Packers vs. Lions: Why Both Teams Must Run the Ball to Win SNF Clash

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 8, 2012

Nov 18, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure (25) runs the ball against the Green Bay Packers during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Packers beat the Lions 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions feature two of the best passing offenses in the NFL over the last handful of seasons, but running the football may take precedence when the two teams meet Sunday night at Lambeau Field. 

Not only is the weather expected to be conducive to the running game, but several injuries to both passing offenses have handicapped what the two can realistically expect to accomplish against each defense. 

The two-year stats certainly wouldn't expect the run to be much of a factor when these two offenses meet. 

Over the last two seasons, Green Bay and Detroit have combined for 17,308 passing yards and 140 touchdowns (Packers: 8,323, 81 touchdowns; Lions: 8,985, 59 touchdowns). Both teams are in the top five of passing yards since 2011. 

In comparison, the two teams have only rushed for 5,584 yards and 41 scores (Packers: 2,818 yards, 18 touchdowns; Lions: 2,766, 23). Each ranks in the lower half of the NFL over the two-year span. 

However, inclement weather will likely help push each offense towards the run Sunday night. 

According to, Green Bay has a 100 percent chance of receiving snow Sunday. Three to six inches of snow is expected through Monday, with a portion of it coming after Sunday's 7:20 p.m. CT kick off. Temperatures are expected to dip into the 20s, with wind from the northwest at 10-15 miles per hour. 

Throwing the football in the snow and cold isn't impossible, but it certainly makes the task a more difficult one. Traditionally, the best teams are the ones capable of running the football in the elements. 

The last time the Packers played in significant snow, Ryan Grant rumbled for a franchise playoff record 201 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in January of 2008. In all, Green Bay rushed for 235 yards and threw for just 173. 

While conditions are not expected to be as severe as that afternoon, the Packers' success running the ball does provide somewhat of a blueprint for playing in poor conditions. 

Injuries on both sides might also force the two teams to be more selective in the passing game. 

Green Bay could be without starting right tackle T.J. Lang, who practiced Friday but was very limited thanks to an ankle injury. He's questionable to play Sunday. If Lang can't go, rookie Don Barclay would make his first NFL start at right tackle.

In that scenario, the Packers would likely want to run the football more to take some of the heat off Barclay in the passing game. He'll face defensive end Cliff Avril, owner of nine sacks this season, at left defensive end.

No Jordy Nelson (hamstring) at receiver also hurts the passing options for quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Matthew Stafford certainly doesn't feel any sympathy for Rodgers, however.

The Lions quarterback will travel to Green Bay without three of his top receiver options. Ryan Broyles (ACL) and Titus Young (knee) were both placed on IR this week, joining fellow receiver and former starter Nate Burleson. 

Playing behind Calvin Johnson Sunday will be the likes of Mike Thomas, Karim Osgood and Brian Robiske. The three have combined for all of three catches during the 2012 season. It probably goes without saying that the three players behind Johnson probably didn't keep Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers up at night this week. 

The Lions are also looking at the possibility of playing without left tackle Jeff Backus, who is officially listed as questionable. If he can't play, former first-round pick Riley Reiff would start in his place at left tackle. The Packers were successful in exploiting that matchup in the first meeting between these two teams, but mostly through the passing game.

The Packers are also likely to head into Sunday with just four healthy defensive lineman, so Detroit might look to wear down the front early and often with the run. Mikel Leshoure (84 rushing yards, touchdown in the first meeting) is capable of doing so. 

Even the Nov. 18 meeting between these two teams foreshadowed a more run-focused game plan. 

Green Bay gave James Starks (out for Sunday, knee) 25 carries. Overall, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy called 28 runs and 28 passes. 

The Lions weren't far behind. 

While Stafford dropped back 41 times, Detroit did 24 times for 110 yards. Only when the Lions went away from the run during the fourth quarter did the Packers finally take control. 

Sunday, the two teams might not have a choice but to run the football. 

The forecast is mostly cold and snowy, and injuries have really handicapped the ceilings of both offenses. Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford will still have a major say in the winner Sunday night, but don't be surprised if the team with the more productive running game leaves Lambeau Field with a much-needed victory.