Sports

Packers vs. Lions Preview: Key Matchups, Keys to the Game & Prediction

On Monday night, the Green Bay Packers (4-3) will square off against the Detroit Lions (3-4) for the first time in 2017, as they welcome their NFC North rival to Lambeau Field for a primetime matchup. The Packers are coming off their bye week, having dropped their last contest, 26-19, to the New Orleans Saints. Detroit enters the game mired in a three-game losing skid, including a 20-15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.

Some notes on the matchup:

  • The game will be nationally televised on ESPN, with Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden and Lisa Salters handling the broadcasting duties. The game can also be heard across the Packers Radio Network, originating from flagship station AM 620 WTMJ, with Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren calling the action. Nationally, Westwood One Sports will broadcast the game on radio, with Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason and Hub Arkush on the call.

  • The Packers lead the all-time regular season series with Detroit, 98-68-1.

  • In head coach Mike McCarthy’s time as head coach, the Packers are 10-1 against the Lions at Lambeau Field.

  • The Packers are 9-2 under McCarthy in games immediately following the bye week, including wins in seven of their last eight such contests.

  • Green Bay has won three consecutive Monday night games.

Injury Report

Detroit listed seven players on its final injury report of the week. Offensive tackle Emmett Cleary (ankle), running back Dwayne Washington (concussion) and linebacker Paul Worrilow (knee) were all listed as full participants on Sunday and are expected to play Monday night. The other four designations were:

Questionable—S Don Carey (knee), DT Ezekiel Ansah (knee)

Doubtful—WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring)

Out—T Greg Robinson (ankle)

For the Packers, 11 players were listed on the Sunday injury report. Linebacker Nick Perry (hand), offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring), running back Ty Montgomery (ribs/wrist) and safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) were designated as full participants and should play. The rest of Green Bay’s designations:

Questionable—G Lane Taylor (ankle), CB Damarious Randall (hamstring/illness), CB Kevin King (back)

Doubtful—TE Martellus Bennett (shoulder), LB Ahmad Brooks (back), DT Quinton Dial (chest)

Out—LB Joe Thomas (ankle)

Here’s how the Green Bay offense stacks up against the Lions’ defense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 23.4 ppg (11th)

Detroit: 24.1 ppg (25th)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 310 ypg (23rd)

Detroit: 346.1 ypg (22nd)

Passing

Green Bay: 208.4 ypg (23rd)

Detroit: 254.6 ypg (26th)

Rushing

Green Bay: 101.6 ypg (19th)

Detroit: 91.6 ypg (6th)

And how the Packers’ defense matches up with Detroit’s offense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 23 ppg (t-20th)

Detroit: 25.1 ppg (9th)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 348.9 ypg (23rd)

Detroit: 324.3 ypg (19th)

Passing

Green Bay: 223.1 ypg (16th)

Detroit: 242.1 ypg (12th)

Rushing

Green Bay: 125.7 ypg (27th)

Detroit: 82.1 ypg (28th)

When Green Bay is on offense…

All eyes will no doubt once again be on quarterback Brett Hundley as he makes his second career regular season start as the replacement to Aaron Rodgers. Against the Saints in his first start, Hundley was not exactly the star of the show—and it appeared the coaching staff drew up a game plan to make sure he wasn’t. Hundley was limited to seemingly safe passes for the majority of the game and couldn’t hit his spots on the few downfield chances he did take. Will the Packers open up the game plan a little after the bye week? That’s the million-dollar question.

Regardless of the direction they take with Hundley, Green Bay is likely to lean on the running game to get things going. The rushing attack is led by rookie Aaron Jones, who burst on to the scene in Ty Montgomery’s brief absence and has yet to look back. His sample size is still small—he’s carried the ball just 62 times—but his production has been solid. Jones is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and leads the team in rushing touchdowns with three. His eye for daylight and elusiveness are something Green Bay hasn’t seen at running back in some time. Unfortunately for Montgomery, whose transition from wide receiver to full-time running back was well-documented, that means Jones has earned the majority of the reps, relegating Montgomery to “change-of-pace” status for the time being.

In the passing attack, Green Bay is led by its reliable trio of Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Adams leads the team in receptions (30) and yards (351), while Nelson leads the pack in touchdowns with six. Tight end Martellus Bennett is fourth on the list in receptions (24), but has also dealt with drop issues at times this season. Bennett likely won’t be available against Detroit, as he deals with a shoulder injury that sent him to the injury report earlier in the week, just days after he apparently announced his impending retirement on his Instagram account. That leaves Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers, who have combined for nine receptions on the season, to handle the duties at tight end.

If there’s a spot of good news for the Packers heading into Monday night, it’s the offensive line, which should be as close to full strength as it’s been all season after being ravaged by injuries for most of the first seven weeks. This is a welcome development as Green Bay attempts to crack the sixth-best run defense in the league. If nothing else, it should give Hundley an extra shot of confidence as he looks to build upon his performance of two weeks ago. In a fast-paced game, it’s nice to know you’ve at least got the best possible protection in front of you.

Defensively for the Lions, it’s been a tale of two levels. The aforementioned sixth-ranked run defense has been stingy to the tune of just under 92 yards per game. Defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and Anthony Zettel each present a unique challenge, while second-year tackle A’Shawn Robinson holds down the interior. The linebacking corps is led by Tahir Whitehead, the ninth-best linebacker in the league according to Pro Football Focus. The secondary, however, has been Detroit’s weak spot. The formidable combination of free safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay has seemingly been neutralized by not-so-stellar play by the rest of the group’s membership. Quin and Slay enter the game with three interceptions apiece, and the Packers will probably look to pick on the likes on Nevin Lawson and DJ Hayden at cornerback.

When Green Bay is on defense…

The Packers will get a major boost this week with the return of Morgan Burnett after the veteran safety missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix taking over Burnett’s communication duties, the defense looked downright lost at times, and Clinton-Dix’s play dropped off noticeably. Whether that was a product of added responsibility, we can’t be completely sure. Having everyone back to their usual duties, however, certainly can’t hurt.

As for the rest of the secondary, the picture was blurred a bit on Sunday when rookie cornerback Kevin King was added to the injury report with a back issue. If King ends up inactive, the Packers will be left with Davon House and Damarious Randall as their top corners, with Josh Hawkins and Lenzy Pipkins likely providing support. Rookie Donatello Brown, who was signed from the practice squad during the week, could see action if anything goes awry. With safety Kentrell Brice recently sent to added to injured reserve, rookie Josh Jones figures to see more snaps, either next to Clinton-Dix or in the nitro linebacker role, depending on how the Packers want to deploy Burnett.

In the front seven, Green Bay will likely inject two new faces into the equation. Rookie Vince Biegel was activated for the first time after spending the first part of the season on the PUP list. While it’s probably not fair to expect a huge contribution from Biegel in his first action, the Packers could use a spark in the pass rush. Fellow rookie Montravious Adams could get his first real snaps at defensive tackle, as Quinton Dial is unlikely to play Monday night.

Offensively, Detroit will bring an air show to Lambeau. Gunslinger Matthew Stafford is averaging over 38 pass attempts per game over his first seven contests, though he has only completed a little over 60 percent of his passes to this point. Receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. have been Stafford’s favorite targets, with 55 and 51 targets, respectively. Tate leads the team in receptions (43) and yards (449). Jones, however, represents the highest big play potential, averaging almost 16 yards per reception. The Lions’ rushing attack has been almost non-existent, with Ameer Abdullah leading the way with 369 yards on 101 carries. The next closest rusher in terms of yardage is the quarterback, Stafford, with 68.

Key Matchups

Packers pass rush vs. Lions offensive line: If the Packers can get any semblance of a pass rush and make Matthew Stafford uncomfortable, it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Lions on offense. Despite coming into the game with the 27th-ranked rush defense in the league, Green Bay should be able to handle Detroit’s lowly rushing attack. This is an area the Packers can dominate.

Justin Vogel vs. Jamal Agnew: Vogel has had an outstanding season so far, averaging 45.9 yards per punt. This week, though, his focus might shift from distance to placement. Lions’ return man Jamal Agnew is averaging 21.7 yards per return on punts and has taken two back for touchdowns. The Packers can’t afford to be burned on special teams.

Brett Hundley vs. Lions secondary: Kind of a given here, but this one will be big. The Packers have enough talent in the receiving corps to get people open—the key is getting the ball delivered. We should know fairly early if the Packers plan on opening things up for Hundley, as well as how confident Hundley is with what’s in front of him.

Keys to the Game

Get creative: We saw the Packers finding new, unique ways to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers to some degree against New Orleans, but not nearly enough as they should have. It’s no secret that Mike McCarthy likes to play around with formations and personnel groupings, and there’s no better time than now to expand on that. That’s not to say Brett Hundley can’t survive in the structure of McCarthy’s offense, but he certainly can’t be expected to operate like Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay needs to identify the best way for Hundley to get the ball from point A to point B, and that will probably involve some degree of creativity.

Make Stafford repeat history: Despite putting up gaudy statistics—3,788 yards, 25 touchdowns—against the Packers in his career, Stafford holds just a 3-10 record against Green Bay. The fact that Aaron Rodgers is usually on the opposite sideline probably has something to do with that, but Stafford hasn’t helped himself by any means. In those 13 career games against the Packers, Stafford has thrown 25 interceptions, and only three times has he made it through an entire game without throwing at least one. The Packers need to get him flustered and force him to make mistakes.

Defensive communication: A fundamental pillar of football should never have to be mentioned in a “keys” segment, yet here we are. Defensively, the Packers have found themselves on the wrong side of communications breakdowns too many times this season. Whether it’s blown assignments or just having the correct number of players on the field, the communication needs to be seamless this week. If it’s not, Stafford and the Lions will make Green Bay pay for it.

Prediction

The 4-3 Packers are a home underdog to the 3-4 Lions in this game, which tells you how much the betting world values Aaron Rodgers. While Brett Hundley will probably never completely escape the shadow of the future Hall-of-Famer he’s filling in for, he can’t even begin to change the narrative until the Packers win a game under his leadership. There truly are no easy weeks in the NFL, but this is edition of the Detroit Lions far from the stiffest test Hundley will face in career. Still, the game likely won’t rest with Hundley alone. Green Bay’s defense started hot against Drew Brees and withered down the stretch. This feels like the week they figure out how to finish the job and put their team back on the right track. Packers 27, Lions 24.