Friday, September 19, 2014

Preview: Packers at Lions on Sunday

While the Packers have had a lot of recent success against the Lions (QB Aaron Rodgers is 9-1 against them, the Packers have gone 8-4 at Ford Field, which opened in 2002) they're coming off a 40-10 beating on Thanksgiving in 2013 in Detroit. That's something to build on for the Lions, but their big win was on a short week against a visiting team without their starting quarterback.

So far in 2014, both teams are 1-1 and on similar tracks. Both have lost by double digits on the road against a likely playoff team (Seahawks and Panthers) and both beat a struggling New York team at home. Pro Football Focus currently has the Lions ranked as the No. 4 overall team based on the dominance of their victory over the Giants (currently ranked as the No. 25 team overall) and the Packers at No. 15 because they spotted the Jets an 18 point lead before turning it around. If momentum means anything, the Packers went on a tear in the second half against the Jets as they came back for the win, while QB Matthew Stafford struggled after they fell further behind and the Panthers started getting after him in the second half.

The key to this game might be the Lions secondary. It was a big question mark coming into the season and it's been wrecked by injuries. Though it took the Packers almost the entire first half to get the passing attack going against a struggling Jets secondary. Also, the healthy starters in the Lions's secondary (Glover Quin and Darius Slay) have positive grades from Pro Football Focus and their pass defense is ranked ninth overall according to Football Outsiders.

On the other hand, the Lions have the third ranked run defense so far according to Football Outsiders. This is probably not the week to expect a breakout game from RB Eddie Lacy.

The Packers's defense has been a disappointment so far this season, outside of a dominant game from DE Mike Daniels and solid play overall at cornerback. As usual, the Lions can throw it and WR Calvin Johnson is a dominant receiver, but they still don't have a solid No. 2 receiver (the only receiver other Johnson with a positive receiving grade currently according to Pro Football Focus is TE Joseph Fauria). The Packers are one of the worst teams at stopping the run so far this season, but the Lions are just as bad at running the ball, so no team should have an advantage in that regard. This is probably the hardest area to predict because I don't know what to expect from Stafford. He's had some great games against them (his start against them in Detroit in 2013), but he's also had some stinkers (his start against them in Detroit in 2012).

Is RT Derek Sherrod the worst starting right tackle in the NFL? This doesn't look like it's Bryan Bulaga's week to return, so they're going probably going to start Sherrod again. Surprisingly, I don't think Sherrod is the key to the game. While keeping the quarterback protected is always going to lead to better results on the field, on some plays last week, Rodgers had a ton of time to throw but he was eventually taken down on a coverage sack. Sherrod has to protect better, but it's also time for the receivers other than Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to get involved, especially if Lacy is likely to be shut down by a great run defense.

If the Packers are going to win, it's going to be a close victory. The defense has to play better. So far this season, the Lion passing attack has been better the Packer passing attack, and that has to reverse. Packers 24, Lions 20.

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