Five things to know as Lions play Packers

The Lions only get one Monday Night Football appearance this year and plan to make the most of it.

Detroit (2-1-1) will face the Packers (4-1) in a huge NFC North division battle. It will be the Lions’ first conference game while the Packers beat the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings to open the season.

Lions coach Matt Patricia refuses to budge off his belief that this game isn’t bigger than others.

“It’s really just that the next game is always the biggest game. I think certainly from that standpoint, the only thing that does really affect anything along those lines – but the next game is always the biggest game – it’s just when in the season is it,’’ Patricia said. “I think as the season goes and the farther you get along in the season then from that aspect of it those games are always critical from that point. They’re all important. We only have so many of them. That’s just kind of the way the NFL works. Really for us, it’s staying within the moment. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

The Lions have won two straight at Lambeau and three of the last four there. For years it seemed like they’d never win again at the Packers. Kicker Jason Hanson never won a game there in his 21 years with Detroit. But after losing 22 straight games in the state of Wisconsin (includes 3 games in Milwaukee 1992-1994) the Lions snapped the streak with the win on Nov. 15, 2015.

No excuses now.

Five things to know about Lions matchup at the Packers:

1. Matthew Stafford knows his work will be cut out for him  “They’ve got guys up front that wreak havoc on the game and guys in the backend that are really sticky in coverage and do a great job when the ball is in there of going and making plays on it,’’ Stafford said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. It’s always a tough environment to go play there. It’s a lot of fun playing there. It’s a great stadium, but they’re a really good football team.” Stafford said it’s key to limit turnovers against the Packers, just like in every game.

2. Aaron Rodgers is back to being Aaron Rodgers. He’s thrown six touchdowns against just one interception in the 5-1 start for the Packers. The offense looks to be revived under new coach Matt LeFleur. “One of the fiercest competitors with just this calmness about him that’s pretty amazing. I think, when you step on the field and see what he can do and operate at such a high level. Just really unphazed by so many things that are happening around him and just continues to make these great plays. It’s pretty unbelievable,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “One of the things that they are doing that they’ve been known for, but I think he’s just doing a great job this year are some of the free plays that he’s getting. Whether it’s substitutions or – his cadence is amazing, so he gets the hard counts, he gets guys to jump. They’re really converting those into touchdowns.’’

3. Packers running back Aaron Jones was named the NFC offensive player of the week after scoring four rushing touchdowns in the win at Dallas on Sunday night. He also caught 7 passes for 75 yards. “They are running the ball very well, and obviously Aaron Jones is one heck of a back. It puts a lot of stress on you,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “It puts a lot of stress on the defense because regardless of what level of football you’re at, I think as a defensive coach you preach to stop the run, and they’re running the ball very well. Of course, they have a great quarterback, they have a Hall of Fame quarterback who is playing extremely well. They do have a nice play-action concept off of those stretch runs. You have to bring your A-game and you have to be at your best because it’s just very difficult to stop.”

4. The Lions’ run game must continue to evolve. Their 186 rushing yards against the Chiefs (125 by Kerryon Johnson) helped keep them in that game. “I mean the last couple games that he’s played, he’s really been beginning to trust the scheme that are going on in front of him. I think he’s beginning to trust himself in kind of what we’re asking him to do. He’s done a really nice job,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.

5. Coming off the bye week, the Lions are healthier. Tight end T.J. Hockenson, finished concussion protocol, and is expected to play. After missing the loss against Kansas City, cornerback Darius Slay and wide receiver Danny Amendola will return. Defensive linemen Mike Daniels and  Da’Shawn Hand will be sidelined, per Saturday’s injury report. For the Packers, wide receiver Davante Adams is out. 

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Packers 24. Detroit have the advantage of an extra week of rest and preparation. 

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Five reasons the Lions beat the Packers

Stafford: A total team win

DETROIT — The Lions’ offense was good but not spectacular, the defense shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for a half and special teams had a good day.

It was the perfect equation for the Lions’ 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Ford Field.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford called it a “total team win.’’ It is exactly what this team strives for every week but it doesn’t always happen.

The Lions now own a 2-3 record, (1-0 in the NFC North) heading into their bye week.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Oddly enough Detroit has beaten two of the best quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Rodgers) and fallen short against lesser teams.

“I think I’ve said it for forever and you guys hate hearing it. You have to prove it every week,’’ Stafford said. “And we’ve been close in a couple other games too, and just haven’t gotten it done at the end of the game. So, proud of our guys for getting it done at the end of the game.’’

In other words, it’s the NFL.

The Lions jumped out to a 24-0 lead at the half. Yet everyone knew the game was just getting interesting.

Five reasons the Lions hung on to win:

1. Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four straight field goals and a point-after attempt. The first three misses were from 38, 41 and 42 yards — chip shots. The fourth was from 56 yards. He finally made a 41-yarder when it was so late it didn’t matter. Had he been on his game, the Packers could have won. “So, this one unfortunately was really bad and going to have to really look at this one, and you know this one hurts a bunch.  I left a lot of points on the field for this team and I’m disappointed in my performance,” Crosby said. “And, this is, I look back, I’m thinking in my childhood, you know high school, this is definitely a lot worse.  I’m bummed about that.”

2. The Lions secondary was a patched-up group thanks to injuries and yet effective. Tavon  Wilson was inactive, Darius Slay was injured in the second half but able to return and Jamal Agnew was carted off the field with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers threw for 141 yards in the first half but wasn’t able to get the Packers on the board. In the second quarter he threw a 30-yard bomb to Davante Adams to get to Detroit’s 9-yard line but Detroit’s defense held and Crosby missed the field goal. Rodgers scored touchdowns on the first three possessions of the second half. But then a huge stop came on third-and-15 from Detroit’s 38, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed.

3. Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times and lost two fumbles. It appears the Matt Patricia defense is starting to click. Rodgers can make defenses look weak but Detroit found a way to pressure him. He finished with 442 passing yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Rodgers was taken off the injury list this week, but he was missing two of his best receivers in Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. Also the Packers rushed for just 98 yards against the Lions’ rushing defense which is the worst in the NFL. “Defense is hard. It’s always hard every single week going against great quarterbacks, schemes, coaches. They do a phenomenal job and we’re just trying to dial it in,’’ Patricia said. “I think the biggest thing for us is some continuity. Maybe a little bit of continuity here the last couple games, which is good. That helps the communication from that aspect of it.’’

4. Even though they had a 24-0 lead at the half, the Lions’ offense remained aggressive in the second half. That was the plan. Stafford said he and Jim Bob Cooter talked throughout about remaining aggressive. Stafford finished 14 of 26 for 183 yards, two touchdowns and a 101.9 rating. The offense can play to its strengths when playing with a lead. “This is the way you want to play the game, out in front and to not have to come back. I just think that we had a great week of practice and it showed in the game,’’ Stafford said. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay had the gaudy numbers with four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.

5. Once again, the run game helped balance the offense. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was signed as a short-yardage back and he got the job done on Sunday. He ran for a yard to convert a third-and-1 and then rammed through for a one-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. He had a dozen carries for 22 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson’s first scamper was for 16 yards and he finished with a dozen carries for 70 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Johnson injured his ankle early in the fourth after a 24-yard run that led to Stafford’s 5-yard pass to Kenny Golladay for a touchdown to vie the Lions a 31-14 lead. His ankle was taped up but he didn’t get back into the game.

Five things to watch as Lions face Packers in crucial NFC North match-up

A loss would drop Detroit to 1-4

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

Lions prepare for Green Bay Packers, gimpy-yet-effective Aaron Rodgers

It’s first NFC North contest for Detroit

ALLEN PARK — When the Detroit Lions beat the Packers twice in 2017, it was worth noticing. While there was no asterisk, there was no Aaron Rodgers on the field either.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback owns a 13-3 career record against the Lions. One of the most vivid memories of seeing Rodgers at Ford Field was his 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to beat the Lions on Dec. 3, 2015.

Rodgers, his gimpy knee and the Packers (2-1-1) will play the Lions (1-3) In a NFC North divisional contest at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Lions coach Matt Patricia has nothing but praise for Rodgers, who ranks No. 1 in NFL history in career passer rating (103.6).

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“A guy who does a great job of studying the game, and you keep mixing different looks at him but he does a good job of really identifying what it is and attacking the defenses,’’ Patricia said of Rodgers on Wednesday.

Rodgers injured his knee in the opener, a win over the Chicago Bears. On a conference call on Wednesday, Rodgers said he was not practicing but hoped to go on Thursday. He hasn’t missed a start this season and, in fact, after he was carted off with that injury he returned to the game.

“I didn’t necessarily feel great last week. I went through practice on Thursday and Saturday, but I felt really good on game day. I’m not regressing but I’m not taking huge leaps week-to-week. It’s just kind of small,’’ Rodgers said on a Wednesday conference call. “When the adrenaline kicks in on game day, I’ve felt a little better the last couple games.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he thinks he’s played well since the injury.

“I think each week, it’s like anything, you get a little more comfortable playing and calling the game and doing the things that you need to focus on,’’ McCarthy said.

Even with Rodgers at less than 100 percent, the Packers have scored seven of their nine touchdowns in the air with one rushing and one on a return.

McCarthy said the run-pass balance is a game-to-game decision. He didn’t say if the Packers would take to the ground more often against the Lions’ rushing defense which is ranked dead last in the NFL allowing 157.8 rushing yards per game.

“(Rodgers) is  super competitive — never really wants to stay from anything, I just think it’s part of his nature. So, that’s the challenge that you have sometimes as the play caller because you have to be smart, I think that’s understood,’’ McCarthy said. “If anything, if there has been a time during these last couple games where I may have been conservative it was — I think it’s natural to go down that road sometimes. He’s getting better each and every week, and that’s what’s most important for him.”

Rodgers expects the best from himself and his offense. He didn’t feel he got it last week in the 22-0 win over Buffalo even though the Packers finished with 423 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on their first three drives.

“I think the most important thing is — he’s super competitive. I think we all feel the same way when it comes to games and when you go out there and see you see opportunities and sometimes emotion pushes forward,’’ McCarthy said. “I didn’t feel great about our offensive performance when I walked off the field Sunday myself, too.’’

Rodgers will be the top quarterback the Lions’ revamped Patricia-style defense has faced. The quarterback can see the differences in Detroit from watching film.

“Following (Patricia) in New England I always enjoyed watching them. We played against them one time back in 2014 and him and Bill (Belichick) just always put together a fantastic plan. They’re great at adjustments. They try to take away what you do best and make you go to your third and fourth options to try and beat them and they adjust on the fly very quickly,’’ Rodgers said. “So, it’s a different looking defense from that standpoint and I’m sure they’re going to continue to expand their scheme as the season goes on and those guys get more comfortable in the scheme.”