Fourth Quarter Opens with a Familiar Test.Posted:Dec 12th, 2020 5:37 am
The Pack embarks on the final quarter of the season, which includes two prime time home games, sandwiched between two road division games. For my money, this is the trickiest game left on the schedule, in part due to the timing.
Since firing head coach Matt Patricia, the Lions players have been singing 'Ding Dong the witch is Dead' and their win in Chicago was anything but cowardly (that snapped a five game losing streak to the Bears). Sounds like Patricia's dictatorial leadership style had turned off the rank and file and interim coach Darrell Bevell has them playing loose and letting them have some fun. And they're responding.
The difference was apparent on the offensive side of the ball in Chicago last week. Despite lacking his two best playmakers, running back De'Andre Swift and wide receiver Kenny Golladay, Matthew Stafford was on fire, passing for over 400 yards and looking like the Stafford of old. Bevell cut him loose and Stafford took lots of deep shots and destroyed the Bears defense all afternoon.
I expect the Lions to keep that going to an extent against the Pack. Golladay's still out, but it sounds like Swift will be back, but in a limited role (concussion/illness). Half of Stafford's targets last week went to Marvin Jones (long time Packer killer) and tight end TJ Hockenson. Gotta think Jones ends up on Jaire island, so the Pack will have to beware of Hockenson and receivers Danny Amendola and Quintez Cephus.
The Lions offense will be missing right tackle Tyrell Crosby, which should allow Mike Pettine's pass rush to cause some problems all afternoon. If Swift is out there, Stafford will use him in the passing game to try offset the pressure. If Adrian Peterson is getting the snaps, there is less concern there. The offensive line is no longer a major flaw. Chanhassen native Frank Ragnow anchors in the middle and the left side is strong with free agent prize Taylor Decker at left tackle and Ohio State rookie guard Jonah Jackson handling things to his right.
The Packers will feel the loss of hybrid LB/safety Raven Greene, who was a major factor in Pettine's preferred dime defense. Greene landed on IR with a shoulder injury, so Pettine can choose to give Kamal Martin more run, or go with Will Redmond or Henry Black.
I think the Lions will put points on the board; the question is whether they can keep pace with a Packers offense that should move the ball pretty much at will. They put up 40 in the first matchup and barring turnovers, they should be able to do it again.
The Lions defense is a train wreck, unable to stop the run, rush the passer and cover receivers. That's the trifecta for a bad defense and is a main reason Patricia is no longer there. Both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams should be productive and there are matchup advantages all over the passing game. The Lions cornerback group is missing top pick Jeffrey Okudah and Desmond Trufant (IR), so Rodgers will have his choice of mediocre and unproven guys to target.
Concerns? It starts with special teams where every Packer punt has turned into an adventure. JK Scott is regressing before our eyes and the return unit has given up two TDs in the last month. Jamal Agnew has yet to take one to the house this season, but he's capable and has to be licking his chops. This unit needs to clean up its business before it costs them a game.
With Tyler Ervin placed on IR, it looks like Tavon Austin will make his Packer debut, as a punt returner and maybe a handful of offensive snaps in Ervin's place. Interested to see what impact he might have on special teams and the offense.
Back to my point at the top: I think there's an element of danger in this matchup as the Lions are getting a jolt by the ouster of Patricia. The Packers have lost two of their last three at Ford Field and were very, very fortunate to win their in last year's season finale. But in an empty indoor stadium, Rodgers gets a huge advantage and ultimately it will be too much for the Lions to handle. Matt LaFleur improves to 10-1 in the NFC North.
Packers 38 Lions 31