The bye has come and gone already, which means the Green Bay Packers have to gear up for a brutal 13-game stretch to close out the regular season.
The Packers needed the off week to regroup from the team’s deflating 34-30 loss in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals as well as to get key players healthy.
Eddie Lacy, Clay Matthews, James Starks and Jermichael Finley missed either the entire game or a decent amount of it with an injury. Matthews is saying he is ready to go and both Lacy and Finley have been cleared to play coming off of concussions. Starks has already been ruled out.
They’re coming back at the perfect time for the Packers as game one of this marathon finish is Green Bay’s first NFC North opponent of the year, the Detroit Lions. Last week, the Lions defeated the previously undefeated Chicago Bears 40-32 at Ford Field to move to 3-1 which gives them the tiebreaker (for now) over Chicago for first place in the NFC North.
The last time we met
The Packers defeated the Lions for the 22nd consecutive time at Lambeau Field last December, winning the game 27-20. The game was tied going into the fourth quarter but the Packers were able to pull away putting the team one win away from an eventual NFC North title.
Aaron Rodgers threw for only 170 yards and his sole touchdown of the game was on the ground (and his career long of 27 yards), but Green Bay got some (literally) big help from its defense after defensive end Mike Daniels scooped up a Matthew Stafford fumble and then ran more than half the length of the field giving the Packers an early 14-0 lead that Detroit never recovered from.
Calvin Johnson chewed up the Green Bay defense for 110 yards but was kept out of the end zone and Matthew Stafford threw for 264 yards. It was a classic “bend but don’t break” game for the Packers defense as they forced the fumble from Stafford as well as an interception.
This week in Detroit
The Packers obviously know Detroit well, but this a much different and arguably much better Lions team than the one Green Bay swept last season.
The big signing for Detroit in free agency during the offseason was running back Reggie Bush. After a lot of hype entering the draft thanks to his stellar Heisman Trophy-winning career at USC, Bush failed to live up to those enormous expectations in the NFL during stops with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins, though he did win a Super Bowl ring with the Saints.
In Detroit however, Bush has finally begun to live up to expectations. In Week 1, he ran for 90 yards on 21 carries before getting hurt in Week 2 which caused him to miss the Lions’ Week 3 game against Washington. Week 4 against the Bears is where Bush continued to amaze and put up 139 yards on 18 carries against the vaunted Bears defense.
Looking back, according to the ESPN article, Bush says it took him a “good four or five years” to really get a firm grasp on NFL defenses and how to run the ball. He’s currently on pace for a 1,200 yard season, which would be a career high for him and he gives Detroit its strongest running back since Barry Sanders retired.
Bush’s presence has helped ease the pressure on the rest of the Lions’ offense, namely wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Last season, Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yardage record and Detroit’s offense seemed to revolve around him. This year, thanks to the emergence of Bush, Johnson has helped Matthew Stafford spread the ball around to other teammates.
It’s meant fewer targets for the incredibly talented receiver, but if it means more wins Johnson would be happy for that. it’s worked for the Lions so far, despite the loss of Nate Burleson to an injury suffered in an automobile accident. Johnson is still a threat to go off at any time and Bush’s presence actually has made Megatron perhaps even more lethal.
Then there is the Detroit offensive line. The unit has never been among the best in the NFL, but so far this season the unit has held up. The line is a big reason behind Bush’s start to the season and Matthew Stafford has been sacked only three times all year, less than one sack per game. The unit does have some growing pains to endure however, particularly their center that might need to take note from Randy Moss that mooning fans at Lambeau Field is never a good idea.
Defensively for the Lions, it’s all about that front four led my Ndamukong Suh. Suh is off to perhaps the best start of his career though his penchant for stupid penalties has carried over, resulting in the largest fine yet for his career ($100,000). Suh this week faces a reshuffled Green Bay offensive line, so he will be lining up against T.J. Lang this time instead of Josh Sitton.
The Lions also currently have the best third down defense in the NFL. According to ESPN.com, Detroit is allowing opponents to convert on third down only 21.2% of the time and are one of only two teams in the league to hold opposing offenses under 30%. Suh has been very disruptive so far and when you combine that with strong safety play, teams will have a tough time converting third downs against the Lions.
Speaking of the secondary, that unit has been the Achilles’ heel for their defense and it looks to be much of the same story again. Three starters missed practice on Wednesday, which does not bode well for Detroit going up against the high octane Green Bay offense. Louis Delmas, who has missed 13 games the past two years due to injury, has been the anchor for the Lions secondary so far and should play against Green Bay despite missing Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury.
With Detroit coming off a big win and the Packers coming off a bitter defeat before their bye, the tables very well may be set for the Lions to beat Green Bay at home for the first time since 1991. Packers fans better hope their team is up for this one.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke