Wayne Larrivee's Packers-Lions pregame primer I: When Detroit has the ball

Wayne Larrivee's blog
Wayne's pregame primer I: When Lions have ball
Wayne's pregame primer I: When Lions have ball
Wayne's pregame primer I: When Lions have ball
Posted at 12:31 PM, Sep 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-23 14:06:19-04

Listen to Wayne Larrivee's take on Sunday's game during his conversation on "Wisconsin's Morning News."

The last time the Lions and Packers met (on Thursday Night Football in Week 13 of last season), the game was decided on a 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers on the game’s final play. According to Next Gen Stats, the throw traveled 66.4 yards in the air.

That was just one of two losses for the Lions in the second half of the season.  As a matter of fact, Detroit had just four turnovers the last eight games, a statistic I find incredible!
The problem for the Lions, they stared 0-5 and were 1-7 in the first half of last season.
Major changes to the front office were made by owner and chairman of the board Martha Firestone Ford. Coach Jim Caldwell fired Joe Lombardi, his offensive coordinator, replacing him with quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter at midseason.
Since then the team’s most important player, quarterback Matthew Stafford - an extremely talented but mercurial performer in his first seven years  really took off!
Stafford has 21 touchdowns and two interceptions in his last eight games. Stafford looks more comfortable in the offense. He is executing the attack with a skill and maturity that has been long overdue.
Stafford was always one of those guys who put up big stats, but they weren’t winning stats.  That’s not the case these days. He is playing the best football of his career.
In the first two games of this season, his passer rating of 101.2 is 9th in the league.  He has four touchdown passes and just one interception.
Suffice to say, the Packers can’t count on Stafford making the “bone-headed” play to help them out.

In my scouting report on TODAY’S TMJ4, I talked about how it takes a village to replace a Megatron. The untimely retirement of future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson takes an average of 92 catches, 1,200-plus yards and 9 touchdowns out of the Lions receiving arsenal.
Coach Caldwell knows no one man can replace Megatron.  So does new General Manager Bob Quinn (a Patriots disciple).  
A foursome of players are left to pick up the slack: 
- Golden Tate, a free agent from Seattle in 2014
- Marvin Jones a free agent from Cincinnati picked up in the off season
- Anquan Boldin, a well-traveled but accomplished veteran picked up just before training camp 
- Eric Ebron, a tight end and former first round draft pick
Jones has the best deep speed of this foursome; he leads the team with 203 receiving yards on 12 catches.
What is interesting about Jones, they don’t run the usual fly-patterns that most fast guys on the outside do naturally. They employ Jones on quick hitters, slants and screens in space. Jones usually makes the first man miss and from there he makes a play.
It is quite possible Damarious Randall will be on him for the Packers, and if they are in typical press coverage, Damarious can’t miss the jam at the line of scrimmage or it will be over.
Boldin works from the slot, and the 13-year veteran is still one of the most physical receivers at the ball in the league.
He does not have the speed to run by anyone (never did), but he will outmuscle cornerbacks for the ball on a regular basis.
Boldin has seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in the first two weeks of the season. He will be a physical matchup for whomever the Packers put in the slot, probably Quinten Rollins.
One note: I am most anxious to see Boldin and Packers third-year wide receiver Davante Adams on the field in the same game.
Football people have likened Adams to Boldin.  Well let me say this, and this is no slight to Davante: if he becomes just half the player Boldin has been over a 13 year career then the Packers will be justified to have selected Adams in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL draft.
In his career with Arizona, Baltimore, San Francisco and now Detroit, Boldin has caught 1,015 passes for 13,278 yards with 75 touchdown catches!
Golden Tate is best known to Packers fans as being on the receiving end of the “Fail Mary” pass on that Monday night in Seattle in 2012. He was picked up as a free agent by the Lions in 2014 and promptly became a Pro Bowl receiver with 99 catches for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.
Tate is built like a running back; he makes his plays after the catch. Sure tackling on Tate is a key for the Packers defense this Sunday. In this receiving corps, Tate is the most accomplished big playmaker.
Tight end Eric Ebron was the 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft.  As a high draft choice, much has been expected and those expectations were not met in his first two years.
I see a different player in the first two games of this season. He is the lead “dog” at the position now and is starting to show the promise the Lions saw in that draft.
In the first two weeks of the season, he is the club’s 2nd leading receiver with nine catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Inconsistency has been his calling card and even last week in the Lions’ penalty-marred loss to the Titans (they had 17 penalties), his two penalties cost the club two touchdowns.  Ebron is big 6’-4”, 253 pounds, fast and can make all the plays. He just doesn’t do it consistently.
The Packers have struggled to cover tight ends like Ebron; most recently, Julius Thomas at Jacksonville, and Kyle Rudolph who made a play at Minnesota.
Ebron is very capable of making plays in this game. It will be interesting to see how Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers accounts for him.

Running game
Perhaps the biggest mismatch of this game is the Lions running game against the Green Bay run defense.
The Lions were last in the NFL at 83.4 rushing yards per game in 2015. This season they have 115-plus rushing yards in each of the first two games of the season.
The Packers have been outstanding against the run in the first two weeks of the campaign, yielding 39 rushing yards per game-best in the league.
Mike Daniels, the leader up front, has been tremendous, but he credits young inside linebackers Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan for flowing to the football quickly and plugging the holds in the run defense.