How's this for a stunning reversal of fortune? It's early October, and the Detroit Lions, not the Green Bay Packers, are sitting atop the NFC North division. While it's still early, there's something to be said about Detroit's 2-0 divisional record and Green Bay's rough 1-2 start.
Of course, Lions' fans can't count their eggs before they've hatched. This weekend, Detroit heads on the road to take on the Packers at Lambeau Field, which has been a house of horrors for the past 22 years. What's the biggest reason for that streak, and how might the Packers shake off a tough start against Detroit's suddenly high-flying offense?
Today, we chat with Jason Hirschhorn, a contributor at Acme Packing Company, who takes time to explain how the Packers might get back into the divisional race against the Lions. Like plenty of others, he struggles most to explain Green Bay's two decades of dominance in Wisconsin.
(1) Lions 101. When Green Bay last saw Detroit, they were a vastly different team offensively, considering their lack of a running game. Defensively, how will the Packers plan to slow down Reggie Bush, a challenge every other NFC North team has failed in 2013?
JH: Reggie Bush has indeed carved up opponents this year, and he's on track to do it again this Sunday. While the Packers' run defense has performed well all year, Bush's versatility allows him to be just as lethal in the passing game. It's there that the problems start.
Clay Matthews was a limited participant in Wednesday's practice, and will be severely limited if he does suit up against Detroit. Additionally, slot corner Casey Hayward has been ruled out. The combined effect of these absences will be several open passing lanes for Matthew Stafford to find Bush for big gains.
Normally with a multi-skilled weapon like Bush, Green Bay's best plan of attack would be to drop down one of their safeties. However, doing so would basically waive the white flag on Calvin Johnson. That's obviously something Green Bay cannot afford.
(2) Lions 101. Prior to the season, the Packers lost Bryan Bulaga to a torn ACL. How has the offensive line adjusted through the first three games without him, and how do they plan to deal with the stiff challenge of protecting Aaron Rodgers from a revitalized Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah and company?
JH: The biggest move the Packers made this offseason wasn't an acquisition of talent, but rather the positional shift that took place along the offensive line. This was done to permit Bryan Bulaga, the Packers' best tackle, to protect Aaron Rodgers' blindside. Obviously, it was a tremendous blow when Bulaga went down with a torn ACL.
To fill the void, the Packers have turned to David Bakhtiari, a rookie fourth round pick out of Colorado. As would be expected with any rookie, Bakhtiari has had his share of struggles to go along with some success. A missed cut block from Bakhtiari was primarily responsible for the failure of the Packers' final play against the Bengals two weeks ago. However, he held up well against the 49ers and their tremendous pass rush. Bakhtiari shouldn't be expected to stabilize until much later in the year, but he's not someone who opposing defenses can victimize for an entire game either.
More surprising has been the play of Don Barclay, the team's starting right tackle. Despite some truly awkward technique, Barclay has graded out as the team's best pass blocker. That's an incredible turnaround for a lineman that was often a turnstile a year ago in the passing game.
In terms of the matchup with Detroit's front four, victory will come down to how center Evan Dietrich-Smith holds up against Suh and Fairley. As Lions' fans may remember Dietrich-Smith was on the receiving end of Suh's cleat two years ago. If he can keep the defensive line from collapsing the pocket, Rodgers should be able to carve up Detroit's limited secondary.
(3) Lions 101. It's been 22 games since Detroit last won in Wisconsin. The law of averages says Detroit should have already managed to stumble into a win there during that long period, but what's your best explanation as to why they haven't since 1991?
JH: There's no accounting for the Lions' inability to win a game at Lambeau these past two decades and change. While the Packers have been perhaps the NFL's most successful franchise during that time, there were certainly spots in the late 90s and mid-00s where Detroit should have recorded a win. Poor Jason Hanson never once tasted sweet victory at Lambeau.
Really, any answer I could provide would fall short of explaining this phenomenon. It's up there with the Chicago Cubs' World Series drought in terms of unexplainable sports streaks.
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