Senior writer jclombardi previews Packers keys and game plan against Lions.
Packers vs Lions: Time: High noon. Place: Ford Field, Detroit. TV coverage: FOX. The rankings: The Packers’ ninth-ranked offense is No. 23 in rushing and No. 6 in passing. Their 10th-ranked defense is No. 18 against the run and No. 6 against the pass. The Lions’ 15th-ranked offense is No. 28 in rushing and No. 8 in passing. Their 21st-ranked defense is No. 25 against the run and No. 16 against the pass. The injury report: Packers – FB Korey Hall (knee), DE Cullen Jenkins (calf) and CB Pat Lee (ankle) are out. S Anthony Smith (ankle) and S Atari Bigby (hamstring) are questionable. LT Chad Clifton (knees, concussion), S Nick Collins (shoulder), LB Clay Matthews (ankle), DE Ryan Pickett (ankle), CB Charles Woodson (toe, ankle), WR Donald Driver (hand), WR Brett Swain (knee) and WR Jordy Nelson (ankle) are probable. THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH–Close, but no cigar: While the Lions’ record is undeniable at 2-10, it belies the improvement the team has shown. “There’s some similarities between us and Green Bay when it comes to that. Green Bay has four losses this year and all have been by three points. So, they’re a really good team that is right on the fringe of being the best team in the league if they can find their way over those,” Schwartz said [laughable]. Game-changer: The last time the teams met in Green Bay, the Lions might have pulled off the upset if not for Charles Woodson. Unstoppable: Greg Jennings’ season started slowly, but the Packers star receiver has taken off of late playing at a level that no one in the NFL can match right now. All that said, Jennings, a Michigan native and Western Michigan alum, had perhaps his worst game of the season against the Lions on Oct. 3, catching only two passes for 25 yards and 17-yard touchdown while being the intended receiver on a pair of Aaron Rodgers interceptions. Since then, especially since tight end Jermichael Finley was lost for the season, Jennings has been the go-to guy. Starks contrast: The fans who clamored for rookie running back James Starks while the Packers ground game fizzled got their wish last week with 73-yard effort that certainly energized the fan base. Now, Starks will have another week to prove he’s the real deal. Quarterback quandary: Drew Stanton will become his fourth quarterback to start against them, following Daunte Culpepper, Stafford and Shaun Hill. Stafford and Hill have been ruled out. While Stanton played solidly against Chicago last week, and star wide receiver Calvin Johnson is always dangerous, the drop-off is precipitous.THE PREDICTION–The Lions’ record is misleading, and they have played well at home, so a shocker can’t be entirely ruled out. But with what the Packers have in front of them and what they hope to still accomplish this season after their injury epidemic, it’s hard to envision them tanking instead of taking care of business. Packers 31, Lions 13.
Keys to the game: The Packers have won 10 straight against Detroit, a team QB Aaron Rodgers has a 105.3 passer rating against in five career meetings. Rookie RB James Starks (18 carries for 73 yards) had the best debut by a Packers rookie back since 1960 last week and will be part of the backfield mix. Detroit must get a big effort out of DLs Suh and Avril to protect a fractured secondary. The Lions want QB Stanton to make quick decisions with OLB Matthews having a favorable matchup. And RB Best appears to be regaining his big-play burst. Game plan–This alleged trap (spoilers) game against a Detroit team with a 2-10 record comes right before the Packers finish the regular season with a potentially grueling trifecta against the Patriots, Giants and Bears. If the Packers are going to make the playoffs, and perhaps overtake the Bears for the NFC North title, they can’t slip up Sunday. Thanks to zero interceptions for Aaron Rodgers the last five-plus games, the Packers are clicking on offense. Rodgers should be able to pass the football with ease against a patchwork defense that has issues in the secondary. The key will be for the interior linemen to neutralize Lions DT Ndamukong Suh. As Green Bay tries to build off the momentum from its last game with a running dimension that came to life thanks to a productive pro debut by James Starks, taking the football right up the gut at the penetrating Suh has worked for other teams to counter his speed. Defensively, the Packers will see a different quarterback, Drew Stanton than last game when Shaun Hill’s big passing day nearly carried the Lions to an upset victory. Stanton isn’t as dangerous throwing the football as Hill is, especially downfield, but Green Bay will be expecting a heavy diet of passes since Detroit can’t run the football. Keeping big-play WR Johnson, productive TE Pettigrew and shifty rookie running back Best in check on Stanton’s short to intermediate throws is the focal point. The wild card for the Lions is the diminutive Stefan Logan, who, at 5-foot-6 has played big on kickoff and punt returns. Look for the Packers to kick the football away from Logan as much as possible.