The Past: Last time these two teams met was punctuated by All Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, namely because he was absent from the game; the Lions did a fantastic job covering, deflecting and obfuscating Johnson’s knee injury up to the point that it was pretty evident that the Packers defense thew out their defensive plan right before kick off because many defensive players looked little confused as to what their new roles would be.
But the Lions offense was also left scrambling with quarterback Matthew Stafford doing his best impersonation of Aaron Rodgers, spreading out the ball to 8 different receivers for 262 yards and 1 touchdown, going 25 out of 40 but lacked the big play potential, something that’s almost unheard of since the Stafford-Johnson connection came into being. Also without Johnson spreading out the defense, Reggie Bush found little room to run, only getting 44 yards on 13 attempts.
The Packers on the other hand were consistent but not flashy; Rodgers passed for 274 yards and one beautiful 83 yard bomb to James Jones while Eddie Lacy just missed out on his first 100 yard game of his career with 99 yards on 23 attempts. On defense, the Packers managed to record 5 sacks, including 2 from Nick Perry, however Clay Matthews’ 1 sack also resulted in a Bennett fracture to his hand, which he still has to wear a cast for.
Overall, this game wasn’t the typical aerial bombing that has typically characterized Packers-Lions games recently, the Packers hadn’t really found their new balanced identity while the Lions were naturally adjusting to life without Calvin Johnson and it was the much maligned Mason Crosby whostole show, going 5 for 5 with a long completion of 52 yards. In a game where only two touchdowns were scored by both teams, Crosby’s field goals were the difference.
The Present: The Lions are still perhaps the most inconsistent team in the NFL; they have the talent to easily win the NFC North but can’t get out of their own way when it comes to success. Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have taken over the Lions as the most mismanaged franchise in the NFL (owner siphoning funds for his “other” football team, the MRSA debacle, the mismanagement of Josh Freeman, “going for it” on knee downs etc.) the Lions gave up the opportunity to essentially win the NFC North crown and instead turned the ball over 5 times, including 4 interceptions by Matthew Stafford. Guess who gave up the other turnover? None other than former Packers return man Jeremy Ross who luckily didn’t cost his team any points when he fumbled the ball out of bounds.
Against the Packers, the Lions will likely not have to deal with Aaron Rodgers who has a “slim to none” chance of suiting up for the game, which allow the Lions defense to pin their ears back and put pressure on either Scott Tolzein or Matt Flynn as well as crowd the box to keep Eddie Lacy in check. On offense, a healthy Calvin Johnson is already probably too much for a defense hobbled by injuries to handle but the full compliment of weapons for Matthew Stafford will make this offense truly difficult to match up with.
However not everything is great for the Lions; the Lions are only one place better in terms of passing defense according to Football outsiders, so both teams will be completely susceptible secondaries while the Lions also rank near the bottom of the NFL in terms of special teams efficiency (thank you Jeremy Ross!). Again, perhaps the biggest weakness of this team is consistency, the Lions have gone from consistently bad (see the Matt Millen era) to consistently inconsistent under Matrin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz and the Lions next big step is to become a mature football team (that doesn’t stomp on anybody) and lets their talent win games instead of trying to intimidate a win out of the other team.
The Future: The Lions are making it harder for themselves but are still probably the favorites to represent the NFC North in the playoffs this year. However, just how good this team will be in the playoffs and more importantly if they can be consistently successful in the playoffs remains to be seen. Personally, I do feel like the Lions have the talent to make it deep into the playoffs, but won’t be able to string enough good games together to really be much of a threat to win a Super Bowl. If this team can find a way to play to their talent consistently, this will be a team to beat in the NFC.
More importantly is what the Lions decide to do during the offseason. Despite the Lions best efforts, their cap situation is getting worse and worse every year as the team fulfills its contractual obligations to multiple high first round draft picks from the old salary cap era, the most expensive wide receiver in the history of the NFL, newly extended Matthew Stafford and the contractual death sentence that is Ndamukong Suh’s rookie contract.
Due to the perilous salary cap situation that the Lions find themselves in it’s unlikely to be able to field competitive offers to their own players or be active players in free agency, which leaves question marks at the tight end position, with Brandon Pettigrew as an unrestricted free agent and offensive line with right tackle Jason Fox and center Dominic Raiola both heading to unrestricted free agency as well. The Lions will also have to think about wide receiver Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delamas, whose contracts are coming up next year.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.