Scouting report: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

Detroit News

Lions at Packers

▶ Kickoff: 8:20 p.m. Sunday, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin

▶ TV/radio: NBC/97.1 FM

▶ Line: Packers by 4

▶ Records: Both teams are 8-8

▶ At stake: Packers make playoffs with a win; Lions make playoffs with a win and a Seahawks loss.

Nolan Bianchi of The Detroit News breaks down the Lions’ Week 18 matchup against the Green Bay Packers.

Key matchup

LIONS RUN DEFENSE VS. AARON JONES AND A.J. DILLON

After finally getting their own ground game going in Sunday’s win over the Bears, the Lions now turn their full attention to stopping that of Green Bay. It’s a particular area of concern after the Lions gave up franchise records in total yardage (570) and rushing yardage (320) in their last cold-weather game.

The Packers’ run game has been dominant over its four-game win streak, averaging 138.8 yards per game, and scored a total of seven touchdowns in that span. Jones is averaging 5.5 yards per carry over his last four games, thanks in part to a huge 111-yard performance against the Vikings last week on just 14 carries. The Lions have twice shut down one of the league’s premier rushers — Saquon Barkley (New York Giants) and Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings) — and with the season on the line, expect Detroit to put a lot of energy into turning in one of those performances.

More:Predictions: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

Packers to watch

QB Aaron Rodgers: He ain’t as good as he once was, but he’s as good now as he ever was. Rodgers is averaging just 190.8 yards (and a passer rating of 87.0) through the air over the team’s four-game win streak, and you can be certain the Packers will be a run-first team on Sunday night. Couple that with the Lions having forced three interceptions against Rodgers the last time out, and you may be asking: What’s the problem? The problem is that he’s still the reigning back-to-back MVP, and when push comes to shove, you do not want to see him roll out of the pocket, loading up to make a play. Rodgers has played his best regular-season football while ringing in the New Year: In 16 career January games, Rodgers has a 71.3 completion percentage with a passer rating of 112.7.

CB Jaire Alexander: Alexander was the talk of the NFL’s Sunday slate after shutting down Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson for one reception and 15 yards. He’s the biggest threat to a red-hot Lions passing game that’s protecting the ball as well as anybody. Since Week 13, Lions quarterback Jared Goff has a 12-0 touchdown-to-turnover ratio. The Packers, meanwhile, have eight takeaways in their last two games, and Alexander is tied for fifth across the NFL with five interceptions on a passing defense that ranks fourth (195.6).

KR Keisean Nixon: Nixon is the most dangerous kick returner the NFL has seen in some time. He has six games this season with over 100-plus yards on kick returns, the most by any NFL player since Cordarrelle Patterson had eight and Devin Hester (ever heard of him?) had six in 2013. As they often do in games with a playoff atmosphere, special teams have the ability to change the complexion of this game, and Nixon — who returned a 105-yard kick return for a touchdown just last week — is the biggest X-factor of them all.

Facts and figures

▶ Since Matt LaFleur was hired as head coach of the Packers in 2019, the Packers have been dominant in the final two months of the season. Green Bay is 18-1 in December and January under LaFleur and 10-0 at Lambeau Field. The Packers’ one December/January loss, of course, came in last year’s season finale against the Lions at Ford Field.

▶ While the Packers’ domination of Minnesota last week was likely a sight of concern for Lions fans, it should be pointed out that 28 of the Packers’ 41 points came off takeaways (and one other touchdown came from Nixon’s kick return). This stresses the Lions’ need to protect the ball, of course — the Packers are 29-3 under LaFleur when earning seven-plus points off takeaways — but also just how much Green Bay has depended on turnover luck during its final sprint.

▶ The Lions will look to win in the margins on Sunday night, and one situation of particular interest is third down. Green Bay’s third-down defense ranks eighth (37.9%) and the Lions’ third-down offense is 13th (41.2%). On the flip side, the Lions’ third-down defense is 30th (45.8%) and the Packers’ third-down offense is 17th (39.9%).

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