NFL Preview - Green Bay (1-1) at Detroit (1-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - One of football's oldest rivalries will resume in the Motor City with the Detroit Lions trying to figure out a way to become competitive against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Detroit was able to rout the Pack by a 40-10 margin on Thanksgiving Day of last year but that was with the All-Pro Rodgers on the sidelines with a broken collarbone. Overall Green Bay has won 15 of its last 17 against the Lions and A-Rod is a gaudy 9-1 with 19 TDs against just four interceptions in his career against Detroit.
After opening the season with an ugly setback to the reigning Super Bowl champion Seahawks, the Packers were able to bounce back last week when Rodgers threw two touchdown passes in the second half as Green Bay rallied from a poor start to take a 31-24 win over the New York Jets.
Rodgers finished the game 25-for-42 for 346 yards with three scores for the Packers. Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for a career-high 209 yards and an 80-yard touchdown, while Randall Cobb had a pair of touchdown catches in the win.
"We were in a spot, but our players stayed the course," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Lions are also 1-1, doing it in the opposite fashion, following up an impressive home win over the New York Giants in a Week 1 with a dud of a performance on the road in Carolina, losing to the defensive-minded Panthers 24-7.
Matthew Stafford finished 27-for-48 for 291 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Lions, while embattled rookie kicker Nate Freese missed a pair of field goal attempts.
"We turned the ball over and if you lose that battle against a team with a defense like that it's going to be tough," said Stafford. "I could have been a lot better on my throws with a few of those early chances we had."
"What you have to make certain of is that everybody needs to understand that this only counts as one game," Lions first-year coach Jim Caldwell added. This team is not 0-12, or anything of that nature, so there's some balance to it.
Green Bay leads the all-time series by a 94-66-7 margin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The marquee storylines here are the quarterbacks and the star receivers.
To date, the Rodgers-Stafford dynamic has been a mismatch, with Rodgers having the gaudy numbers and Stafford countering with a 1-6 record against Green Bay while throwing 13 touchdowns versus 14 interceptions.
Both have dynamic wideouts to throw to with Detroit's Calvin Johnson regarded as the best in the game and Nelson competing for runner-up honors. Megatron's exploits are well-documented and he has 12 TDs in 12 games against Green Bay, while Nelson's 209 receiving yards last week were the most by a Packer since Don Beebe's 220 in 1996.
"Jordy, you always see him making some big plays. He is definitely their big- play guy," Johnson said. "He's a guy we've got to be able to contain come Sunday; you know, not let him get the ball and run with it and find seams to make bigger plays after he catches it."
While that stuff might be the sexy storylines, however, the guts of the game may be in the trenches where Detroit is struggling to run the football, averaging a dismal 3.0 yards per rush thus far.
Joique Bell (87 yards on 25 carries) has been slightly more effective than Reggie Bush (41 yards on 15 totes) but the Lions' reliance on the big-play passing game may be turning their offensive line into a finesse unit which doesn't like knocking heads.
"We will be level-headed, get our corrections made, focus on our next opponent and move forward," Caldwell claimed.
The Packers, on the other hand, are dreadful defending the run, allowing 176.5 rushing yards per game, 31st in a 32-team league.
The absence of injured nose tackle B.J. Raji certainly hurts but the harsh reality is that Green Bay hasn't been able to stop the run for years. Some of the troubles stem from the undisciplined play of pass rusher Clay Matthews and others are pointed directly at inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, who simply aren't downhill thumpers.
In a close game Freese could also be an issue and the Lions worked out a handful of veteran kickers this week including Garrett Hartley, Rob Bironas and Alex Henery.
That's a clear indication Freese, who is just 2-of-5 this season with a long of 28 yards, will only be getting one more mulligan.
"At this point in time, he is our guy," Caldwell said. "I think (he's) a young guy who has potential. But just like anything else in our business, it's performance business. And we all certainly understand that thing, and he understands it as well."
This is a statement game for the Lions but until they get the best of Rodgers, it's hard to say they will. Figure on another Freese miscue to be the difference in this one.
"It's a big game. It's a divisional game," Johnson said. "It's a home game for us, so we definitely want to take care of our home field. At the same time, we want to take care of our divisional games whenever they come."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 31, Lions 28
09/21 10:56:17 ET