ALLEN PARK — It is huge. The Lions face the Green Bay Packers in their first NFC North game this season on Sunday at Ford Field.
“Division games they count two, so obviously we’re not in the spot where we want to be right now but getting a big division win against GB is huge. We get a win in our column, we’re able to give them a loss in their column. That’s huge,’’ safety Glover Quin said.
Detroit owns a lousy 1-3 record while the Packers stand at 2-1-1 despite the gimpy knee of quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was injured in the opener. This will be Green Bay’s third divisional game — they tied with the Minnesota Vikings and beat the Chicago Bears.
If Detroit drops to 1-4, the season isn’t over but even making it to 8-8 would be challenging. And remember this is a team that finished 9-7 last season which resulted in the firing of Jim Caldwell. General manager Bob Quinn said at the time he thought they were better than 9-7 so he hired Matt Patricia.
And here we are.
Five things to watch as the Lions face the Packers:
1. Even on one leg, Aaron Rodgers has been effective throwing seven touchdowns against just one interception. His top three wide receivers have been on the injury list this week — Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are questionable while Randall Cobb has been ruled out. “(Rodgers) will be moving around very fast. He’s an extremely athletic player even if you go back to the Washington game where you can say he wasn’t moving as well but he still scrambled and ran for first downs on third down and no one could catch him,’’ Patricia said. “So, this guy is very dangerous when he’s out in space. This guy can make and create a lot of plays not only with his arm, but with his legs.’’ Rodgers is 13-3 against the Lions and, of course, threw the Hail Mary game-winning touchdown pass in 2015 that took the air out of Ford Field.
2. The Lions have not been able to stop the run. Period. They rank 32nd in the NFL allowing 157.8 rushing yards per game. There really is no excuse. Safety Glover Quin this week said they’ve had too many missed tackles, among other issues. He said more film work and concentrating on this in practice is the way to improve. Packers running backs Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones were watching film too. “They do a really good job of creating space and separation in the defensive front and a little bit of a zone and stretch run team. Those guys are very explosive backs that do a good job of getting into the secondary very quickly,’’ Patricia said. “And the guys up front do a real good job blocking and obviously the backs are taking advantage of that and finding space. But, definitely a big part of their offense is their ability to run the ball, which obviously opens up the rest of it for them in the passing game.’’
3. Matthew Stafford needs five passing touchdowns to become the all-time leader in that category against the Packers. Five in one game would be a ton, but it shows that he has had success moving the offense against the Packers, if not beating them. Currently Johnny Unitas is tops with 34 touchdowns and Fran Tarkenton is second with 33. Stafford has been on solid ground after the opener when he threw four interceptions. For the first time in his career, Stafford will be facing the Packers with a defensive coordinator not named Dom Capers. Mike Pettine has taken over the Packers’ defense. “I wouldn’t say it was easier (with Capers), but I was more familiar with what they were all about. Obviously, (they have) a new defensive coordinator this year so I have quite a bit of learning to do on these guys,’’ Stafford said. “Do I know a few of their players maybe better than some non-divisional opponents? Yes, but they have plenty of new guys around, too, to get to know and to learn.”
4. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson was limited to nine carries last week in the loss at Dallas. There’s clamoring from the Lions’ faithful that he needs to get more touches, but the Lions’ coaches will continue with their plan for the rookie. “Every game’s a little different. You don’t know situationally what’s going to happen with each game from a reps perspective, from a situational perspective, from a match-up perspective,’’ Patricia said. “So, the ultimate goal is just to win the game. That’s the goal each week. That’s what we put all our thought into, all our work into and that’s the emphasis for us.”
5. Injuries will affect both teams. The Lions have ruled out Ziggy Ansah, T.J. Lang and Michael Roberts while the list of questionable players is long. Defensive back Quandre Diggs has been practicing with a cast on his broken left hand so would not be a surprise if he plays. The Packers have ruled out Randall Cobb, but have a half-dozen listed as questionable. Tight end Jimmy Graham and Aaron Rodgers were taken off the injury report.
Prediction: Packers 27, Lions 24