The Green Bay Packers finally play their first game of the season against the Detroit Lions this weekend, and they're looking to continue an impressive string of dominance in Michigan. Aaron Rodgers is 5-1 all-time in Detroit, and with the Lions beginning to bottom out a bit in 2012, currently, that streak shows very little signs of slowing down. This time though, both rosters will be missing a few key players, perhaps making this game a bit more interesting.
How can the Lions keep their dimming playoff hopes alive with a big win? Here's five things to watch this week which will go a long way towards determining if Detroit has anything to play for in the next few weeks.
How Will The Lions Start? For weeks, the Lions have had horrible first quarters, which has put them behind in games almost immediately. They've had to claw back into games that they're trailing by double digits near the end of the first quarter. Against a very skilled Green Bay team, that simply cannot happen. The Lions must score the first touchdown of the game and force the Packers to play from behind once in a while. Anther nightmare start last weekend didn't provide much hope. Now, at least the Lions are at home, where perhaps they can finally ride some early game emotion to a much better first half. How Detroit looks in the first 10 minutes of this contest will tell you if they're actually prepared to win the game.
The Passing Games. Detroit has the NFL's top passing offense with Calvin Johnson while the Packers also feature a more than potent attack with Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson. This game will be determined by which teams are able to cash in more chances through the air. The Lions, despite racking up yardage, don't cash in many areal touchdowns, only pumping in 13 on the year. Green Bay, meanwhile, has put up 26. Both defenses are hurting and missing players. If the Lions are to win, they need to cash in their chances through the air (and perhaps a few on the ground) to survive a likely shootout.
Defensive Line Pressure. Both Matthew Stafford and Rodgers are like surgeons in the pocket when given time. If either defense is going to get any stops or generate big turnovers, they'll have to make the quarterback uncomfortable and force them to move their feet. This is most important for the Lions, who struggled with pressuring Christian Ponder last week. The defensive line has to be very active early and force Rodgers to make some big mistakes. Kyle Vanden Bosch must get some pressure off the edge, Nick Fairley must build on his good game last week with more pressure up the middle, and the Lions need to get heat on Rodgers from a few uncommon sources. If Rodgers can survey the field like Ponder, the Lions are in trouble.
Ndamukong Suh. This past week, Suh was under a bit of fire for not wishing to speak to reporters about his statistics. Before that, Jim Schwartz said Suh's performance against Minnesota was one of the best of his career, despite the stat sheet and plenty of eyes saying otherwise. Then, predictably, by week's end, everyone only wanted to talk about Suh's much publicized stomp of the Packers' Evan Dietrich-Smith. After all this outside noise and nonsense, will Suh finally show up and play a dominant game? Talk is cheap, but action will always speak louder than words. If Suh can have a excellent game and help defeat the Packers, his critics won't be able to say anything during the week.
The Lions' Mindset. This weekend's big game is essentially the season. If the Lions lose, statistically, there isn't much hope left for the rest of 2012. If they win, hope stays alive at least until Thanksgiving. Schwartz still hasn't seemed to panic, saying Monday his team needed to be urgent Knowing the high stakes. Exactly how urgent will they look in a big game though? Detroit has typically fallen flat in these moments during this season, so a fired up performance from the start on Sunday will help in determining the mindset the Lions have. If they go through the motions mentally and physically.
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