Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez preview the Detroit Lions’ home game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Ford Field.
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett scouts and predicts Sunday’s game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

Lions (1-3) vs. Packers (2-1-1)

When: 1 p.m., Sunday.

Where: Ford Field, Detroit.

TV/radio: Fox, WJR-AM (760).

Line: Pick ’em.

Lions run offense vs. Packers run defense

Kerryon Johnson is the most productive running back in the NFL according to Football Outsider’s DVOA metric that measures a player’s defense-adjusted value over the average player at his position, and yet the Lions insist on using the rookie as part of a timeshare.

Johnson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry this season, and he has helped give the Lions a serviceable rushing game for one of the first times in quarterback Matthew Stafford’s career. LeGarrette Blount missed practice Wednesday because of an illness, but he’ll be part of the rotation Sunday. The Lions running game could take a hit, though, as right guard T.J. Lang won’t play because of a concussion.

The Packers, led by nose tackle Kenny Clark, rank 16th in the NFL against the run at 107.8 yards per game, but they’re allowing 4.5 yards per carry. Both Jordan Howard (15 carries, 82 yards) and Adrian Peterson (19 carries, 120 yards) had big days on the ground against Green Bay, though the Packers have mostly limited explosive rushing plays (one gain over 20 yards allowed).

Edge: Lions

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Lions pass offense vs. Packers pass defense

The Lions have one of the more balanced receiving corps in the NFL with Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones all averaging more than 55 yards per game. Tate had a huge game last week against the Dallas Cowboys, but Sunday could be Jones’ day. He has averaged more than 117 yards per game against the Packers (four games) with five scores in his two-plus seasons with the Lions.

The Packers have a young defensive backfield with two rookies and second-year cornerback Kevin King, plus veteran Tramon Williams. They have two capable edge rushers in Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and Mike Daniels has a matchup advantage inside against Kenny Wiggins, who’ll start at right guard in place of Lang.

Stafford didn’t get great protection up front against Dallas, but played his first turnover-free game of the season. The Packers are tied for fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks, and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes to bring pressure from a variety of looks.

Edge: Lions

Packers run offense vs. Lions run defense

There’s no sugar-coating it, the Lions have been atrocious against the run this year. They’ve allowed 169 yards or more on the ground in three of their four games, with the lone exception being a Week 3 win over the New England Patriots, when the Patriots fell behind early, and ran just 47 offensive plays.

The Packers aren’t a great rushing team at 102 yards per game, but coach Mike McCarthy has tried to stay committed to the run with quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing through a sprained knee. Jamaal Williams is the starter, but Aaron Jones has been Green Bay’s most efficient back at 6.3 yards per carry (17 carries for 107 yards in two games).

Big plays have been an issue for the Lions this year, as they routinely get pushed around at the line of scrimmage and don’t have enough speed in the back seven. A’Shawn Robinson has played well up front the past two weeks, but the Lions will again be without right end Ziggy Ansah because of a shoulder injury.

Edge: Packers

Packers pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Hobbled or not, Rodgers is one of the two best quarterbacks in the NFL. He makes throws few other players can, he extends plays with his feet, and he rarely turns the ball over.

The Packers will be limited at the receiver position, however, as Randall Cobb is out for the second straight week with a hamstring injury, top deep threat Geronimo Allison is battling a concussion and leading receiver Davante Adams is questionable with a calf injury. Adams is Rodgers’ favorite target, though the Packers also have capable weapons at running back (Ty Montgomery) and tight end (Jimmy Graham).

The Lions have the NFL’s second-ranked pass defense at 171.8 yards per game allowed, but they’ve had trouble covering running backs in the open field. Rodgers is a magician when he gets out of the pocket, so the Lions can’t ignore their rush lanes. Safety Quandre Diggs should play with a cast on his hand, while the cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay is shaky. 

Edge: Packers

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Special teams

Given their problems in coverage this season, the Lions did the right thing last week and sent most of their kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, and had Sam Martin hang his punts high into the air for fair catches. In Martin and kicker Matt Prater, the Lions have one of the better set of specialists in the league. Throw in electric return man Jamal Agnew, and the Lions have a solid special-teams unit that so far has not played up to its potential.

The Packers are solid but unspectacular on special teams, though they have blocked one punt this season. Mason Crosby is 8-for-8 on field goals of less than 50 yards, rookie JK Scott is netting 41.6 yards per punt, and Montgomery and Williams are reliable return men who aren’t necessarily big-play threats.

Edge: Packers


The Lions could really use a win heading into next week’s bye as they’ll play three of their first four games after the break on the road. Getting a victory Sunday won’t be easy, however, as Rodgers makes the Packers the class of the NFC North. Rodgers isn’t completely healthy, and injuries have depleted Green Bay’s receiving corps, so this is a beatable team. But the Lions have their own issues, including the NFL’s worst rush defense, no semblance of a pass rush and a hole at right guard thanks to Lang’s injury. To win, the Lions need a performance similar to the way they played against New England. Controlling the clock and getting something out of the running game are mandatory, or else the Lions will head into their bye on a two-game losing streak.

Pick: Packers 23, Lions 20

Birkett: Lions-Packers key to victory

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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