We’re back to the Detroit Lions already? It seems like just three weeks ago I was breaking down the key matchups between these same Lions and the Green Bay Packers. That’s because I was. Due to the fate of the 2012 scheduling, the Green Bay Packers ended up with five divisional games in their final seven and didn’t see either the Lions nor the Vikings for the first time until week 11. That means there will be a short time in between each matchup. In the case of this rivalry, it was a mere 21 days.
With not many changes in the game’s key matchups, I’m going to drill down on the top three and spend more time on them.
Packers Offensive Line vs. Lions Defensive Line
No, not an earth shattering proclamation and yes, it’s a repeat from the first matchup. But alas, it’s still a key in this game. Since the last matchup, the Packers are dealing with yet more injuries on the line. Starting guard/tackle T.J. Lang did not participate in practice on Wednesday and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did not seem too optimistic with his progress early on this week. I don’t expect Lang to play on Sunday which clears the path for rookie undrafted free agent Don Barclay to make his first NFL start at right tackle.
Barclay will be matched up against Lions left defensive end Cliff Avril. Avril has had another solid year for the Lions and has 8.5 sacks on the season. His quick initial burst will immediately test Barclay’s footwork and I expect the Packers offensive game plan to slide some help to that right side. In a one-on-one matchup, I would expect Barclay to struggle. For the football junkies out there, keep an eye on this matchup throughout the game as there will surely be a few mano-a-mano opportunities. This will tell us a lot about what the Packers have in Barclay.
One source that may provide that much-needed assistance to the right side is newly acquired veteran running back Ryan Grant. Grant was signed after it was determined the James Starks would miss quite some time with a knee injury. While not the fleetest of foot, Grant is solid in his pass protection and should provide a boost there. He knows the offense and should be able to step in and contribute right away.
With Lang out, Evan Dietrich-Smith will continue to start at left guard and he will be opposed by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. I’ll spare you all the re-hash of the Suh stories and jokes. What’s not a joke is what can happen if Suh breaks free and gets to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. We have all seen how nicely Suh tends to lay quarterbacks down when he has them in his grasp so I would expect the same on Sunday, heaven forbid. The Packers were adequate in keeping Suh off Rodgers in round one and I’ll expect more of the same this time.
On the other end of the Lions defensive line is end Kyle Vanden Bosch and he will matchup on left tackle Marshall Newhouse. While Newhouse isn’t standing out on any top 10 lists, he is also keeping a low profile. Amidst the Packers recent issues with penalties on the offensive line, Newhouse has rarely been the culprit. For a guy who is most described as a career backup, that’s not bad when you’re the left tackle protecting the league MVP’s blind side. Now would not be the time for the almighty jinx to emerge so if it does on Sunday, pretend you didn’t read this section!
Lions Wide Receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson vs. Packers Secondary
Surprise! Here’s another repeat matchup from last game. But this time, I have an another recent sample of this very scenario to cite. It goes a little something like this: 143 yards, one touchdown and 11 targets. Now, that touchdown surely didn’t have to be. The ball slipped right through the hands of Packers safety Morgan Burnett and Johnson made the reception and fell back into the end zone. He just makes plays and is capable of it at any time.
After starting out the season slowly, Johnson has returned to his All Pro form. There are still four games left ,but so far, Johnson has broken the jinx of the “Madden Curse”. (Hey, if I’m gonna potentially jinx the Packers, I’m definitely going to even it out and who better to have an off game for the Lions?) Megatron was hampered by some injuries earlier in the season but is as good as any at this point and will need to be the focal point of the Green Bay pass coverage on Sunday night.
With Lions wide out Titus Young being placed in injured reserve this week, the Lions become thin at the position and this affects Detroit’s ability to spread the ball around. If the Packers are able to keep help over the top of Johnson all night and contain him, it’s going to be a long road for the Lions to get the win on the road.
The Packer defensive backs have to stay honest in their coverage assignments as we all saw what can happen if Johnson has even the slightest room to work downfield. Detroit’s running game has been marginal lately but if they are able to have some success, it will set up the play action. All it takes is one lapse in coverage and we’re all watching Johnson on ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top Plays. Safety Jerron McMillian did a decent job in helping on Johnson and he will be called on again this week. He and M.D. Jennings will platoon at the other safety spot opposite Burnett.
Somehow, Johnson always seems to save some of his best games for Lambeau Field. If the Packers offense struggles to put points up, Johnson could very easily and single-handedly beat them.
Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs. Lions Secondary
In the first matchup, the Lions were without starting safety Louis Delmas who is arguably Detroit’s best defensive back. He is questionable for this week’s game and it would be a big loss if Delmas can’t play on Sunday. To pile on, Rodgers has one of his favorite targets back in that of receiver Greg Jennings. Jennings proved last week versus Minnesota how valuable his savvy is on the field. On a few occasions he helped move the chains at critical times by being in a good spot for Rodgers to make a safe throw when all other options were exhausted.
While Rodgers has generally taken care of the football, he has had his troubles with increased pressure and secondaries that have scouted him carefully. Rodgers plays at such a high level that even when a defender knows a ball is coming, he still has a tough time defending it. The key is keeping the heat off Rodgers and giving him time to go through his reads.
With Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley, Rodgers should be able to keep drives alive and eat up some clock. When all else fails, let’s not forget how effective John Kuhn and Ryan Grant can be in the passing game. I don’t expect many deep balls to be there this week so we may see more of the same as we did last week. Look for the short pass, specifically the slant as well as a well-placed screen to beat that pass rush. Now, I doubt another 11 minute drive is in the cards but if it is, you won’t hear any complaints from this side of the world!
The Lions have had some injury issues of their own in the secondary but appear to be healthy and will provide a healthy challenge for Rodgers & Co. Still, I expect #12 to come out on top in this one. He’s just too good and every game means too much. After last season’s collapse, Rodgers knows he needs to be at his best starting now. “Now” starts Sunday.
Detroit Lions vs. Lambeau Field
OK, I said “top three matchups” earlier but I can’t pass up an opportunity to point out this amazing accomplishment by the good guys in green & gold. It’s hard to imagine that the Packers have actually beaten the Lions 21 times straight in Green Bay. That it’s a divisional matchup makes the feat that much more mind-boggling. I’d love to be on the Lions plane every time they depart Detroit for northern Wisconsin. Surely at least one Lions player proclaims (or at least thinks to himself): “This is the year!”.
We know eventually the Lions are going to get the elusive win in Green Bay. Let’s just hope that day is not this Sunday. A loss would throw a wrench into the Packers’ ability to control their own playoff destiny this season. The Lions don’t have much else to play for at this point and would love nothing more than to end their Lambeau losing streak and trip up the Packers and their playoff hopes.
Green Bay, however, should be able to take care of each of these areas and once again please the home crowd. Get the hot coco ready as it’s going to be a late night at Lambeau!