Clay Mathews. Mission impossible?
The Detroit lions will visit Green Bay this coming Sunday. The Packers are coming off an embarrassing loss to Chicago on Monday Night Football, and are certain to be an angry bunch.
I remember when Vince Lombardi was so incensed after a Green Bay loss that he had every bench, stool, and chair removed from the Packers locker room until they got it right. It worked.
All signs point towards a lopsided defeat for the Lions. They have been installed as a 14.5-point underdog for several very good reasons.
The Packers offense is clicking on most cylinders. QB Aaron Rodgers has thrown for five touchdowns against three interceptions. Rodgers has been sacked only three times.
Rodgers has averaged 35 pass attempts per game. I would expect to see that average increase after facing a Lions secondary that is among the worst in the NFL.
When taking into consideration the talented targets that Rodgers has at his disposal—Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Jermichael Finley—why not pass?
Then there’s the anemic Packers running game. Ryan Grant is lost for the season and the Packers have amassed 286 total rushing yards on an average of 25 attempts per game. If we eliminate the rushing totals posted by Ryan Grant and Aaron Rodgers (94 yards), that leaves 182 yards by running backs Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn. That’s only 60.6 yards per game.
Against Detroit’s pass rush, I expect to see QB Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers in rushing due to his mobility, and the poor performance of the running backs.
The Packers will no doubt learn from film studies that the answer to Detroit’s defense is simple. Short drops and quick hitters. Anything that gets the rock into the receivers' hands should yield good yardage after the catch.
The Packers will be in “max” protect mode, using the otherwise listless running backs to pick up blitzers and chip block the defensive linemen.
From these sets, the Packers will test the Lions' ability to stop draws and screens.
How does Detroit counter the multiple threats in the Packers passing game?
First, and foremost, the Lions must shut down the run, and force the Packers to do what they do best.
Next, the Lions must gamble on defense by playing a tight, nickel defense. If the Packers can be forced to throw 45 times, like they did against Chicago, the Lions will have some opportunities to jump the short routes.
Jumping the Packers' short pass routes will force some deep balls to be thrown by Rodgers. This keeps the ball in Rodgers’ hands longer against the pass rush. That’s a gamble that the Packers will take until the Lions prove it to be a mistake.
It’s up to the Lions defensive pass rush to make Rodgers pay for holding onto the ball.
The Lions defense has to play the perfect game with imperfect players. They can ill afford missed assignments, missed tackles, or penalties.
The Lions defense must generate turnovers, and would likely need to score in order to give the Lions offense a chance to win the game.
On offense, it becomes absolutely necessary to limit Clay Mathews by keeping him double-teamed on every play. Mathews has a league-leading six sacks.
Like Chicago’s Julius Peppers, Clay Mathews will attack from anywhere along the line of scrimmage. One-on-one blocking against Mathews is mission impossible.
The Lions must depend heavily upon the running game. If Jahvid Best plays, and plays well, the Lions might find some success in the intermediate passing game.
If I see a Lions three-and-out, I want to see it be three long balls that no player has a chance to make a play on except one: Calvin Johnson. He has to be given that kind of opportunity.
Will the return of RB Kevin Smith have an impact on the game? I honestly don’t know. The only thing that I do know for sure is that Smith is returning too early in his rehab process.
The offense has had some encouraging performances against some of the NFL’s toughest defenses. They have held the lead in all three games, but couldn’t close the deal.
This banged up bunch of offensive players must be given a scheme that is able to counter the adjustments that the Packers defense will make against any facet of the Lions offense that performs well early.
Again, the offensive unit must play perfect for them to have any chance. I know that this is asking that which is impossible, but if the offense can do to the Packers what the Bears did, they will have a shot to win.
No turnovers, please. This would be a good place to start.
Mind your manners, and execute plays sans penalties.
Special teams will have to be a huge factor in this game. Thus far, the special teams have looked much improved over the ragtag group that played there last year.
Stephan Logan has been solid for Detroit as a return specialist. After Devin Hester torched Green Bay for a TD last Monday, there seems to be some questions as to their ability.
If the Lions can score on special teams, or give the Lions consistently better field position, the Lions mission impossible could become mission doable.
I’m watching the Ryder Cup matches in Wales. The wind is pushing a heavy rain sideways, suspending play.
Would it be too much to ask for foul weather? After all, who would benefit more from a windy, rainy day on a sloppy field?
My guess would be the Lions. We could use the perfect storm on Sunday to keep that high octane Packers air show grounded.
The Lions last won at Lambeau in 1991. Imagine "What if?" If only in our dreams.
I, for one, am praying for rain.
Mike Sudds is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com.