Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down the Detroit Lions’ Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers, set for 8:15 p.m. on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field:
Lions run offense vs. Packers run defense
Kerryon Johnson had his best game of the season the last time we saw him, taking apart the Kansas City Chiefs’ 30th-ranked rushing defense for 125 yards on 26 carries. The Packers are almost as bad against the run, giving up 138.2 yards per game, 26th most in the NFL.
The Packers shut down Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys’ running game by playing more base defense than usual last week, and they could try that approach again Monday. Johnson doesn’t have a run longer than 14 yards this season, but he runs hard and gets the yards that are there.
T.J. Hockenson should return from the concussion he suffered against the Chiefs, which will help the Lions’ run blocking. But the Packers still present problems up front, with Kenny Clark playing well in the middle of the defensive line and Blake Martinez a sure-tackling middle linebacker.
Lions pass offense vs. Packers pass defense
Matthew Stafford leads all qualifying quarterbacks in intended air yards, averaging better than 11 yards per pass attempt this season. That’s a far cry from the 7 air yards he averaged last year, and a big reason why the Lions have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL.
Stafford, of course, has an abundance of competent targets, led by Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones on the outside and Hockenson at tight end. Danny Amendola could return from the chest injury that kept him out against the Chiefs, and it’s imperative the Lions get a good game from their offensive line, especially tackles Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner.
The Packers have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, limiting opposing quarterbacks to a paltry 75.9 passer rating. They get good pressure from outside linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, and have a young, active secondary led by Jaire Alexander. Alexander seems like a good bet to match up against Jones, while the taller Kevin King is dealing with groin and knee injuries but could cover Golladay.
Packers run offense vs. Lions run defense
The Packers are a below-average rushing team, averaging 93 yards per game, but they’re excellent in the red zone (eight touchdowns) and are getting steady production from the underrated Aaron Jones.
Jones seems to be a good fit for new coach Matt LaFleur’s offense, which features plenty of motions and the same stretch zone rushing concepts Mike Shanahan ran in his Denver Broncos years. The Packers have a solid offensive line, led by offensive tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is always a threat with his legs.
The Lions have been disappointing against the run this year, allowing at least 112 yards on the ground in every game. Damon Harrison hasn’t had the same impact he did a season ago, and Jarrad Davis has looked rusty in his return from an ankle injury.
Packers pass offense vs. Lions pass defense
Rodgers is 35 and has had his share of injuries in recent years, but he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, an assassin who’s at his best extending plays. One problem: He probably won’t have his best receiver Monday as Davante Adams is battling a turf-toe injury.
Rodgers completed just four passes to his receivers with Adams sidelined last week, and the Packers will need more from Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison. Jones is a receiving threat who helps fill Adams’ void, but Jimmy Graham is well past his prime at tight end.
The Lions play an abundance of man coverage, which could be trouble for the Packers’ poor receiving corps. They must keep Rodgers from extending plays, though they’ve been loathe to bring extra rushers this year. Darius Slay should return from the hamstring injury that kept him out against the Chiefs, but Quandre Diggs (hamstring) is questionable to play.
The Lions have been a mixed bag on special teams. They committed nine penalties in the first two games, have had a punt and field goal blocked, but also have a kickoff return for a touchdown. Sam Martin is having a good year punting, while Matt Prater’s rough start – the blocked field goal plus another missed field goal and extra point – is not indicative of the team’s confidence in him. The Lions have proven to be solid in coverage so far.
The Packers lost to the Lions at Ford Field last year because their special teams were atrocious. Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point in that game. Crosby is 7-for-8 on field goals this year, though he doesn’t have a make longer than 42 yards. The Packers have gotten next to nothing out of their return game, but punter JK Scott is netting 44.1 yards a kick.
The Packers and Lions are the two most complete teams in the NFC North, so it makes sense they’re 1-2 in the standings after five weeks. Rodgers isn’t putting up huge stats, and has turned the ball over more than usual, but he’s one of the best in the business and finally has help on defense. The Packers have one of the best turnover margins in the NFL, and Jones has been a revelation at running back. The Lions haven’t quite clicked defensively, but seem revitalized on offense, are well rested and brimming with confidence coming off a bye. Of course, playing a Monday night at Lambeau Field is never easy, and with two pretty evenly matched teams, that’s enough to give the Packers the edge.
Pick: Packers 28, Lions 24
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.