By Jon Meerdink
The absolute nadir of the 2013 Packers’ season was their Thanksgiving Day trip to Detroit. This was a team without a quarterback, without a defense, without much of a hope for anything. Coming off a semi-miraculous tie against the Vikings, the Packers were thoroughly drubbed by the Lions, getting laughed off the field 40-10.
Maybe fatigue played a factor. Maybe playing a full extra quarter against Minnesota, then returning to the field just four days later was a taller order than expected. Maybe there was just too little ammunition left for a serious fight against a high octane Detroit offense.
We’ll never know why last year was so bad, but if anything else is true heading into this week’s matchup it’s this: the Packers can’t do any worse than the last time they were in Detroit.
5 – Consecutive road wins over the Lions when Aaron Rodgers finishes the game – That’s what’s on the line this week in Detroit. The Packers only two losses in Detroit in the Rodgers Era have come when Rodgers either didn’t play (last year) or didn’t finish (2010). Every other time, the Packers have come out on top, and they can make it five straight this week.
4 – Pass rush ranking, among inside linebackers, of Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore – He’s only been on the field a little bit, but Jamari Lattimore is carving out a nice role for himself in the Packers’ defense. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the fourth best pass rusher among inside linebackers, giving him credit for two hurries on just four pass rushes. (Yeah, okay, I stretched this stat a bit to make it fit into the countdown. I invite you to deal with it.) He’s also been pretty solid against the run, accounting for three “stops” against just one missed tackle. Brad Jones, beware. Your time may be coming.
3 – Packers players to record a sack so far this season – That’s Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix if you’re scoring at home. Julius Peppers has been robbed of at least 1.5 sacks thanks to penalties from other people, but Pro Football Focus still has him as +1.6 rushing the passer so far this year, second on the team behind Daniels. The sacks will come for everyone, I think.
2 – Wins, in 12 career tries, for Calvin Johnson against the Packers. - The Journal Sentinel’s Tyler Dunne pointed this little nugget out. Johnson has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns in those games…but no wins. Either he’s really due for a win or the Packers are just good at allowing Johnson to do enough damage without being totally devastating.
1 – Lions players with a YPC average of 4 or better – Golden Tate, the wide receiver you may have heard of for F*** M*** related reasons from his days in Seattle, is the only Lions player to run for an average of four yards or better whenever he touches the ball. The catch is, he’s only carried the ball once. That’s right, neither Joique Bell (3.5) or Reggie Bush (2.7) is averaging better than four yards per carry. That’s far worse than expected for what was considered a possible two-headed running back monster before the season. That said, they could look pretty dangerous against the Packers’ generous defense.
Last time – Lions: 40 Packers: 10 – November 28, 2013
Like we discussed earlier, this game was an unmitigated disaster. Under Matt Flynn‘s leadership, the Packers managed just 126 total yards, including a measly 102 through the air. It was bad. Really, really, really, really, really bad.
(Interesting note: the Lions already had a 94% win probability BEFORE HALFTIME according to Pro Football Reference.)
Meet a Lion – DeAndre Levy – 6-2, 238 lbs. – OLB – 6th NFL season
Through two games, the Lions’ top rated defender isn’t Ndamukong Suh or Louis Delmas or Nick Fairley. It’s outside linebacker DeAndre Levy. Yes, the Milwaukee native with the serious beard is the pride of the Lions (get it? GET IT?!). He snagged an interception in Week 1 and leads the team with 15 tackles, only missing one tackle opportunity through the first two games.
Levy has been knocked by PFF for his pass coverage this year, but last year it was the strength of his game. He was PFF’s third rated coverage outside linebacker among his 4-3 counterparts, accounting for six interceptions on the year, half of his career total.
The Lions will win if…
…they don’t beat themselves. The biggest opponent to the Detroit Lions has always been the Detroit Lions. Whether it’s penalties, turnovers, or just undisciplined play, the Lions have been their own undoing more often than not. Playing at home against a weak defense, this feels like a game the Lions could easily win, and if they manage to stay out of their own way, they just might do it.
The Packers will win if…
…their defense brings its second half game from last week for the whole game this week. The Lions are a formidable offense, to be sure, but the Packers have slowed them in the past and played pretty well down the stretch against the Jets. Geno Smith is no Matt Stafford, but the Packers all but wiped the Jets out after the first half. If they can duplicate that effort, they could be victorious on Sunday.
The pick: Lions: 27 Packers: 24
My gut says Lions here. I think the Packers are trending upwards, but on the road with a weak defense against the high powered Lions, I don’t see it. Let’s hope I’m wrong!