The Green Bay Packers look to build on their fourth quarter comeback win over the New Orleans Saints when they host the Detroit Lions Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Both teams enter the game with a 2-1 record and are tied for first place in the NFC North. We break down the key matchups for the Packers in this game.
The Packers lead the all-time series between these two teams 103-75-7 in the regular season. The series started in 1930 when the Lions were known as the Portsmouth Spartans. The Lions have won the last three meetings between these division rivals. The Packers have beaten the Lions in both playoff meetings which took place in 1993 and 1994.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Thursday’s game at Lambeau:
Packers Key Matchups: Number One The Packers Must Contain the Lions Rushing Attack
The Lions have a one-two punch at running back in former Bears halfback David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. The Packers cannot allow Detroit to run the ball consistently and effectively.
Montgomery has 37 carries in two games and has run for two touchdowns. Gibbs has averaged 4.5-yards per rush. Both runners have good speed and elusiveness.
The Packers have been particularly vulnerable to runs to the edge and they’ve struggled to keep contain on the outside. Rashan Gary, Kingsley Enagbare and Preston Smith are the keys to holding the edge. The results have been inconsistent at best thus far this season. The Packers never had an answer for Atlanta’s Bijon Robinson in Week 2.
The Lions are 11th in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 111.7 while the Green Bay defense has allowed 136.7 yards per game on the ground which ranks them 27th in the league.
Packers Key Matchups: Number Two Protect Jordan Love
The Lions have eight sacks through three games led by Aiden Hutchinson with two.
Detroit lines up in a base 4-3 with Hutchinson traditionally lining up at left end. Look for the Lions to move Hutchinson around to take advantage of a banged up Green Bay offensive line which may be without left tackle David Bakhtiari and is likely to be without left guard Elgton Jenkins again this week. Rasheed Walker and Royce Newman have done a solid job filling in, but they aren’t as good as the players they’re subbing for.
Jordan Love has shown good elusiveness and keeps his cool under pressure. The Packers need to give Love time to throw the football to find his receivers downfield. While Love has yet to complete many long passes downfield, he has gotten a steady diet of defensive pass interference calls on long passes.
The Packers offense will move the ball well if Love has time to throw.
Packers Key Matchups: Number Three Run the Football Enough
The Packers hope to get Aaron Jones back for Thursday’s game. Jones is the catalyst of the Green Bay offense. When he’s in the game, the offense runs through him. His speed and elusiveness make the offense more multi-dimensional.
None of the other backs have been able to provide a steady running threat when Jones has been unavailable due to the hamstring injury he suffered in the season opener. A.J. Dillon, Emanuel Wilson and Patrick Taylor have been unable to move the football on the ground consistently.
Detroit has been strong against the run early this season and allows only 72 yards per game on the ground. That ranks them fifth in the league. They are presently holding offenses to 3.2-yards per rush which also ranks fifth.
Even if the running game isn’t making big gains, head coach Matt LaFleur cannot abandon the running game entirely. He needs to run the ball enough to keep the Detroit defense honest and force them to honor the play-action passing game.
Key Matchups: Number Four Contain Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta
The Lions two key receivers are wide receiver Amon-Ray St. Brown and tight end Sam LaPorta. Whether some of the injured Packers defenders play may be vital to determining how they cover this duo.
St. Brown is a smart, middle-of-the-field receiver who excels in the slot. He is not a deep threat but is extremely dangerous at making key catches that keep drives alive. St. Brown leads the Lions with 21 catches for 275 yards and has one touchdown. Will the Packers try to have regular slot corner Keisean Nixon cover St. Brown, or will they move Jaire Alexander to the slot to try to slow down St. Brown? Look for a mix of those options if Alexander can play after missing last week’s game with a back injury. If Alexander can’t go, the secondary will face a much bigger challenge.
The Lions selected LaPorta in the second round of this year’s draft. The Iowa alum has 18 catches in his first three NFL games for 186 yards and a score. LaPorta is a big target at 6’4” and 249 and creates matchup problems with his size for safeties and his speed for linebackers.
De’Vondre Campbell left last week’s game with an ankle injury and has not practiced Monday or Tuesday. If he’s not available, the Packers may ask either Rudy Ford or Darnell Savage to cover LaPorta or mix in inside linebacker Quay Walker who has great speed.
These are the Lions two most dangerous receivers, and the Packers can’t allow either of them to have big games on Thursday.
Packers Key Matchups: Number Five Don’t Give Up Big Plays on Special Teams
The Packers allowed another big play on special teams last week against the Saints. In the second quarter, New Orleans scored on a 76-yard punt return. Punter Daniel Whelan kicked a line drive punt that was easily run back for a score.
Detroit’s Kalif Raymond has yet to return a kick this season but has five punt returns for a 9.2-yard average.
The Packers cannot allow the Lions to break big plays on special teams. It will be interesting to see how special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia adjusts his unit after giving up a big play a week ago.
Packers Key Matchups: Number Six Pressure Jared Goff
Gary sacked Saints quarterbacks three times last week and has been consistently pressuring opposing quarterbacks all season. The former Michigan star remains on a play count as he returns from last year’s season-ending knee injury.
While Gary has been the best Packers pass rusher, Kenny Clark, Smith, and Enagbare have also provided pressure.
The Lions offensive line is banged up and may not be at full strength. Starting left tackle Taylor Decker hopes to return and was a limited participant in practice Tuesday. If he can return, Penei Sewell can return to right tackle and the pass protection should be better.
If the Packers pressure Goff, he can be forced into mistakes. He has two interceptions through three games and is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes.
The Packers dramatic comeback was a great sign but how long can this team overcome so many injuries to key players? Playing at home will help but if Alexander and Jones don’t play this will be a big challenge.
The Packers and Lions will likely be the top two teams in the NFC North this season and this will be a big game. Unfortunately, the lack of health will hurt the Packers in this game, and they will fall just short.
Lions 24, Packers 20
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