Lions vs. Packers: 10 Keys to the Game for Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers won another game and lost another player potentially for the rest of the season.
Such is the way with the 2012 Packers.
The Packers won a big divisional game by a score of 23-14, but in the process appear to have lost running back James Starks for the season with a micro-fracture in his foot. Starks and fellow running back Alex Green combined for over 120 yards in what was one of the best rushing performances the Packers have had all season.
This week the Packers try to pick up the pieces from another injury when they face the Detroit Lions at home in front of a national TV audience Sunday night. The Lions are all but eliminated from playoff contention, but they would love to win at Lambeau Field, where they have not been victorious in over 20 years.
So what are the keys for the Packers to keep that streak against the Lions alive?
1. Emerge Healthy
It may seem like a contradiction to list something that is really out of team's control as a "key to the game," but with the Packers roster beginning to look more like an infirmary than a football team, the Packers need to be careful.
While they can't eliminate the injury risk, players can help limit the exposure they have to injury by being smart. This means not giving up their bodies for extra yards and getting out of bounds rather than being at risk for a big hit.
This will be tricky against the Lions, but the Packers have no choice. They cannot afford to lose any more key players to injury.
2. Protect Aaron Rodgers
If the Packers can't keep their MVP upright, then what's the point really?
The Packers already have already lost Bryan Bulaga for the season and now TJ Lang is banged up. Thankfully against the Vikings, undrafted rookie Don Barclay played very well in Lang's absence at right tackle. He played well enough to warrant speculation that he could remain at right tackle while the Packers put Lang back at his natural position of left guard.
Barclay this week will face a much more difficult task against the Lions' front four. While the Vikings have a good defensive line, the challenges Ndamukong Suh and company present are much tougher
3. Stop Calvin Johnson
When the Packers played the Lions last on November 18, Megatron scorched the Packers secondary for eight catches, 143 yards and one touchdown. While 53 of those yards came on one catch, Johnson still had a big game.
The Packers secondary has been very good in the absence of safety Charles Woodson, who has been said to be nearing a return. Rookie Casey Heyward has been a revelation at cornerback, and the second-round pick is showing the future is bright for the Packers at the position.
Johnson is one of those special players that you just cannot shut down for a full game, but if the Packers limit his big plays then they should have no trouble containing the Lions offense.
4. Get the Ball in Randall Cobb's Hands
The Packers, meanwhile, have been developing their own weapon on offense that they have unleashed throughout the 2012 season.
Cobb has had a breakout season in 2012 and gave Detroit fits in their previous matchup, including making a spectacular catch under two minutes in the fourth quarter to give the Packers the game-winning score.
The Packers must continue to feature Cobb in the game plan despite the return of Greg Jennings from injury. In fact, the presence of Jennings may take some heat off of Cobb and allow him to do what he does best.
What he does best is pretty much everything on offense except dropping back to pass.
5. Pressure Matthew Stafford
Clay Matthews is out another week so the Packers will have to continue to rely on Brad Jones and Dezman Moses to generate much of the Packers' pass rush.
Moses has played fairly well in his rookie season and could perhaps be the next version of Desmond Bishop, who is out for the season, in which he is a starter in waiting. The Lions have an adequate offensive line but they can crack under consistent pressure.
Dom Capers needs to bring the heat early and often Sunday night.
6. At Least Try to Run the Ball
The Packers suffered another blow this week as it was reported that James Starks could miss the rest of the season with another foot injury.
With a running game that was already suffering without Cedric Benson, the Packers reached back to their past and signed Ryan Grant this week. The two-headed Starks/Alex Green attack actually paid dividends for the Packers last week, but it's unclear what shape Grant is in as he turns 30 this Sunday.
Look for Green to get the bulk of the carries this week with a Grant cameo. The two-headed attack could return next week against the Chicago Bears.
7. Don't Let It Come Down to a Field Goal
A lot of people saw last week as the end of Crosby's slump, but when you need an upright to make a 35-yard field goal, everything is still not OK.
There is still little faith the Packers can win a game on Crosby's leg, so the Packers' best chance is to score fast early on and put the game away in the third quarter.
8. Make Suh Angry
Suh can be a very angry young man.
If the Packers can get inside the Lions' head by scoring in a hurry early on, the greater the chances of another patented Detroit meltdown become. It's not to say the Packers need to play dirty, but if they can open up a lead they can get the Lions to self-destruct.
The Lions have talent but they won't go anywhere until they gain some maturity.
9. Beware the Weather
The forecast is calling for potential snow throughout the evening, so this could be a defensive struggle despite the presence of two strong offenses.
If the Packers can run the ball better than Detroit, the Packers should win as the Lions are a dome team—and we all know how dome teams play outdoors in the elements.
10. Score More Points Than the Lions
The key to any NFL game is outscoring the opponent.
The bottom line is that's what it will take to beat the Lions.