NFL Preview - Detroit (1-4) at Green Bay (2-2)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - During a bye week that followed a widely-viewed primetime loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers had a chance to get well from a standpoint of injuries.
When they play host to the NFC North rival Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Mike McCarthy's club will be trying to get well in the won-loss column.
Green Bay's 30-23 defeat to Brett Favre and the Vikings to cap off the Week 4 schedule was defined in large part by the Packers' inability to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Though Rodgers played well in keeping Green Bay in the game late, he was also sacked eight times in the game, bringing the Packers' total of sacks allowed on the season to an NFL-worst 20.
Step number one in correcting that area during the bye week was re-signing right tackle Mark Tauscher, who was out of football after starting 120 games for Green Bay from 2000 through 2008. Tauscher has a chance to step immediately into the lineup against the Lions.
Perhaps better news on that front is that well-regarded left tackle Chad Clifton could be ready to return to the lineup after spraining his ankle against the Bengals in Week 2.
If Clifton and Tauscher both start on Sunday, Daryn Colledge would move to left guard and Jason Spitz would replace Scott Wells at center. Colledge played left tackle in Clifton's absence, and Spitz played left guard.
The prospects of the offensive line, and the entire team, would seem pretty strong against a Lions club that dropped to 1-4 with last week's 28-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and have continued to have their biggest problems on the defensive side of the ball.
A Detroit squad that allowed the second-most points in NFL history during its 0-16 season of 2008 has gotten more competitive in that area in its first season under head coach Jim Schwartz, though the Lions head into Week 6 ranking last in NFL scoring defense (32.4 points per game), touchdowns allowed (21), touchdown passes allowed (15), and opponents' completion percentage (73.3).
There are concerns on offense for Schwartz as well, as No. 1 wide receiver Calvin Johnson is highly questionable with a knee injury suffered against the Steelers, and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford is also a question mark due a knee injury of his own suffered the week before.
If Stafford is unavailable, Daunte Culpepper would make his second start of the season, and would be trying to build on a somewhat encouraging effort against Pittsburgh.
For the day, Culpepper was 23-of-37 for 282 yards with a touchdown and a pick, and while trying to engineer a game-tying drive in the waning moments, drove Detroit all the way to the Steeler 21-yard line with 1:54 on the clock, but three straight sacks put the Lions in a 4th-and-34 situation and effectively ended the game.
Culpepper was sacked seven times on the day.
The series between the Lions and Packers dates back to the 1930 season, with Green Bay holding a 86-64-7 regular season edge. The Pack has won seven straight and nine of the last 10 in the series, including a home-and-home sweep a year ago. The Packers were 48-25 winners at Ford Field in Week 2, and enabled the Lions to earn a dubious place in the record books by defeating them, 31-21, at Lambeau Field in Week 17.
Detroit's last victory over Green Bay came by a 17-3 count in Week 1 of the 2005 campaign in the Motor City. The Lions have lost 17 consecutive regular season road games in the series, including 14 straight years at Lambeau Field, and from 1992 through 1994 at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Lions' last road win in the series came in 1991.
In addition to the regular season series, the clubs have met twice in the postseason, with Green Bay winning NFC First-Round Playoff matchups in the 1993 and 1994 seasons.
Including playoffs, the Lions have lost 15 in a row at Lambeau Field, and 18 straight road games in the series.
McCarthy is 6-0 in his career against the Lions, while Detroit's Schwartz will be meeting both McCarthy and Green Bay for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Many of the postmortems in the wake of the near-miss against the Steelers focused on the Lions' inability to protect Culpepper (336 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), who was dropped seven times after Detroit had surrendered 10 sacks through the season's first four weeks. The o-line must do a better job of keeping either Culpepper or Stafford (894 passing yards, 3 TD, 6 INT) upright this week, and needs to open more holes for running back Kevin Smith (287 rushing yards, 3 TD, 19 receptions), who was limited to 53 yards on 20 carries (2.7 per rush) in the loss to the Steelers. Arguably, the situation surrounding the Detroit quarterbacks is less worrying than that of Johnson (22 receptions, 1 TD), who was seen hobbling at practice this week and seems like a long shot. In his absence, Dennis Northcutt (11 receptions, 1 TD), Bryant Johnson (15 receptions, 1 TD), and rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew (13 receptions) would be among the targets who have to pick up the slack. Northcutt had his best day as a Lion last week, catching five balls for 70 yards including Culpepper's lone touchdown pass of the day. The less-heralded of the Johnsons chipped in with four grabs for 37 yards. The Lions enter Week 6 ranked 21st in NFL total offense (322.0 yards per game).
In addition to shoring up the offensive line during the bye week, the Packers and defensive coordinator Dom Capers undoubtedly continued to hammer out the problems of a unit that ranks 30th in the league in sacks (5) and had major trouble getting Favre and the Minnesota offense off the field in Week 4. Green Bay must get more pressure from outside linebackers Aaron Kampman (21 tackles, 1 sack) and Clay Matthews (7 tackles, 1 sack), a situation that would ease the burden on a well-regarded secondary including Charles Woodson (20 tackles, 3 INT) and Al Harris (21 tackles, 1 INT) at the corners and Nick Collins (14 tackles, 1 INT) patrolling the free safety slot. The secondary allowed touchdown catches to both of Minnesota's starting receivers, Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice, in the last game. The silver lining against the Vikings was the team's ability to bottle up Adrian Peterson and the running game. Peterson was held to 55 yards on 25 carries in the contest, with linebackers Nick Barnett (22 tackles) and Brandon Chillar (26 tackles, 1 sack) notching 10 tackles each and rookie nose tackle B.J. Raji coming up with four stops at the point of attack. The Packers are seventh in the league in yards per carry allowed (3.5) as Week 6 commences.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Despite the struggles of the offensive line, Rodgers (1098 passing yards, 6 TD, 1 INT) has generally picked up where he left off during a strong 2008 season, entering Week 6 with a 101.1 passer rating and just one interception thrown on the year. In the loss to the Vikings, Rodgers was 26-of-37 for 384 yards with two touchdowns and a pick, in a game that also represented the coming-out party for second-year tight end Jermichael Finley (11 receptions, 1 TD). Finley, the former third-round draft pick out of Texas, caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, including 62 yards on a touchdown pass from Rodgers in the first quarter. Top wideouts Greg Jennings (11 receptions, 1 TD) and Donald Driver (18 receptions, 2 TD) were less effective, combining for just seven catches and 86 yards, though Rodgers did find third receiver Jordy Nelson (7 receptions, 1 TD) for a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. The Green Bay running game has been generally disappointing in 2009 to date, with the state of the offensive line having something to do with that showing. Starter Ryan Grant (257 rushing yards, 2 TD) is still seeking his first 100-yard day of the year.
Though the Lions have been giving up a lot of points, the defense comes into Lambeau Field ranking a not-atrocious 22nd in NFL total defense (358 yards per game). More big plays like those Detroit managed last week, when it sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times and forced him into an interception that went the other way for a 38-yard touchdown return by cornerback William James (13 tackles, 1 INT), would aide the team's cause for an upset on Sunday. A trio of defensive ends - ex-Packer Jason Hunter (14 tackles, 2 sacks), Cliff Avril (7 tackles, 1.5 sacks), and Andre Fluellen (7 tackles, 1.5 sacks) - have combined for half of Detroit's total of 10 sacks on the year. On the back end, James works as part of a group that has also seen contributions from cornerback Anthony Henry (28 tackles, 1 INT) and safeties Louis Delmas (28 tackles, 1 sack) and Marquand Manuel (27 tackles). Manuel, who started all 16 games with the Packers in 2006, had a team-high eight stops last week. The run-stopping effort will be led by linebackers Larry Foote (41 tackles, 1 sack) and Julian Peterson (16 tackles), among others, and the expected return of Ernie Sims (14 tackles) to the starting lineup following a shoulder injury would be helpful as well.
The Lions have been a decent offensive team in 2009, though that hasn't necessarily translated into a lot of consistency for fantasy purposes. Smith is getting the type of touches you want for a starting running back, but isn't going to carry your fantasy effort, Johnson is always a threat when healthy but is also a candidate to disappear, and Pettigrew has contributed but not quite enough to be a worthy starter. As was the case last season, kicker Jason Hanson is probably the most reliable Lion on the roster.
On the Packers side, Rodgers comes off his best fantasy night of the year, and should be a solid play again versus the league's worst scoring defense. Jennings and Driver are good starting options as well this week, even though neither tore up the field against the Vikings. Finley's huge night against Minnesota has elevated him into starting lineups from coast to coast, but remember that Donald Lee is still on this team, and will take some opportunities away from Finley. The Packers defense is a solid play given Culpepper's apparent attraction to sacks and/or Stafford's turnover problems.
Though the won-loss record and a statistical summary don't quite suggest that this Lions team is much different from last year's, there does seem to be a new energy present under the first-year head coach Schwartz. Detroit has gone into the second half of its last four games with a real chance to win, and though the team has only come through once, it doesn't seem that win number two could be far behind. It isn't likely to come in Green Bay, as the Packers are getting healthier following a bye week and know they can't afford to slip up if they still harbor serious playoff aspirations. Look for this one to be something of a dogfight, but for the Pack to flex its muscles when it matters.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 26, Lions 23
10/15 14:51:10 ET