Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions: What Are Experts Saying About Detroit?
There are plenty of opinions about the longtime rivals, and some of them have even been deemed "expert" by the masses.
Let's see how far that expertise stretches as I dissect various statements from around the Internet.
Matthew Stafford's Bugaboo
Seemingly every Lions article this season has talked about Matthew Stafford. After the first week, he was the next coming of Drew Brees. This week, he's the same, frustrating Stafford whom Lions fans have both praised and endured in seemingly equal measure.
No team brings out the Jekyll and Hyde in Stafford more than the Green Bay Packers.
As Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com pointed out, Stafford has just one win in seven contests against the Packers that include some rather mediocre numbers:
He has only completed 58.5 percent of his passes against Green Bay (179 of 306) for 2,131 yards while throwing 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He has been sacked 17 times by the Packers as well.
Stafford has only thrown for over 300 yards against Green Bay twice in his career -- 330 yards last season in the home win on Thanksgiving and in the final game of 2011, when he threw for 520 yards. He has also thrown no fewer than 35 passes in any game against the Packers.
The answer to Stafford's woes is pretty simple: Aaron Rodgers is on the other side.
It isn't a little-brother complex. Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback around, and every younger signal-caller would be wise to learn from him, but Stafford is too confident for an identity crisis.
The real key will be simply keeping pace with Rodgers and the high-flying Packers. There's a good chance that Stafford will have to put up plenty of points again, but if the mature quarterback of Week 1 shows up, 300 yards and a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio shouldn't be an issue.
Hit the Ground Running
Stafford at least has a whole game to prove his ability.
The ground game has a single drive.
Head coach Jim Caldwell knows it, and he verbalized his concerns to Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com.
“In this league, you have to be able to run the ball consistently in order to be, I think, a solid football team and a real good football team,” he said. “So we’ll continue to work on those things.”
The Lions are averaging just 73.0 yards per game on the ground and they’re averaging just 3.0 yards per rush.
Caldwell says that latter number needs to be more like 4.0 yards per carry for his run game to be considered successful in any particular game.
The numbers paint a clear picture of a running game missing a cylinder. The Lions' ground attack has all of the grace and fluidity of a preschool presentation of Hamlet.
The main culprit has been the offensive line. Without starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle and backup Corey Hilliard, the Lions haven't been able to build any consistency or timing.
Dominic Raiola's return to earth has made matters worse. A year after finishing as the second-highest graded center in the league, he's currently 25th and has looked overmatched in each contest.
Running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush haven't had much room to roam, but have also been hampered by ball security issues and a knee injury, respectively.
There won't be an opportunity as enticing as Sunday to reverse course. The Packers sorely miss nose tackle B.J. Raji, having allowed 176.5 rushing yards per game so far.
Spread the Love
People still talk about the need to establish the run to help the passing game. It's actually the other way around, as most winning teams have such high rushing numbers because they're milking the clock after grabbing a lead.
If the Lions are going to build such a lead, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com believes the key is to spread the ball around:
The Lions brought in some shiny new toys for Matthew Stafford, including Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. They brought in Reggie Bush last year.
Yet Stafford reverted to the bad habit of forcing balls to Calvin Johnson last week. One of those balls, which was carelessly tossed into double-coverage, was picked off at a critical juncture.
Green Bay isn't very good defensively, and the Lions are going to need to exploit that weakness to keep up with the Packers' offense. Their best hope is to win in a track meet. And that means Stafford needs to do a better job of utilizing his secondary options.
Meinke makes a great point—that Stafford was locking in—but the scribe missed the mark by an inch or so.
What Stafford was really locking onto was his primary receiver.
Quite often, the play is designed to go to Johnson since he is Detroit's best player, as evidenced by his 13 targets. But the tape showed a quarterback who seemingly decided who was getting the ball before the snap and failed to work his way through his progressions.
On one particular third down, Stafford wanted to go his new security blanket: Golden Tate. However, Tate was jammed at the line and wasn't able to shake the coverage. The play was dead on arrival.
Stafford needs to take what the defense gives him against Green Bay because the Packers are quite generous. That's what made him successful against New York, and it's the key to the entire offense aside from avoiding turnovers.
The Jordy Juxtaposition
The Green Bay Packers don't have a Calvin Johnson. They lack a physically imposing wide receiver who strikes fear into opponents at first sight.
Instead, they have a guy who worked his way up from special teams duty to a top-10 wideout contract. And what Jordy Nelson lacks in menacing prowess, he makes up in production, as Jost Katzenstein of The Detroit News notes:
Slay will have a chance to show just how much he’s improved in Week 3 when the Lions host the NFC North-rival Packers and Jordy Nelson, one of the NFL’s top receivers. Nelson leads the league this season with 292 receiving yards after posting 209 in a victory over the Jets.
“Jordy’s a pretty good receiver,” Slay said. “I’m ready for the challenge, and I’m ready for him to bring his A game just like I’m going to bring mine.”
There's no doubting that this will be one of the most difficult matchups Slay will face all season. With that said, his blustery talk isn't false bravado.
There's a difference to Slay's game this year. The new defense allows him to wage individual battles, and that competition gives him a confidence that is demonstrated by his fluidity and stickiness in coverage.
Slay and Rashean Mathis will both get reps against the league's leading receiver. When Nelson doesn't line up opposite them, it won't be time for a break because Randall Cobb brings his own set of problems.
In case you thought I'd take it easy on my own and take the fight outside the family, I give you Bleacher Report AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst's explanation to colleague Gary Davenport for picking the Packers:
Under the dome, with the crowd noise of the Detroit fans, the Lions certainly have a home-field advantage over the Packers. However, this is still a Packers team headed by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Lions have serious depth concerns in the secondary, which Rodgers can easily exploit. His arm will be able to pick apart Detroit's defense in this crucial, in-division road game. Megatron and Reggie Bush will make this one interesting, but the Lions' depleted group of defensive backs (and a few ill-timed penalties) will doom the home team.
Sure, she makes a couple of good points. Mainly that Rodgers is pretty good and Detroit could be missing starting safety James Ihedigbo, as Twentyman reports that he continues to heal from a pinched nerve in his neck.
But the injuries to nickelbacks Nevin Lawson and Bill Bentley don't mean this team is incapable of coverage.
The last slide discussed how Slay is improving on an almost daily basis, and Rashean Mathis has performed at an average level. Plus, Glover Quin currently checks in as the sixth-best safety in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
The secondary isn't nearly as terrible as suggested. And it doesn't hurt that it has a top-five front seven in front of it that can shut down Eddie Lacy and tee off on Aaron Rodgers. The Lions aren't the Seahawks, but Detroit can emulate Seattle's Week 1 performance of three sacks and eight hurries.
There are plenty of other reasons that Detroit can pull this game out, but I'll save that for the full-game preview coming Saturday morning.
All grades, stats and positional rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.