Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett takes a look at the Detroit Lions’ foe this weekend, the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)
Interim coach: Joe Philbin (26-29 overall, 2-1 with Packers)
Key players: QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, LT David Bakhtiari, LB Blake Martinez, LB Kyler Fackrell
Last game: Beat the New York Jets, 44-38 (overtime)
Last meeting: 2018 season: Lions won, 31-23
The buzz: The Packers, like the Lions, have had a disappointing season and are headed for a major overhaul in the coming months. Already, they’ve fired Mike McCarthy as head coach and begun the search for his replacement by reportedly interviewing former Lions coach Jim Caldwell. Rodgers could finish with a career-high in passing yards – he needs 228 yards Sunday to set a new mark – but he’s had a bit of a down year overall. He suffered a knee injury in Green Bay’s season opener and hasn’t looked right until recently. Outside of Rodgers, the Packers’ roster is mediocre. Adams is a premier receiver and Bakhtiari one of the game’s best pass-protecting left tackles, but Green Bay has no real running game – Jamaal Adams has taken over for the injured Aaron Jones – and sixth-round pick Equanimeous St. Brown has taken over as the team’s No. 2 receiver.
Defensively, the Packers have lost key players Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Nick Perry, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kevin King to injured reserve. They rank near the bottom of the league in takeaways, and last week they started a pair of undrafted rookies in nose tackle Tyler Lancaster and cornerback Tony Brown. Martinez, in his third year out of Stanford, is having a breakout season. He’s second in the NFL with 132 tackles and two of his five sacks came against the Lions in October. Fackrell leads the team with 9.5 sacks, and Clay Matthews is still capable of getting home, albeit not as consistently, off the edge.
The Lions will win if …
They hold the Packers below 20 points. The Lions have had trouble scoring recently, notching 17 or fewer points in five straight games, and there’s little chance they can win a shootout Sunday. Matthew Stafford is off the injury report, but he’s not completely healthy, and the Lions just don’t have many weapons at the skill positions right now. The Packers have fallen on hard times on offense themselves, though they’ve still managed some explosive games (44 points vs. the Jets last week in an overtime game, 34 vs. the Falcons earlier this month). Green Bay is 3-5 in its last eight games, and it has scored 30-plus points in all three of its wins. In four of the Packers’ last five losses, they’ve scored exactly 17 points.
The Packers will win if …
Mason Crosby makes all of his field-goal attempts. Crosby had the worst day of his career when the Lions beat the Packers in October, missing four field goals and an extra point in a 31-23 loss. He’s been pretty good since, making 19 of 21 field-goal attempts, but there’s a pretty clear link between Crosby’s struggles and the Packers’ chances to win. Green Bay is 0-3-1 in games where Crosby has missed a field goal this year. This team, even with the great Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, isn’t good enough to overcome missed scoring opportunities.
Matchup to watch
Lions CB Darius Slay vs. Packers WR Davante Adams
Slay was picked for his second straight Pro Bowl last week, but he has some unfinished business against Adams, a fellow Pro Bowler. Back in October, Adams got the better of Slay with nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. There’s no guarantee that Slay will shadow Adams on Sunday. The Lions could use Nevin Lawson and a held defender on the Packers’ only real receiving threat and let Slay shut down the other side of the field. But Slay and Adams are big-time players and their one-on-one battle is one of the few reasons to tune into what could otherwise be a dog of a game.
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!