Week 9 Preview: Do Or Die Against Detroit

Do or die moments are typically reserved for late season games with postseason implications or the playoffs, but the Packers find themselves in one already in Week 9.

By game time it will be three full weeks since Aaron Rodgers was lost to a broken collarbone. Since then, the Packers have given little indication that their plans for the season have changed. If the Packers considered themselves contenders for the playoffs and Super Bowl prior to Rodgers’ injury, they’ve not signaled any change in the weeks since.

To that end, the season stands on the brink of ruin. Minnesota holds a commanding lead in the NFC North, and a loss to the Lions this week would drop the Packers to third in the division with a 4-4 record. If the Packers are to keep any kind of pace in the race for the playoffs, this week quickly takes on the profile of a must-win game.

Leading the Packers in to that must-win game is Brett Hundley, who Mike McCarthy supported again this week, albeit in confusing circumstances. The time has come for Hundley to reward that faith. With weeks of prep now as the unquestioned starter, Hundley has to rise above his meager stat line to power the Packers’ offense to some semblance of competence. If Hundley and the offense can’t produce points, the season might well be irrevocably lost just as the Packers reach the midpoint of their schedule.

Five Things to Think About During Monday’s Game

1. The last time the Packers played on Monday Night Football following their bye week, this happened:

2. The previous four times the Packers have lost heading into the bye, they have won each game immediately following the bye. Three of the four games took place at home against division opponents (2014 vs. Chicago, 2009 and 2013 vs. Detroit).

3. The Packers are 28-2 in home games where Jordy Nelson catches a touchdown pass. Nelson has caught 14 touchdown passes since the beginning of last season – five more than the next closest on the list and six more than teammate Davante Adams.

4. The Lions have a talented backfield, but aren’t getting much production. No running back on Detroit’s roster is averaging more than four yards per carry. Currently, Ameer Abdullah’s 3.7 yards per carry is the best the Lions can offer among their regular ball carriers, although Matthew Stafford has pitched 5.2 yards per carry on 16 attempts so far this year.

5. As many injuries as the Packers have had, the Lions are dealing with quite a few of their own. 13 Lions players are currently on injured reserve. Following the release of Don Barclay from injured reserve, the Packers have just six players still on injured reserve after Jason Spriggs was activated from the list this week.

Who Could Be An X-Factor?

Jon says Aaron Jones, again.

After a disappointing performance against the Saints, Mike McCarthy said he planned to trim back his game plan for Brett Hundley, hopefully to allow him to do more of what he does best. For that to work, though, the Packers need better performances from Hundley’s supporting cast, and right now the best member of that supporting cast is Aaron Jones. He’s been a consistently excellent part of the offense since his debut against the Cowboys, and if the Packers can get him more involved moving forward, it can only help Brett Hundley.

Gary says Mike McCarthy.

Okay, I’ll take the grief for picking the head coach as the x-factor. But, I do think Monday’s game will be instructive to how the rest of the regular season will go. By kickoff, it’ll have been over three weeks since Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone. Jon wrote after the Saints’ loss that McCarthy was to blame. Surely he can’t tank another win, especially one against a divisional opponent?

What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Lions Played?

In the de facto 2016 NFC North championship game, the Packers defeated the Lions in 31-24 thriller in Detroit.

Aaron Rodgers was masterful, powering the Packers’ offense with 300 yards and four touchdowns on 27 of 39 passing, and Aaron Ripkowski provided a bruising 61 yards on nine carries. Micah Hyde also came up with a crucial interception late as the Packers completed their running of the table.

Who’s Going to Win on Monday?

Jon says the Lions will win comfortably.

It’s surprising to say, but the Lions are no longer defined by their offense. Gone are Calvin Johnson’s breathtaking stats and Matthew Stafford’s devil-may-care interceptions. Instead, the Lions are built around short, controlled passing and a suffocating defense led by a talented secondary.

Given the Packers’ relatively unimaginative offense and the defense’s inability to get off the field, this game could be a recipe for disaster. If Brett Hundley still plays with the training wheels on, the Lions will be ready to pounce and unless the Packers’ defense can make a major bounce back, this one could be ugly.

Gary says the Packers by a field goal.

As much as I want to resign myself to the idea of the Lions winning in primetime at Lambeau Field for just the second time since 1992, I can’t pull myself to do it. Detroit’s entering Monday on a three-game losing streak, including a loss to the New Orleans Saints by a wider margin than the Packers’ loss with Hundley at quarterback.

Ultimately, I trust McCarthy’s mastery of the Lions – the head coach is 18-4 during his tenure against Detroit – more than I trust the Lions to win a game against a team that has had their number in recent years and in a venue that’s been a house of horrors.

Crosby hits a go-ahead field goal late in the fourth, and the defense intercepts Stafford to end the game. Drive home safe, Lambeau.

For Further Listening

This week on Blue 58, we checked in on some listener questions as the Packers return from their bye week. Give it a listen below.