The Past: Let’s not try to dwell too much on the past, however in case you have forgotten, the last time these two teams met the Lions literally destroyed an Packers squad sans Aaron Rodgers 40-10 on Thanksgiving day. The Packers-Lions 2013 Thanksgiving game is easily the worse game that the Packers have ever played under Mike McCarthy, positing a -140.5% DVOA according to Football Outsiders (to give you a comparison, the Seahawks posted a 125.1% DVOA against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl). With a recently resigned Matt Flynn thrown to the wolves of a ferocious front 7, the Packers only managed a touchdown all game and were held pointless for the entire 2nd half. Of course, the Packers would have the last laugh, with Minnesota not posing much of a threat under the last year of the Christian Ponder era and the Chicago Bears dealing with their own injury to quarterback Jay Cutler and a historically bad defense, it seemed like a cake walk for the Lions to secure the NFC North and a playoff berth after destroying the Packers. However, the Lions would not see another win after Thanksgiving, falling to 3rd place after back to back losses to the Eagles and Ravens and then being eliminated from the playoff hunt entirely a week later against the Giants. In the end, the Lions gave the NFC North back to the Packers and Bears, who duked it out on week 17 for the NFC North crown. Head coach Jim Schwartz quickly fell to the axe as the fall guy and Jim Caldwell, the coach who gave the Colts Andrew Luck in 2011 was chosen to right the ship.
The Present: It’s the Lions after all, and it wouldn’t be right if they didn’t field one of the most talented and inconsistent squads in the entire NFL. The Lions looked like the powerhouse of the division after a decisive win against the Giants in week 1 but laid an egg against the Carolina Panthers in week 2. Add to that the Giants being destroyed by the Houston Texans, who were so bad last season they picked 1st overall in the draft, and it’s becoming apparent that the Lions haven’t changed one bit; they can score 40 points but they can also shoot themselves in the foot and lose to an inferior team. The roster largely remains intact with the same philosophies; Matthew Stafford leads one of the most prolific passing offenses and of course it doesn’t hurt to have Megatron on the other end while the Lions defense is predicated on getting pressure with their front 4, headlined by “Donkey Kong” Suh. However, the running game and pass defense remain as suspicious as they’ve been in recent years; the Lions have only averaged about 70 yards on the ground and leaky coverage unit is manned by a bunch of guys named “Dave”.
The Future: Again it’s the Lions and it wouldn’t be right if they weren’t terribly mismanaged. On the financial side, the Lions have to figure out what to do with the dumpster fire that is Ndamukong Suh’s contract; while Suh is good enough to warrant a premium contract, picking a defensive tackle 2nd overall and then reworking his contract essentially ever year for salary cap help has lead to this point where Suh essentially cannot be traded, cannot be cut and has to be resigned. The Lions simply have to lower his cap value (which is a staggering $22 million this year, the same amount that Aaron Rodgers makes on average) but Suh has all the leverage meaning the Lions will likely have to pay way more than market price again to extend him. The Lions have historically had the exact same problem and are left with the outlandish contracts of Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford as a result. No other team is so top heavy in terms of their salary distribution and it hurts the team overall in resigning their own upper to mid tier players or being an active participant in free agency.
In terms of the draft, the Lions surprisingly decided to draft tight end Eric Ebron 10th overall, ostensibly to open up Calvin Johnson on the perimeter, however Ebron hasn’t had much of an impact in the last two weeks, only netting 3 passes for 38 yards. 2nd round pick OLB Kyle Van Noy has also been a disappointment after landing on short term IR/designated to return after undergoing “core muscle surgery”. But perhaps the worse rookie of the Lions 2014 draft class is 7th round pick kicker Nate Freese who is 2 for 5 on field goals at the moment (and 0/3 on kicks over 40 yards) and is the 2nd worst kicker according to PFF.
You’d like to see a team with a clear goal and noticeable progression towards that goal after such an abysmal end to the 2013 season and frankly I don’t see it with the Lions. They Lions front office has done a complete 180 by firing the insane Jim Schwartz and replacing him with the vanilla Jim Caldwell but it’s still the same schizophrenic Lions. In the end, the Lions needed a disciplinarian and not a teacher like Caldwell (everyone knew it was Peyton Manning calling the shot when Caldwell was the coach) and I’m not convinced Caldwell has what it takes to actually get consistency from this roster. While Caldwell has a noted reputation as a quarterbacks mentor, it doesn’t look like Matthew Stafford has become any more fundamentally sound than before, simply put Stafford is who he is and Caldwell hasn’t been able to reel him in like Marc Trestman has been able to reel in Jay Cutler (to an extent). On defense, its roughly the same as before, they pass rush very very well and if they get a team playing from behind they can make life miserable for a quarterback and offensive line. However, when it comes time to get that stop when the game is close, the defense breaks down. I put it in comparison with the Packers historically bad 2011 defense, which could come up with a couple interceptions and turnovers every game but couldn’t stop a 1st down conversion when they really needed it.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.