Lions at Packers
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Records: Lions 5-10, Packers 6-8-1
Line: Packers by 8
View from the other side
Bill Huber covers the Packers for 247Sports’ Packer Report and CBS Sports. He breaks down the Lions’ upcoming opponent for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Sunday’s game. You can follow him on Twitter @PackerReport.
►Question: Aaron Rodgers has built this reputation on being able to elevate the roster around him to a competitive level, regardless of the supporting cast. Why has this year been different?
►Huber: I go back to the spring. Mike McCarthy brought back Joe Philbin as his offensive coordinator and they took, in McCarthy’s words, a “scrub brush” to the offense. We asked Rodgers about the new offensive approach at the start of the offseason program in April and a couple of times during OTAs in May and June. Rodgers was thrilled that Philbin was back. But he never said anything one way or the other about the schematic changes. You know how it is: When a player decides not to talk about something, there’s usually a reason for it. I don’t think he ever bought into it. Then when the Packers lost at Washington in Week 3 and didn’t play well offensively in Week 4 (against Buffalo), I think Rodgers lost faith in things. Injuries — his knee injury and throughout the offense — haven’t helped matters, but the Lions are in no better shape.
►Question: It’s been reported Jim Caldwell interviewed for the coaching job in Green Bay. It’s obviously extremely early in the process, but does the former Lions coach have a legitimate shot to fill the vacancy?
►Huber: I’d be surprised, but I may be guilty of my own biases on this one. Let’s go back to the previous question. The Packers have to bring in a bright offensive mind to install a scheme that Rodgers thinks will succeed. The NFL is evolving rapidly, as we all know. Is Jim Caldwell, at age 63, the guy to keep up with the new offensive trends? Probably not. Then again, maybe Caldwell has that bright, innovative mind already in mind. If that’s the case, maybe it’s not so far-fetched. If I’m running the coaching search, it’s all about the offense and getting on the right side of the curve. All I know is Caldwell has won a lot of games — and the Lions seem quite a bit worse with Matt Patricia as coach.
►Question: What positive trends for the Packers should Lions fans be concerned about in 2019 and beyond?
►Huber: There is so little positive with this team. It’s crazy. All those bad drafts by former GM Ted Thompson have really put the team behind the eight-ball. This league is about having great players. If you have great players, you win. If you don’t, you lose. Rodgers, receiver Davante Adams and left tackle David Bakhtiari are great players. But there isn’t much else in the way of game-changing talent.
With that said, they could have a great tandem at cornerback, though that’s assuming first-round rookie Jaire Alexander continues to develop, and second-year player Kevin King can ever stay healthy. Running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams look like a nice one-two punch. They’re on injured reserve, but defensive tackles Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels are a nice starting point to any defense. The Packers have two first-round picks — theirs and New Orleans’ pick — and more than $45 million in cap space. They have a chance to make a quick turnaround, but a lot of things have to fall into place.
►Question: Former Lions training camp invite Robert Tonyan has seen increased playing time lately. Has he shown enough potential to stick around beyond this season?
►Huber: I think he’s got a real chance. Tall and fast never go out of style. For whatever reason, they’ve really been wedded to veterans Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis, but Tonyan has made some plays and Rodgers seems to like him. Tight end has been such a black hole. They used a third-round pick on Richard Rodgers in 2014 and he just wasn’t athletic enough to be a difference-maker. Jared Cook gave them a lift in 2016, but they failed to re-sign him. So they brought in Martellus Bennett for 2017, and that was a disaster. Graham’s been OK this year, but he’s lost those extra gears that made him an elite player. Can Tonyan be that guy? I don’t know about that, but there’s no reason why he can’t be a productive complementary piece.
►Question: The Packers win this game if?
►Huber: They show up intent on finishing the season on a strong note. They were down by two touchdowns three times last week against the Jets. They could have waved the white flag, but kept fighting and eventually won in overtime. The players like Philbin. I don’t think it’s the cliched nonsense we tend to hear from players sometimes. So, if they decided to fight their way to a victory against the Jets, I don’t see any reason why they won’t fight on Sunday. Green Bay’s pass defense, with injuries in the secondary and the lack of a pass rush, is pretty bad, but it’s not like the Lions are going to bring back Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.