The Detroit Lions are playing with a great deal of confidence and cohesion over the course of the past three weeks.
Unlike the first two months of the campaign, the parts now fit both on offense and defense in Detroit. It is a team that has hit its stride and, at 4-7 in the wide-open NFC, they just might have a shot at making the postseason.
Since these teams met last, Matthew Stafford is coming off a career game with five touchdown passes and a career best 137.8 passer rating in the thrashing of the Eagles Thanksgiving Day.
In Green Bay, he was 24 of 38 for 242 yards 2 TD's, one interception and an 87.8 passer rating. He was never sacked and WAS hit just three times by the Green Bay defense. Stafford was altogether too comfortable that afternoon.
Running back Theo Riddick has become a major factor in the Lions attack. He is more than just a “check down” for Stafford these days. In the past two games, Riddick has 10 receptions, 134 yards and a touchdown.
He threatens the second level of the defense, and rather than assign him to linebacker coverage, he might require safety or nickel back attention from Dom Capers' defense.
The other running back who has “big time ability” is Ameer Abdullah, the rookie second round draft pick out of Nebraska. All that has held him back is a fumbling problem (four fumbles, two lost) that dates back to his days in the Big Ten.
He is extremely quick and fast (we saw that on the 104 yard kick off return at Lambeau three weeks ago) and a big play waiting to happen. A decent receiver out of the backfield, the Lions are starting to trust him more, with 28 carries, 107 yards in the past two games (5 carries, 15 yards at Green Bay). He also has 16 catches for an 8.4 yard average and a touchdown in the passing game.
The Packers defense dominated the Lions in the ground game, holding them to just 45 yards on 26 rushing attempts last month.
The bond between all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson and quarterback Stafford has never been better.
Johnson caught three of Stafford’s five touchdown passes against the Eagles, and in Green Bay he was targeted nine times with six receptions for 81 yards.
Sam Shields and Damarious Randall shared coverage responsibility on Johnson, and the longest gain for Johnson that day was 19 yards and he did not score. That was very acceptable defense on a receiver of this ilk.
Detroit assigned primary coverage of their best cover-corner, Darius Slay, to James Jones back on November 15th. Slay is good, not great, and JJ will be expected to “win his share” if this is the matchup again Thursday night.
Davante Adams was targeted 21 times in the game against the Lions; he caught 10 passes for 79 yards.
Someone named Nevin Lawson (cornerback) got the better of this matchup more often than not. The officials allowed Lawson to play physically and that more than anything was the key to his edge that day. If Lawson is allowed to “hang on” to the receiver beyond the five-yard contact zone, he can cover. If they call it tight—he can’t!
Detroit is one of the top pass-rushing defenses in the business. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah is second to J.J. Watt with 11.5 sacks this season. Ansah did not have a sack in Green Bay, but he had three of the seven-quarterback hits registered by the Lions that day. The Lions sacked Rodgers three times.
The David Bakhtiari matchup with Ansah again is big. Bakhtiari has been playing through injuries this season and Ansah is liable to be even faster on the artificial surface of Ford Field than he was on the plush turf of Lambeau Field three weeks ago.
The Lions will move him side to side so Bryan Bulaga (questionable with an ankle injury) or Don Barclay at the other tackle will also see Ansah as well.
Ansah is an interesting story. He went to BYU as a track standout running the 100 and 200 meters, tried to walk onto the basketball team as a power forward, and finally joined the football team. He is now emerging as a star pass rusher in the NFL - a force to be reckoned with!
Eddie Lacy did not play in the first game against Detroit. He has been over 100 rushing yards in each of the past two games, and the Packers need him to continue this surge against a run defense that has been outstanding the past three weeks, yielding 55.6 yards per game, 2.6 per play.
Against the run, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata must be blocked!