Episode 111 - Week 5 Preview: Packers Look to Build Momentum in Detroit
What is a rivalry, really?
I’ve been thinking about that this week as the Packers prepare to play the Lions. Is the competition that exists between the Packers and Lions a rivalry?
If we do the middle school book report thing and go directly to the dictionary, I guess you could say they are. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a rival is “one of two or more striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess.” So by that very basic definition, yes, the Packers and Lions are rivals.
But digging a little deeper, even the dictionary gives conflicting answers. If you look at definition number two from Merriam-Webster, the one that defines “rival” as an adjective, you get this: “ having the same pretensions or claims.”
To me, that’s where the idea of the Packers and Lions break down. They don’t have the same pretensions. They don’t have the same claims.
It’s been quite some time since the Packers and Lions really competed on equal footing. The quasi-division championship in 2016 is probably the closest we can get, and even that was an aberration. It gets lost in the “run the table narrative, but that game was only important because the Lions collapsed down the stretch. The Packers chased them down in that running of the table, sure, but they only had the chance because the Lions fell apart.
The games between the Packers and Lions have been a bit of a slog for quite a while. In fact, that 2016 game might stand out so much just because so many of the other games have been forgettable and bland.
Other than the 2016 game, the last truly exciting game was probably the snowy Week 17 matchup where Matt Flynn blew up and earned a bunch of money from the Seahawks. Since then, you’ve seen a lot of games in the mid-20 with some ugly turnovers, a couple blowouts on each side, and not a lot else. Even the Miracle in Motown is somewhat tainted in retrospect by the fact that the game only required a miracle finish because Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were so abysmal early.
I think it’s a shame that this is how things have become, because it wasn’t always this way. The Packers/Lions games in the Lombardi years were heated and featured great players on both sides. In fact, Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras was so dominant against the Packers that he may have been one of the reasons Jerry Kramer was kept out of the Hall of Fame for so long.
Even in the early 90s, beating the Lions proved something for the Packers. Taking out Barry Sanders in the playoffs showed that the Packers had arrived. Imagine a game between the Packers and Lions today carrying the same weight.
The Packers have quality rivalries between their two other division opponents. It would be great to see a third rival in the NFC North some day, and I hope we don’t have to bring the Buccaneers back into the division to do it.
Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game
1 - Detroit’s improved running game has gotten a lot of publicity in the lead up to this game, but their receivers should be getting some headlines too. Each of the Lions’ top three receivers has been trouble for the Packers. In five games against the Packers, Marvin Jones has averaged five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. In nine games, Golden Tate averages five catches and 68 yards. And in his one game against the Packers, rising star Kenny Golladay caught two passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Fortunately, with Kevin King returning to the lineup the Packers will have their preferred cornerback group back together for the first time since Week 1. On top of that, Bashaud Breeland may play for the first time. If nothing else, the Packers should be deeper in the secondary.
2 - Speaking of that improved running game, though, we should talk about Kerryon Johnson for a moment. Through the first four weeks of the season, he’s rushed for 216 yards. That doesn’t sound like a ton of yards, and in some ways, it’s not. It’s barely 50 yards a week. But since 1990, there have only been 17 seasons where a Lions running back has broken 200 yards in that span. Barry Sanders represents nine of those seasons. But out of all of those seasons, nobody has gotten to 200 yards on fewer carries than Johnson. He’s needed only 38 to do it, an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
3 - The Lions are doing a fantastic job of keeping people from scoring touchdowns when other teams make it to the red zone. Through four games, they’re allowing opposing teams to score touchdowns in the red zone just 35.71% of the time, third best in the league. The Packers are 13th in the league at 50%.
4 - Aaron Jones will probably get a lot more playing time this week, and for good reason: the Lions are abysmal at stopping the run. But don’t sleep on Ty Montgomery. He’s been solid as a runner (4.5 yards per carry) and excellent as a receiver. His 12.3 yards per reception rank third in the league among running backs.
5 - The Packers could go into Sunday with three rookie receivers likely to see significant playing time. In his Thursday news conference, Mike McCarthy compared this situation to the Packers’ 2016 Week 8 game against the Atlanta Falcons in which rookies Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison both played significant snaps. Both scored touchdowns that day, as did Jeff Janis.
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin echoed those ideas, saying sooner or later, they’re going to have to step up anyway.
Why not this week?
Who Could Be an X-Factor This Week?
If the Packers ever needed Jimmy Graham, it’s now. With Geronimo Allison almost certainly out and Randall Cobb and Davante Adams hoping to be limited at best for Sunday, Graham is the only one of the Packers preferred top four receivers to be a full go for this week. The Packers need the game-changing performance Graham gave them against the Vikings.
What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Lions Played?
The Packers last met the Lions in Week 17 of the 2017 season, and it was a pretty forgettable affair on all fronts. Detroit scored a 35-11 victory thanks to an effortless 20 of 29 passing day for Matt Stafford, who finished with 323 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a two-point conversion for good measure.
On the Packers’ side, about the only noteworthy thing that happened was Devante Mays achieved a career-long run of two yards. It was just one of two carries in his brief Packers career where he did not fumble the ball.
Who’s Going to Win?
As we talked about at the start of the show, Packers games in Detroit tend to be a bit of a slog. The two teams both lack a firm identity at this point of the season and neither has done much to inspire any kind of confidence. A line favoring the Packers by 1.5 feels about right.
I think the Packers win 26-24 in a game that turns on some kind of awkward turnover.
Voters in our weekly poll weren’t overly confident in the Packers’ chances this week, either. 79% of voters rated their confidence in a win at a 3 or higher. That’s actually slightly higher than last week, when the Packers faced the hapless Bills at Lambeau.
Perhaps that’s reflective of how people felt about last week’s win. While the prevailing narrative this week seemed to be that the win over the Bills was nothing special, one in three voters in our poll described themselves as “very satisfied” with the victory.
The shutout certainly boosted opinions of Mike Pettine. A perfect 100% of voters described themselves as somewhat or very happy with the defensive coordinator after he blanked the Bills.
Even Mike McCarthy got a boost from the apparent “lackluster” win. After 64% of voters described some kind of negative feeling about the head coach last week, 55% of respondents now say their opinion is somewhat or very positive. Like John Madden always said, winning is great deodorant.
One Last Thought
I can’t let this preview go by without spending at least half a second on the Lions’ gray monstrosities they wore in last week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. What a boring, uninspired look.
It’s funny now to look back on the mild hysteria that broke out a few years back over the revelation that Nike would take over as the NFL’s uniform supplier. A lot of people were legitimately afraid Nike would turn the NFL into a wacky showcase for their most outlandish ideas, much like we see every Saturday in college football.
Instead, Nike has just rolled out boring look after boring look. The Vikings, Jaguars (twice!), Dolphins, Buccaneers, Lions, Seahawks, and Browns have all had their uniforms redone by the Swoosh. Of that group, is there any that are remotely exciting or interesting? You could describe some of the better ones as “clean,” but that’s about as interesting as it gets.
Detroits gray alternates are the epitome of that boring trend. Black alternates are bad, but at least Detroit’s old black alternates were a visually interesting departure from their normal look. These uniforms just make the whole team look like concrete pillars splashed haphazardly with blue paint.