Coming off a much-needed bye week, the Green Bay Packers head back to Lambeau Field on Sunday in desperate need of a win.
After a 30-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers sit at 2-2, third in the NFC North. If the Packers hope to challenge for the division title, or even a playoff spot, they will need to play better than they have the first four weeks of the season.
So this should be an easy win for the Pack, right? Wrong.
Don't get me wrong, the Packers are clearly much better than the Lions. But if the Packers play like they did in their two losses this year, any team could beat them.
If the Packers play smart football and can limit their mistakes, Sunday should be an easy win and could help build some momentum. Here are some keys to the game:
1. Protect Aaron Rodgers
This one is simple. If Rodgers has time in the pocket, their offense is one of the best in the league. If he is pressured, it struggles. The Lions are no Steel Curtain. In fact, they're more like a picket fence. They have given up 162 points this year and don't seem to be improving.
But they do have 10 sacks, and any defense that can harass a quarterback will do well. If Rodgers has time, he will light up the Lions and the Packers could score 40. If not...there could be a lot of frustrated Packers fans on Sunday.
2. Get Ryan Grant going
Just two years after having one of the best rookie seasons in team history, Ryan Grant looks like he should barely be on the team. Grant has just 257 yards this year and is averaging only 3.8 yards a carry. Part of that is the play of his line, but Grant is to blame for some of his struggles. For the Packers to be successful on offense, the running game has to get going. This will take pressure off Rodgers and give the offensive line some confidence.
3. Contain Calvin Johnson
Whether Matthew Stafford or Daunte Culpepper is starting at quarterback, one thing is certain: know where Calvin Johnson is at all times. Johnson has 22 receptions this year and is averaging almost 15 yards a catch. Neither Al Harris nor Charles Woodson will be able to cover him in man coverage so help will definitely be needed over the top.
Speaking of, the safeties on this team have definitely been the Achilles heel for this Packer D, and if they hope to stop anyone through the air, this problem will definitely need to be addressed.
4. Pressure the QB
If Stafford plays Sunday, constant pressure is essential. Although Stafford has been inconsistent in his rookie year, he's shown flashes of brilliance, and the last thing the Packers need is for him to get in a rhythm. With his knee injury against the Bears keeping him out last week, Stafford won't have his normal mobility and the Packers need to use that to their advantage.
If Culpepper plays Sunday, the strategy will remain virtually the same, but the Packers should be a little more cautious. Although he isn't what he used to be, Culpepper can still use his legs very effectively. Therefore, the Packers should do their best to keep him in the pocket.
Sunday's game is anything but a guarantee, and though the Packers should win, this team has played below its ability this year. Let's hope that habit doesn't reappear Sunday.
Prediction: Packers 34, Lions 23
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