The surprising Detroit Lions have been all about erasing ugly and embarrassing losing trends to start the 2013 season.
In Week 3, there was the franchise's first road win against the Washington Redskins in 74 years and 19 tries. Last Sunday, the Lions beat the Chicago Bears for just the second time in the last 11 games between the divisional rivals.
The upcoming week provides Detroit with a chance to snap another one of its most humiliating active streaks: a 22-game stretch without a win in the state of the Wisconsin, where the Green Bay Packers have set an NFL record for the longest home winning streak against a single opponent.
Believe it or not, but this Lions team, which has won three of four games in 2013 and now lead the NFC North at the season's quarter pole, is as capable of beating the Packers at Lambeau Field as any of the previous 22 teams before it.
Without much doubt, an upset victory Sunday would represent a landmark win for a franchise that has been bullied around by the Packers for more than two decades.
The Lions haven't won in Wisconsin since Dec. 15, 1991, when Erik Kramer tossed two touchdown passes and Mel Gray had a 78-yard punt return for a score in a 21-17 Detroit win. The following 22 road games against Green Bay, including a 1994 playoff contest, all ended in defeat for the Lions.
During the streak, the Packers have averaged a margin of victory of nearly 13 points, and 11 times Green Bay has won by 10 or more. Only five of the 22 games have ended with the Lions within six points.
Head coach Jim Schwartz has a grasp on the history, but he also understands how little that history will impact who wins and who loses Sunday.
“You don’t win or lose the game because of the name of the stadium or what happened in the past," Schwartz said, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. "You win because the 11 you’re putting on the field and the 11 the opponents are putting on the field and who executes the best.”
Schwartz's message is a sound one. The previous 22 games between these two teams—and especially those further back than a few years—will have little impact on the winner of Sunday's game.
In snapping the streak, the 2013 Lions need only to beat the 2013 Packers. The ghosts of past failures are only imaginary in this sense; the records are only numbers giving those ghosts unnecessary life.
The Lions of this season—the only team that matters in this discussion—have certainly flashed an ability to beat anyone, including a Packers team that is just 1-2 and coming off a much-needed bye week.
On offense, Detroit features a quarterback and receiver combination that has terrorized Green Bay in recent meetings. Overall, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have combined to hook up 27 times for 448 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games at Lambeau Field.
So far in 2013, Green Bay has allowed a combination of Anquan Boldin, Pierre Garcon and A.J. Green to catch 25 passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks also have an uncharacteristic 113.7 passer rating versus the Packers this season.
Even a Detroit offensive line that has let down Stafford at times in the past has now come to life. Through four games, the Lions have allowed a league-low three sacks, and Stafford has been sacked on an NFL-best 1.9 percent of his 2013 dropbacks.
The Packers defense has provided sacks on just 6.1 percent of opposing dropbacks this season, and Clay Matthews, who leads Green Bay in sacks with two, is currently dealing with a hamstring injury. He will likely be limited throughout the week in practice.
And maybe most importantly, running back Reggie Bush has added a completely new dimension to the Lions offense, both as an inside-the-tackles runner and dangerous underneath receiver. A free-agent signing this past offseason, Bush has 433 yards of total offense in just three games (144.3 per game) with Detroit.
Only eight players, with each playing all four games, have more yards from scrimmage than Bush this season. He's also fifth in yards per attempt (5.3) among running backs with at least 25 carries.
Green Bay hasn't necessarily struggled against opposing running backs this season, but shifty rookie Gio Bernard did total 99 yards, including 49 receiving, during Cincinnati's 34-30 win over the Packers in Week 3.
Overall, the Lions are now throwing less (just 12th in NFL in passing attempts) but scoring more (fourth in NFL at 30.5 points per game). That's been a winning combination for Detroit through the first quarter of 2013.
Of course, any discussion about beating the Packers at Lambeau Field will also have to include defense.
Since 2009, Green Bay is averaging an NFL best 32.0 points over 33 home games (29-4 record). Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been a major reason why, as he sports the second-best home passer rating (110.7) and second-most home passing touchdowns (78) since the start of '09.
Fresh off turning Jay Cutler over four times in Week 4, the Lions defense should bring some rare confidence into a game against the Green Bay offense.
Detroit is currently the best third-down defense in the NFL, with opposing offenses converting on just 10 of 47 third-down plays (21.3 percent) through four games this season. As an offense, the Packers have been only middle-of-the-league on third downs (36.4, 18th in NFL).
A big part of the third-down success in Detroit has been the defense's ability to shake the game's most important position. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 69.4 passer rating against the Lions this season, which is fifth-best in the NFL and a 22.3-point jump from 2012 (91.7, ninth worst). Detroit also has the league's second-most interceptions with eight.
Rodgers will be coming off one of his worst games since taking over as the Packers starter in 2008. Facing a strong front four and the stick-tight coverage of the Bengals in Week 3, Rodgers tossed two interceptions and finished with a passer rating of just 64.5.
The Lions may not be able to replicate how well Cincinnati covered on Sunday, but the impact of the front four should be comparable. In fact, the Bengals and Lions might have the two best 4-3 fronts in all of football.
With two sacks and 26 total pressures, Ndamukong Suh is off to the finest start of his otherwise impressive NFL career. He will enter Sunday's game as the top-graded defensive tackle at Pro Football Focus and also the most disruptive in terms of pass-rushing.
Fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley (1.5 sacks, nine pressures) only makes the Lions' interior defensive line even more difficult to contain. On the edges, the Lions lost veteran Jason Jones for the season but still have a trio of solid options in Ziggy Ansah (2.5 sacks, 14 pressures), Willie Young (one sack, 20 pressures) and Israel Idonije (10 pressures).
Overall, the Lions have already produced an NFL-high 89 total pressures from the defensive line alone. In comparison, the Bengals have just 57 from their front four. The Packers offensive line will face its most difficult challenge of the season Sunday.
These confluence of factors, from a more balanced, explosive offense to a defense capable of replicating the successful blueprint against Rodgers, should give Detroit a very real opportunity to finally beat the Packers Sunday. A wave of confidence after starting 3-1 and beating the Bears in such impressive fashion in Week 3 should help, too.
The typically rah-rah Schwartz has made sure that this week is more about getting a win than snapping the streak.
"I think that it would certainly be a big win for us," Schwartz said, via McCosky. "...We certainly want to end the streak, but that’s not our rallying cry."
Securing a 4-1 start, including an important 3-0 mark inside the division, should be Sunday's primary goal for the Lions. But snapping an ugly streak would be the ultimate cherry on top for a team that has been through failure after failure at Lambeau Field.
These Lions have all the tools necessary to finally pull it off.
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