One. More. Game. One game stands in the way for the Packers to guarantee themselves a playoff spot. The game takes place in Detroit, where last season Rodgers stunned the national audience on Thursday night with a hail mary to Richard Rodgers on an untimed play to defeat the Lions 27-23. This time, Rodgers and company travel to Detroit with much more confidence than they did a year ago. The offense has been rolling of late, and Rodgers has solidified himself as an MVP candidate. The defense isn’t great, but the pass rush is improving and the secondary has taken advantage of opportunities to create turnovers. They are rolling right now, but all could be for naught if they come up short (the Redskins would need to lose to ensure a loss wouldn’t affect their playoff chances). Let’s dive in to our weekly things to watch in Green Bay.
How Does Green Bay Contain Detroit’s WRs?
Last time the Lions and Packers played, Green Bay jumped out to an early lead and hung on for dear life at the end. The one thing that hurt Green Bay the most was its secondary. Marvin Jones torched the secondary for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Even Eric Ebron had a solid game with five for 69. The skinny here? Even with Randall and Rollins back in the thick of things, Green Bay still struggles with coverage. How do the Packers control the perimeter against Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Anquan Boldin? The easiest way is getting to Matt Stafford. Detroit’s offensive line is far from the best, so with the pass rush getting healthier, the way to stop this offense is by getting pressure to force Stafford into bad throws and getting him down. The reality is that Green Bay will struggle with coverage, even if they get in the playoffs. The idea is to mask that issue with a flurry of zone blitzes to confuse opponents and get to the quarterback. If the Packers do have to play coverage for a significant amount of time, it might be time to put Ladarius Gunter on the number one wideout. Gunter wasn’t the best in the early part of the season, but he has come on as a physical guy who can run with players on the perimeter. Damarious Randall hasn’t been as effective this season, so he needs to move into the role of slot corner, with Rollins taking the other spot on the perimeter. It isn’t perfect (it would be nice to have Shields), but it will have to do if the Packers are to start a stretch run in January.
What Do We Need To See From The Run Game?
Ty Montgomery wasn’t as effective against the Vikings, but that was expected. Detroit does have a solid run defense, but with the Packers offensive line being one of their strengths, a point should be made to see how the run game goes with Montgomery and Michael. Green Bay needs to be able to run the ball well in January, that’s just been a fact (Starks coming alive in 2010 was huge for their Super Bowl run). So, to have two guys who can get key yards (three if you count Ripkowski, who packs quite a punch) will help the Packers from becoming one dimensional, an opposing defense’s perfect situation. Yes, Montgomery ran well against Chicago, but that was Chicago. Teams will tackle better in the postseason. On Sunday night, it will be important to see what the run game is made of in a probable all or nothing game.
How Does Rodgers Stay On A Roll?
The way Aaron Rodgers has been playing doesn’t warrant a check up, but it’s always important to take a look at what keeps that Packers passing game moving forward. Rodgers played exceptionally well against Minnesota, a very good defense that had given Green Bay problems the last two seasons. Now? A Detroit team, when fully healthy, provides a challenge. If Darius Slay and DeAndre Levy play, that gives the Lions a boost. Slay is a top 10 corner in football, and he will be a challenge for Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Rodgers will again need to be smart with the football, and look other ways. Jared Cook has come on of late, as has Geronimo Allison, who came up with some big plays against Minnesota. If Randall Cobb is unable to go or has a limited snap count, Cook and Allison will be key, especially on third downs. Rodgers is playing like a man on a mission, and if he continues his trek towards six straight wins, he will be very hard to stop.
1) Control the trenches: Green Bay needs the running game to show up, because Detroit will pack a punch offensively, no matter if their running game shows up or not. The Packers, on the other hand, want to have a threat on the ground along with many through the air. If the offensive line can pave the way, the Packers will become a freight train that is difficult to stop. If the running game doesn’t show up, press man coverage outside may prove to be too much for Green Bay in the passing game. Defensively, it’s all about getting to Matt Stafford and not allowing him to escape and extend plays. If he has a lot of time, he can tear the Packers secondary up.
2) Run the ball: It’s all about controlling the clock today. Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael each need to carry the ball well. If the run game flourishes, the offense as a whole will roll. If the Packers can force the Lions out of their expected man press defense, Green Bay will find openings in the passing game. Plus, keeping the defense fresh is another positive.
3) Win the third down battle: Green Bay has been real good on third downs of late, and that success has turned many drives into points. If they are to keep it rolling, they will need everyone to show up. Cook, Allison, and Montgomery need to be options in the passing game on third down, as well as Ripkowski and company in short yardage situations. Defensively, it’s all about getting off the field. If Detroit controls the clock with successful third downs, it puts more pressure on the offense.
Offense: Davante Adams
Jordy Nelson is likely to draw Darius Slay most of the game if he plays, and if he does, there is a weakness on the other side of the perimeter. That’s where Adams comes in. He played better against Minnesota after dropping two TD passes against the Bears. He will need to come up big, win his matchups, and hold on to the ball, especially on key third downs.
Defense: Nick Perry
It’s all about getting pressure on Stafford. We know Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers will be involved, but Nick Perry, when healthy, might be the Packers most productive pass rusher. He picked up a couple sacks last week with a club on, and he can take advantage of the Lions offensive line as well. Perry will need to help Matthews make Stafford feel uncomfortable in the pocket to help out the underperforming secondary.
Green Bay has been rolling, and the Lions have dropped their last two games. The Lions have the desperation of a win as much as Green Bay, but with their offense sputtering the last two games, the pressure is on Matt Stafford, who has fallen out of MVP contention. Rodgers, on the other hand, is playing his best football and has risen into the MVP conversation. Whoever wins the battle in the trenches to keep their quarterback upright will win this game. I expect some fireworks, but at the end of the day, I trust Rodgers and the way this offense is playing right now.
Packers 27, Lions 23