3TFO: Lions @ Packers, Week 14
The last time the Detroit Lions won at Lambeau Field, Erik Kramer threw two touchdowns to Robert Clark, Barry Sanders rushed for 85 yards, and Wayne Fontes prepared for his first playoff berth. The Green Bay Packers would finish that season 4-12 and set their sights on a rookie quarterback in Atlanta named Brett Favre. Yes, 1991 sure seems like a long time ago.
The Lions have had a reputation for late comebacks going back to last season, but it’s they who have blown fourth-quarter leads at home in each of the past three weeks. They’ve been competitive in every game, but moral victories don’t count for much in the NFL. The Packers have won 10 straight games against the NFC North and are hoping to stay even with the Chicago Bears despite an avalanche of injuries. Let’s take a look at the matchups that could decide if the Lions end their 21-year drought, or if the Packers avoid a setback before next week’s showdown at Soldier Field.
Megatron vs. The World
We pride ourselves on deep-diving analysis that highlights the hidden plays and unrecognized performances that don’t make the highlight reels. However, sometimes a player is so good that you just need to point out the obvious. Calvin Johnson leads the NFL with 1,428 yards and is having one of the best receiving seasons in the league’s history. He has five straight games with 125-plus yards, and needs to average 105 yards in his last four contests to tie Jerry Rice’s single-season record. He also leads the league with 17 receptions and 561 yards on Deep Passes. Mike Thomas was mentioned as last week’s worst offensive sub with two drops and minus-one yard on 42 pass routes, so expect a Calvin-or-bust gameplan from Detroit. The Madden Curse’s days are numbered.
If the Packers are going to slow down Megatron, they may want to switch up their strategy. Johnson had five receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown in their Week 11 meeting, and out-produced all other Detroit receivers combined. Tramon Williams surrendered 88 yards to Johnson, the most he’s given up to any receiver this year. Meanwhile, Casey Hayward notched an interception and three passes defensed versus Detroit, allowing a 0.0 passer rating for the second time this season. Hayward didn’t allow a reception on two targets to Johnson in that game, and Packers coaches should consider matching these two up again to see if the rookie can continue his success against the best receiver in the league.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley vs. Packers Guards
Early in his career, Ndamukong Suh received too much praise for his high draft stock and well-spoken demeanor, while people overlooked his inconsistent play on the field. In a poetic twist, now that the public has turned against him and opponents are calling him out at every turn, Suh is playing at the highest level he ever has. After posting 21 QB pressures in his first 10 games, he has a ridiculous 20 in his last two. Next to him, Nick Fairley is also showing the potential that made him a first-round draft pick. His 9.1 Pass Rush Productivity is the second-highest mark in the league for a DT, behind only Defensive Player of the Year candidate Geno Atkins. Fairley was the best player on the field the last time these two teams met.
Much of Fairley’s success in Week 11 came at the expense of Josh Sitton and Evan Dietrich-Smith, who each had their worst-graded game of the season. Sitton has been stellar this year, but four pressures allowed and a penalty made that game against the Lions one to forget. If you can, go back to the 0:34 mark of the second quarter and watch Fairley just bully Sitton for a sack that took three points away from Green Bay. Dietrich-Smith compounded problems with four pressures and two penalties of his own. The Packers could be tempted to move T.J. Lang back to his left guard spot (if he’s even healthy), but that would leave rookie backup Don Barclay at right tackle. Aaron Rodgers has been pressured on a full 50% of his drop-backs in the past two weeks, and that number may not drop if Suh and Fairley stay on their game.
Lions Substitute Secondary vs. Packers Receivers
In my weekly research for Next Man Up, I am constantly tracking backups to keep an eye on. In most cases, I’m jotting down a player’s name. But whenever I see Detroit’s injury report, I just save myself the time and write down “Lions secondary”. Projected preseason starters Chris Houston, Jacob Lacey, Amari Spievey and Louis Delmas have missed a combined 19 games for a secondary that wasn’t promising to begin with. In reserve, rookie corner Jonte Green’s 0.81 Yards Per Coverage Snap is one of the best marks in the league, but journeyman Drayton Florence’s mark of 1.64 is one of the worst. Safety Don Carey had a great game last week against the Colts, tallying a pass defensed and two interceptions while giving up no yards in coverage.
The Packers have had similar injury woes at receiver, but their depth at the position has saved them. James Jones’ 118.4 WR Rating, and Randall Cobb’s 114.2, are both in the Top 10. Cobb has 48 receptions as a slot receiver — bested by only Wes Welker and Victor Cruz — and Jones leads the NFC with nine touchdown catches, making all those August trade rumors seem unwise in hindsight. With Greg Jennings back in the fold, the Packers should be able to attack the Lions’ secondary even without Jordy Nelson.
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