Can Pack's Defense Provide an Encore to Last Week's Virtuoso Performance?

The Packers head to Detroit for their first divisional road test of the season and it's a game with unusually high repercussions for their postseason aspirations. On the surface, you'd say that the home team is under more pressure to win these games, but let's face it, the Lions aren't going anywhere this season.

For the Pack, a win on Sunday will give them a likely 4-1-1 record heading into the bye (presuming they can handle the banged up 49ers at home next Monday night). They need that full head of steam, with back to back road games at the Rams and Patriots coming out of bye week. And with two more tough divisional road games still ahead, this is a road game the Packers are going to need to win.

The Lions swept the Rodgers-less Pack for the first time in a quarter century last season and have won three of the last five at Ford Field, with Matthew Stafford picking apart the secondary. Despite the injuries back there, I think the Pack is better prepared to handle Detroit's solid three receiver core. Kevin King should be back on the field and will likely get a heavy dose of Marvin Jones. Tramon Williams will track rising star Kenny Golladay and Jaire Alexander will be tasked with handling Pack-killer Golden Tate. The rookie's been slowed with a groin injury this week, so that's a matchup to watch. Josh Jackson figures to get plenty of snaps as well, as neither King nor Alexander may be ready for a full workload.

The Lions are trying to become more balanced on offense and the running game is starting to perk up, ranking eighth in yards per rush at 4.6. Lions fans have their own Aaron Jones situation with rookie Kerrion Johnson, who's averaging nearly six yards per carry and broke through with a 100 yard game against the Patriots, but it still in a time share with Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount.

The Pack's fortunes in this game will depend on how the Pack's D follows up their shutout performance of a week ago. They lead the league in three and outs at 34% of all series and need to be at their best on third downs Sunday. The Lions at 1-3 will see this game as a must-win and Matthew Stafford will be brimming with confidence against a Packers team that he's played very well against in the last few matchups. One injury to note for the Lions offense: former Packer TJ Lang suffered a concussion last week and is unlikely to play. His replacement, Kenny Wiggins, is a liability and give the Pack a much better chance of slowing the Lions' running game.

There are injury concerns at safety as both Kentrell Brice and Jermaine Whitehead are dealing with injuries. Brice and Clinton-Dix rebounded with strong games last week and will be needed again against a Lions offense that typically is much more potent at home.

Speaking of injuries, the Pack's wide receivers are dealing with a handful of them. Randall Cobb will miss his second straight game, Geronimo Allison is still in the concussion protocol but is reportedly making progress and Davante Adams hurt his calf in practice and missed Thursday's practice. Sounds like he'll practice Saturday and may be able to play, but he won't be 100% and will likely face the terrific Darius Slay on the other side.

So Aaron Rodgers will need to lean on his tight ends in the passing game. The Lions struggle to cover tight ends, allowing 75% of passes to be completed. With Rodgers getting better, we saw him take 36% of offensive snaps from under center, which allows the offense to be much more creative and gives the Pack a chance to use their multiple tight end sets. We'll see which rookie WR gets snaps, likely Marques Valdez-Scantling. If they activate the re-signed DeAngelo Yancey and move him ahead of Moore and St. Brown on the depth chart.

The running game should be what carries the Packers offense on Sunday. The Lions rank dead last in the NFL against the run. Is this the week Aaron Jones grabs the lion's share of the carries? He'll likely have to wait until the third series again, but I see him taking over in the second half--maybe Ty Montgomery plays some snaps at his old receiver spot, in light of the injuries.

The Pack's offensive line was brilliant against the Bills and they should have the advantage against a punchless Lions front, which can't stop the run and can't rush the passer. While Rodgers hasn't been as sharp as we expect the last few weeks, he's clearing getting closer to 100%. Now let's see if they can hang onto their timeouts and not waste them because they can't get the play off in time.

This game worries me because the Lions are a desperate team that's had success in recent years at home against the Pack. And Green Bay's only road game this season was a disaster. But I think the defense is improving and I think they'll make just enough plays to give Rodgers and the offense a chance.

Packers 24 Lions 20


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