A familiar tormentor re-enters the picture this weekend, as the Detroit Lions return home with their tail between their legs, getting set to take on the Green Bay Packers for the first of two late season meetings. Though the Packers aren't undefeated or running away with the NFC like in recent years, they will still present their usual major challenge to the Lions' defense. Most of this challenge comes from the arm of Aaron Rodgers, who will be firing his shots against a shorthanded secondary. Knowing that makes it seem this one could get ugly.
Still, "any given Sunday" is always the reoccurring theme around NFL football week to week. What do the Lions have to know about the Packers in order to pull a mild upset? Here's an early week primer.
Packers' Offensive Difference Maker: Aaron Rodgers. Without Greg Jennings, Rodgers hasn't taken a step back at all, simply slipping Jordy Nelson into the top spot and finding new but familiar targets in Randall Cobb and James Jones. Against the Lions, Rodgers is always money, tossing 17 career touchdowns while putting up monster yardage numbers. As always, the game plan will have to be pressure on Rodgers. That's easier said than done, though. The Lions' defensive line must play better than they did against Christian Ponder, or else it will be an even longer afternoon this Sunday if Rodgers has time in the pocket.
Packers' Defensive Difference Maker: Clay Matthews. There isn't anything Matthews can't do, including sack the quarterback. His 9.0 sacks is top five in the NFL, meaning the Lions' offensive line is going to have to be extra careful with a roving linebacker who loves to pressure the offense from all angles. The Lions will need to try and limit Matthews' impact on the game, throwing away from his sides. That is tough duty, though, as he covers plenty of ground laterally.
Packers' Major Problem: Passing defense. They're not as bad as they were last year, but the Packers still rank a very average 19th this year in pass defense, and have given up 2,192 yards passing. That presents the Lions with an interesting match up to exploit, as Detroit has the top passing attack in the league with regards to yardage output. To negate this, the Packers will have to do something they do incredibly well; pressure Matthew Stafford and get hands in the face and passing lanes. Detroit will try and run the ball, but the success or failure of both teams will come down to how well Green Bay defends the pass this weekend, specifically Calvin Johnson.
Packers' Major Strength: Passing offense. Green Bay, like Detroit, prefers to throw the ball all over the field. They might not rack up as many yards, but the major difference is, Green Bay cashes in their throws with actual points. They've got 26 touchdowns this year through the air, while the Lions have only scored a shockingly low 13. That's a glaring differential which could be the difference in this game. It won't matter for how many yards the Lions pass if they cannot stop Green Bay through the air and find the end zone a few times themselves.
Biggest Intangible: Lions' attitude. Detroit can either pack it in for 2012 or put up a major fight and try to claw back in the playoff discussion. How they play in this game will say plenty about their chances the rest of the season. If they play as disinterested and poorly as they did in Minnesota, this game will be over in a hurry. If they elevate their game, they can pull out a stunner, much like they did in 2009, the last time they beat the Packers at Ford Field.
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