Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers: Scouting report, prediction for Monday Night Football

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions (0-1) vs. Green Bay Packers (0-1)

When: 8:15 p.m. on Monday Night Football (ESPN).

Where: Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The coaches: Lions-Dan Campbell (5-8 overall, 0-1 with Lions); Packers-Matt LaFleur (26-7 overall, 26-7 with Packers).

Last game: Lions lost to San Francisco 49ers, 41-33. Packers lost to New Orleans Saints, 38-3.

Last meeting: Dec. 13, 2020: Packers won, 31-24.

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Key matchups

Lions CB Ifeatu Melifonwu vs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: Melifonwu and Rodgers won’t be going head-to-head, per se, but you can bet Rodgers will know where No. 26 is every time he steps to the line of scrimmage and sees the Lions in man-to-man coverage. Last year, in Jeff Okudah’s rookie debut, Rodgers threw nine passes at Okudah and completed six of them for 96 yards. Melifonwu, a third-round pick out of Syracuse, will start in Okudah’s absence Monday and should be a favorite target of Rodgers’ no matter who he is lined up against on the other side.

Lions RT Matt Nelson vs. Packers OLB Rashan Gary: While much of the focus last week was on Penei Sewell and his NFL debut, Nelson was quietly making his second career start at right tackle. The converted defensive lineman had a rough day, allowing one sack and another pressure that contributed to a Jared Goff interception. The Packers have two good edge rushers in Preston Smith and Gary, who will play a bigger role in place of the injured Za’Darius Smith. A former Michigan standout, Gary did not register a tackle in the Packers’ opener, but the No. 12 overall pick in 2019 is coming off a seven-sack season.

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Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Packers run defense

One thing the Lions did well last week, before the game got out of hand, was run the football. And they will try it again to keep the game manageable.

The Lions have a solid backfield duo in D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, whose contrasting running styles contribute to their success. Williams, the ex-Packer, got the start last week, and while Swift played significantly more, both had about equal touches. The Lions should be able to run behind the left side with Penei Sewell, Jonah Jackson and Frank Ragnow all above-average run blockers.

The Packers won 13 games last season but were a middle-of-the-road run defense, allowing 112.8 yards per game. Last week, they had trouble getting off the field as the Saints piled up 171 yards rushing. Defensive tackle Kenny Clark won’t let that happen again, but don’t expect Green Bay to shut down the Lions’ rushing attack, either. Edge: Lions

Lions pass offense vs. Packers pass defense

Goff attempted an unsustainable 57 passes last week as the Lions fell behind and resorted to throwing on nearly every play in the fourth quarter. Ideally, the Lions want Goff’s attempts in the 25 to 30 range, playing it safe with short throws and mixing in play-action shots.

The Lions will not have No. 1 receiver Tyrell Williams, who missed practice all week with a brain injury. Swift, Williams and tight end T.J. Hockenson should be in for significant workloads again, while Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson man the receiver position. The Lions have a below-average receiving corps, but Raymond did get an average of 4.6 yards of separation on his pass routes last week, significantly more than the league average (2.87 yards).

The Packers have invested heavily in their secondary in recent years. First-round pick Eric Stokes played sparingly against the Saints, but Jaire Alexander is one of the more underappreciated cornerbacks in the NFL. Sewell and Nelson have another difficult task as Gary and Preston Smith are accomplished pass rushers. Edge: Packers

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Packers run offense vs. Lions run defense

Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Aaron Jones rushed for 9 yards on five carries last week. That output wasn’t entirely his fault, as Green Bay ran 12 offensive plays in the game’s first 28 minutes and played catch-up the entire second half.

Jones is one of the NFL’s top backs. The Packers are at their best when they get him in rhythm early, though they don’t lose much when backup A.J. Dillon enters. Green Bay’s offensive line could be an issue, though, with left guard Elgton Jenkins filling in at left tackle with David Bakhtiari on the physically unable to perform list.

The Lions gave up four runs of 10-plus yards last week as they struggled to set a consistent edge outside. One emphasis this week has been playing more physical football at all levels of defense. Rookie Alim McNeill played well at nose tackle, but the Lions need to get more push from their defensive line. Edge: Packers

Packers pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Rodgers’ distrust of Packers management has been well documented, and it’s possible his disjointed offseason contributed to some of Green Bay’s offensive struggles last week. Rodgers, one of the most ball-secure quarterbacks in NFL history, threw two interceptions last week (he offered an interesting explanation for one of his turnovers) and finished with the fourth-worst passer rating of his career.

As bad as things were last week, Rodgers is the reigning NFL MVP and he does have a history of strong bounce-back performances whenever he’s struggled in his brilliant career. Davante Adams has feasted against the Lions in the past, and this year should be no different given the Lions’ shortcomings at cornerback.

With Okudah out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, the Lions will start Amani Oruwariye and two rookies at cornerback: Melifonwu and slot corner A.J. Parker. Tracy Walker played well in the opener at safety, but the Lions need more from their pass rush because they don’t have the personnel to force many turnovers. Edge: Packers

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Special teams

Austin Seibert split his two long field goals in the opener for the Lions, missing wide left from 51 yards and making from 49. Seibert no doubt has a strong leg — special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said he made a 67-yarder in practice — but the Lions can’t afford to leave points on the field Monday. Jack Fox is Mr. Reliable punting, but the return game was an issue for the Lions. Godwin Igwebuike muffed one kick return and had an end-of-half roller bounce through his legs. The Lions could use new cornerback Corey Ballentine as a returner this week.

The Packers ranked near the bottom of longtime NFL writer Rick Gosselin’s special teams rankings last year. They are not outstanding in one area of special teams, but they don’t commit many penalties and generally take care of the ball. Mason Crosby was a perfect 16-for-16 on field goal tries last season and is 1-for-1 this year. He has not missed a kick in a regular season game since pushing a 51-yarder wide left at Ford field in 2019. Punt returner Amari Rodgers has juice, and the Packers traded for left-footed punter Corey Bojorquez in hopes of getting a more consistent punt game. Edge: Packers

Prediction

Campbell said the Saints kicked over a hornet’s nest with their drubbing of the Packers, and it feels like the Lions are about to get stung Monday. In fairness, that probably was going to be the case anyway, but a healthy Rodgers doesn’t go 0-2 often. The Lions need to control the clock and keep their young secondary off the field to have a chance. The Saints succeeded defensively playing light run boxes and posting two safeties deep. If Jones breaks a couple big runs early, it will be a long day. But in an NFC North game, and as feisty as the Lions are, I expect this one to be close most of the way.  Pick: Packers 27, Lions 17

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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