on the verge of finally putting together a complete game and despite my better judgement, I am going to pick the Lions this week.


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