Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down the Detroit Lions’ Week 2 game at the Green Bay Packers and makes a prediction:
Detroit Lions (0-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-0)
The coaches: Lions: Matt Patricia (9-20-1 overall, 9-20-1 with Lions; Packers: Matt LaFleur (14-3 overall, 14-3 with Packers).
Last game: Lions lost to Chicago Bears, 27-23; Packers beat Minnesota Vikings, 43-34.
Last meeting: Dec. 29, 2019: Packers won, 23-20.
Lions CB Jeff Okudah vs. Packers WR Davante Adams: Okudah will make his debut this week against one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, though it’s a matchup he has been studying for since last year. As a junior at Ohio State, Okudah asked his then-position coach, Jeff Hafley, for film of the best NFL receivers at getting off the line of scrimmage. Hafley showed him tape of Adams, and tape of the cornerbacks who did the best job defending Adams. Seeing it on film and in person is different, of course, and Adams had a monster 14-catch, 156-yard day in Week 1. Okudah could start at left cornerback if Trufant does not play, and while he won’t follow Adams around the field, he should see the three-time Pro Bowler plenty.
Lions RB Adrian Peterson vs. Packers LB Christian Kirksey: This is more about Peterson against the Packers’ front seven, but given the Lions’ injury situation on defense, I suspect Matt Patricia will try and shorten the game by running the ball. That means a heavy dose of Peterson, who impressed at 35 years old in his NFL debut last week. Green Bay will be without its best defensive lineman, Kenny Clark, which means Kirksey will be the spotlight defender in the run game. He had 12 tackles in his Packers debut last week and showed there was no drop off from the departed Blake Martinez.
Lions run offense vs. Packers run defense
If last week’s opener is any indication, the Lions might have their most functional rushing attack in more than two decades. Playing a Bears defense that’s borderline top 10 against the run, the Lions averaged nearly 5 yards a carry, scored a rushing touchdown in the red zone and had just two negative rushing plays on 29 attempts.
Adrian Peterson looks like the Lions’ No. 1 running back, though he’ll likely be running behind a line minus two starters in Joe Dahl and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Peterson flashed some of the power and vision that will have him in the Hall of Fame one day in a 14-carry, 93-yard performance against the Bears, and he should get better in his second week with the team. D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson also will see time, though Swift’s biggest contributions are likely to come as a receiver out of the backfield.
The Packers ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing last season, but had a solid performance in Week 1, holding one of the NFL’s best backs, Dalvin Cook, to 50 yards. Kenny Clark, Green Bay’s best interior defender, might not play because of a groin injury, while linebacker Christian Kirksey is coming off a 12-tackle performance. Edge: Lions
Lions pass offense vs. Packers pass defense
The Lions sorely missed Kenny Golladay last week, and will be without their No. 1 receiver again Sunday because of a hamstring injury. Golladay’s absence leaves the Lions’ downfield passing attack without much bite.
Matthew Stafford played well in his return from a back injury, but Stafford had two big mistakes in the final six minutes. The Lions won’t win unless he plays near-perfect football. T.J. Hockenson had four catches in his only game against the Packers last season, and he’s coming off one his better games as a pro. Danny Amendola, however, had just three catches for 22 yards against Green Bay last season, so don’t expect much out of the slot receiver position.
Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith give the Packers bookend pass rushers capable of making life tough for Stafford behind a beat-up line. Jaire Alexander has quietly developed into one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. He had a sack for a safety and an interception last week, and likely will shadow Marvin Jones on Sunday. Edge: Packers
Packers run offense vs. Lions run defense
The Packers, in their second season under LaFleur, are a more balanced offense than they were in Aaron Rodgers’ youth. Last week, Rodgers completed 32 passes and Green Bay ran the ball 32 times.
Aaron Jones is this team’s No. 1 back and one of the most productive red-zone rushers in the NFL. He’s not a big home run threat, but he’s a savvy runner who has been effective in the pass game. Both Jamaal Williams and rookie A.J. Dillon saw time in a backup role last week, and Tyler Ervin is good for a few gadget plays a game. LaFleur has been willing to toss his depth chart aside and ride the hot hand in the past.
The Lions have struggled to stop the run in all three of their seasons under Matt Patricia and were gashed by the Bears to a tune of 149 yards on 28 carries. Danny Shelton made three tackles in his debut last week, but the Lions need more splash plays out of him and their entire linebacker group. Edge: Packers
Packers pass offense vs. Lions pass defense
Reports of Rodgers’ demise as a passer appear to have been greatly exaggerated. The 36-year-old threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns last week, whipping the ball around the field. Whether it was their intention or not, the Packers’ decision to draft quarterback Jordan Love in the first round seems to have motivated the two-time MVP.
Green Bay still is light on weapons at the receiver position, though Davante Adams is one of the best in the NFL at beating man coverage, the defense the Lions primarily play. Adams caught 14 of the 17 balls thrown his way last week with two touchdowns. The inconsistent Marquez Valdes-Scantling is coming off a big game, and Allen Lazard showed his potential as a big-bodied receiver against the Lions last year.
The Lions don’t have much in the pass rush department, and they’re battling injuries in their secondary. Starting corner Desmond Trufant is out with a hamstring injury, backup Darryl Roberts is questionable with a calf strain and slot corner Justin Coleman went on IR this week. Jeff Okudah should make his NFL debut, but the Lions will have to give him plenty of help or risk Rodgers targeting him all day. Edge: Packers
The Lions did some good things on special teams last week. Jamal Agnew was a shoestring tackle away from breaking a big punt return and punter Jack Fox had a nice debut. But they also gave up one long kick return and the usually reliable Matt Prater missed a costly 55-yard field goal. To spring the upset Sunday, they must be better in the kicking game.
The Packers ranked near the bottom of the league in special teams production by Football Outsiders last season. They don’t do any one thing great in the kicking game, but they don’t make many mistakes, either. Mason Crosby is 2-for-2 on field goals, but last year had just one kick of 50-plus yards. Ervin handles kick and punt returns, and third-year punter JK Scott is coming off a solid 2019. Edge: Packers
This should be a battle for first place in the NFC North, but last week’s late-game meltdown against the Bears means the Lions risk falling into a huge hole in the division if they can’t spring the upset. Last year, the Packers beat the Lions twice despite not leading for a single second of regulation; they made game-winning field goals as time expired in both meetings. So these teams are a bit more evenly matched than they appear. Rodgers, though, looked like a legit MVP candidate last week, and the Lions’ injury woes may be too much to overcome. The Lions will need to rely on Peterson and their ground game again this week to keep Green Bay’s offense off the field. I suspect they’ll have some success doing that early, before the all-too-familiar happens again. Pick: Packers 31, Lions 24
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