But after clawing their way to 4-4 after a slow start, the Lions are floundering with four-straight losses, including the last three at home after leading with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Detroit is the first team to do that since at least 1983, according to STATS LLC.
Now the Lions head to Green Bay for a Sunday Night Football showdown with their NFC North rivals. The Lions haven’t won at Lambeau Field since 1991. The Packers’ 21-game home winning streak against Detroit is the longest in the league.
"It's one of those things, we've been able to squeak out some victories," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this week. "It hasn't all been pretty, I know that. ... It's always really competitive games and, for whatever reason, we've come out on the right side of the last 20 or so."
One edge the Lions seem to have on the Packers this time around is overall team health. Detroit should get safety Louis Delmas and tackle Corey Williams back on defense. Left tackle Jeff Backus returned last week.
The Packers are without receiver Jordy Nelson, linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Charles Woodson, running back James Starks and ends C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal. Tackle T.J. Lang is questionable.
A look at the keys to the game for each team:
Find a way to cover: The Packers are really banged up on the offensive line where Lang, who moved from left guard to right tackle after Bryan Bulaga was put on injured reserve, is questionable to play. That would mean rookie Don Barclay would have to start at right tackle. Left guard Evan Dietrich-Smith is a maximum effort guy, but he and the rest of the interior line are bound to have problems against Lions tackles Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Corey Williams. Suh has been in the headlines recently for some of his antics, but there’s no denying that he has played the best and most consistent football of his career. Fairley has also come on of late. And having Williams to spell either starter will provide additional help. But the Lions’ inside prowess is only good if Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hangs onto the ball around three seconds. He’ll only do that if Lions cornerbacks Chris Houston, Jacob Lacey and nickel back Drayton Florence show better than they did in last week’s loss to the Colts.
Play smart and disciplined: This seems as big a chore as any for Jim Schwartz’s Lions. They just seem to be getting in their own way closing out games, whether it’s the coach himself throwing a challenge flag when he isn’t allowed to, Matthew Stafford getting sacked in field-goal range or players are getting inopportune penalty flags. The Lions have talent. They’ve been close in most of their losses. They just have to figure out a way to execute better down the stretch. They’ll never win at Lambeau Field making dumb mistakes.
Shut down Johnson: Doesn’t matter how many players you need to do it, but the Packers can’t let Calvin Johnson beat them up again. He had five catches for 143 yards in the last meeting to help give Johnson 38 receptions for 661 yards in November. If you take away Johnson from the Lions, who have no running game, and make Stafford beat you with only a pair of tight ends, Rodgers stands a very good chance of winning the game without much problem. The Packers should probably start with promising rookie Casey Hayward and a safety over the top and adjust from there. Tramon Williams has been too boom or bust for the Johnson assignment this time around.
Protect Rodgers: Suh, Fairley and Company will be hunting down Rodgers as many times as possible. With Alex Green the only viable running back left – former Packer Ryan Grant has returned but may not be ready for much game action – Rodgers is going to have to move the team behind a banged up offensive line. There should be plenty of opportunities for Rodgers to throw against a porous Lions secondary, but he needs the time to do it. Whoever starts at right tackle, be it Lang or Barclay, has to hold their own against end Cliff Avril (four sacks since Nov. 18). Rodgers also has to play to his surroundings. He can’t hold the ball behind a shaky line. Rodgers needs to mix it up, keep plays alive with his feet, but should not linger in the pocket.
Find pressure somewhere: The Packers’ pass rush resides with Matthews, Wilson and Nick Perry on the injured list, but they’re going to have to do a better job against Stafford, who has averaged 340 yards the past three weeks. Guys like Erik Walden, Dezman Moses, Frank Zombo and Vic So’oto will need to affect Stafford or else he’ll carve up the Packers secondary even if he doesn’t have many good downfield options at this point. Stafford’s passes really start to get errant the more pressure he’s under. Packers need to find that pressure somewhere or else it will be a shootout.
CSN: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been contacted by police investigating a possible homicide in North Attleboro, Mass. Hernandez is not believed to be a suspect but a rental car in his name is connected to the death.
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