Week 6 Preview: Packers Attempt to Strengthen Hold on NFC North
The Packers entered the 2019 season in the midst of a historic run of misfortune in the NFC North. From 2016 through 2018, the Packers posted their worst cumulative three-year winning percentage in the history of the division. That would be saying something except for their winning percentage from 2014 through 2018 also represented the five-year low-water mark.
But so far this season, the Packers have taken tremendous steps to reverse that slide. They’ve already beaten the Bears and Vikings, and now the 2-1-1 Lions come to town for a Monday Night Football brawl.
It’s odd, but the Lions could actually represent the Packers’ most significant symbolic struggle. The Packers last posted a win over the Lions in Week 17 of the 2016 season, the culminating victory in Aaron Rodgers’s apparently prophetic running of the table. Since then, the Packers have lost four straight to Detroit, surrendering more than 30 points each time.
The Packers may not share the same bad blood with the Lions that they do with the Bears and Vikings, but the Lions have had the Packers’ number of late. It’s time to end the slide.
The glaring outlier among the stats we look at in our preview is Detroit’s offense. Despite raw numbers that have them ranking 8th in scoring and 12th in yards, the Lions rank just 17th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranking. Why? Their running game is dragging down the output of an outstanding passing game.
Football Outsiders ranks the Lions’ running attack at just the 27th best in the league, but their passing attack clocks in at 4th. The Packers, meanwhile, have the league’s 5th ranked pass defense, meaning we’ll see strength versus strength on Monday night.
The Lions’ defense is nothing to scoff at, either. Join us on our preview episode of Blue 58 for a discussion on how the Lions are attacking opposing offenses.
Matthew Stafford has historically been more of a volume passer than an efficiency wizard, but so far this year he’s playing against type. He ranks 6th in both of Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics and his traditional stats tell the story of a career year in the making.
Stafford’s 2019 season currently features career bests in yards per completion (12.8) and touchdown percentage and he’s throwing interceptions at the second-lowest rate of his career. So far this year at least, Stafford no longer looks like the wing-and-a-prayer player he was in seasons gone by.
Player to Watch
The 6-4, 214 pound Kenny Golladay presents an interesting challenge for the Packers, who have struggled a bit against top-end receiving talent each of the last two weeks.
Golladay, the Lions’ leading receiver, is fast but not a burner, big but not overpoweringly huge, and productive without eye-popping stats. His 19 catches are tops in Detroit, but it’s taken him 36 targets to reach that figure, leaving him with a suboptimal 52% catch rate.
In two career games against the Packers, Golladay has averaged three catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. With Jaire Alexander and Kevin King both ready to go, it will be interesting to see how the Packers approach containing Golladay, especially with fellow receiver Marvin Jones and rookie phenom T.J. Hockenson looming.
What happened the last time the Packers and Lions played?
The Packers last faced the Lions in Week 17 of the 2018 season. Aaron Rodgers left early with a concussion and everyone else in the stadium left soon after. With DeShone Kizer minimally effective in relief, the Lions built a 21-0 lead by halftime and never looked back, cruising to a 31-0 victory.
Who’s going to win?
The Lions have a solid defense led by good overall efforts in the secondary, but according to pass rush stats provided by ESPN, they haven’t been getting home all that often. Free-agent acquisition Trey Flowers has only managed one sack so far this year, and he hasn’t gotten much help from elsewhere in the Lions’ defensive front. Further, the Lions will be rushing this week against a Packers’ offensive line that’s been among the best in the league at protecting its quarterback.
If the Lions can’t get home with their pass rush, it will put more pressure on their secondary, which could cause cascading issues for the whole defense.
Given how well the Packers have protected Aaron Rodgers this season, I feel confident the trend will continue. Rodgers will have time to throw, Aaron Jones will have just enough room to run, and the Packers will lock up their third NFC North win of the season.
Voters in our weekly poll feel confident about a win over the Lions. 92% thought the Packers will come out on top on Monday, the second-highest total of the season.
Last week’s win over the Cowboys has fans feeling good about the team as a whole as well. The team’s overall approval rating is at a season-high 98%, and every major figure we track within the organization saw significant bumps as well, none bigger than Matt LaFleur. He went from a 63% approval rating prior to the Dallas game to an 86% rating this week.