Lions’ Den: Detroit visits Lambeau in crucial division game Monday night

For the second week in a row, the Lions will face a 2016 playoff team on national TV. This week, the 3-4 Lions will travel to Green Bay for a divisional matchup against the 4-3 Packers, the first of their two meetings this year.

Both teams have been trending in the wrong direction recently. The Lions are on a three-game losing skid and the Packers, after a scorching 4-1 start, have dropped their last two games, which can be credited to quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending collarbone injury during their Week 6 loss at Minnesota.

The Packers are a different team without Rodgers at the helm, to say the least. Backup quarterback Brett Hundley has been thrust into the starting spot and has struggled in his two games running the offense. Averaging only 122 passing yards in the games he’s played all four quarters in, Hundley would be dead last in passing yards per game for all NFL starters. He’s thrown four interceptions in that same span.

The loss of Rodgers has greatly negated the production of the normally strong core of Green Bay playmakers. Wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson have combined for just 116 receiving yards in the two games since Rodgers’ injury.

The Lions can take advantage of the mistake-prone Hundley. Detroit’s defense is third in the NFL in interceptions, and with Hundley turning the ball over at a high rate thus far as starter, the Lions’ ballhawk defensive backs–cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin–could be in line to force multiple turnovers.

The Lions’ run defense has quietly been one of the best in the league, giving up the third-lowest total rushing yards in the entire NFL. They shouldn’t have their hands full in Green Bay this week. The Packers are 23rd in the league in total rush yards. While rookie fifth-round running back Aaron Jones has been a pleasant surprise, a majority of his production came against Dallas and New Orleans, who are both in the top 10 for most rushing yards allowed this season.

Look for the Lions defense to control the line of scrimmage Monday night, forcing the young and inexperienced Hundley to air the ball down the field in what could result in a multi-interception game.

On the flip side of the ball, a struggling Detroit offense will face off against a middling Packers defense. The Packers run defense has struggled this season, ranking 23rd in total rushing yards allowed. The Lions run game, which has been panned by pundits all around the country, may not be able to take advantage of this weak Packers run D. Detroit ranks 27th in the league in total rush yards this season.

However, if the Lions rush offense is ever going to break out–that’s a big if–this will be the game. Not only is the Packers’ run defense porous, but Lions running back Ameer Abdullah has had productive outings in his two career games against Green Bay.

Both games came in 2015, but Abdullah’s history against Green Bay includes a 104-yard kickoff return in one game and a healthy five yards per carry in the other. The Lions have been persistent in giving the Abdullah the ball this year, as he is averaging over 14 carries per game thus far. If he gets that number of touches in a favorable matchup against the Packers, he will break out.

Another player to watch is Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones. Jones has had great production in his last two games, combining for 12 catches, 224 yards and a touchdown. Packers cornerback Damarious Randall is a bit banged up with a hamstring injury, but is probable to play on Monday. Jones will take advantage of the matchup if Randall is slowed down at all.

Jones has also put up monster numbers against the Packers since signing with the Lions in 2016. In his two games against the Pack, Jones has exploded for 11 catches, 281 yards, and two touchdowns. Riding a hot streak this season, coupled with his history of producing against Green Bay, expect big numbers out of Jones if the Lions are going to win this game.


KEYS TO THE GAME

  • Get the ball to Marvin Jones. Jones’ speed allows him to stretch the field more than any other Lions receiver, and his 6-foot-2 frame makes him a target in the red zone. With a favorable matchup against a hobbled Randall, Jones should see at least 10 targets.
  • Control the line of scrimmage on defense. The Packers run offense is weak and the Lions run defense is one of the best in the NFL. If defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and linebacker Jarrad Davis can clog up the middle, this will be a long night for the Pack.
  • Force Brett Hundley to throw the ball. This comes with stopping the run and controlling the line of scrimmage on defense, but the more the inexperienced 24-year-old is throwing the ball, the better for the Lions. Hundley has thrown four interceptions in two games, a welcome sight for a Lions defense that has already picked off 10 passes this year.

Writers’ Picks

John Dolan: If the Lions are going to win the NFC North, they need to win this game. Minnesota is climbing in the standings, sitting at 6-2 right now, and any loss the Lions take at this point in the season only digs themselves into a deeper hole. If Aaron Rodgers were healthy, this could be a blowout in favor of the Packers, but the two-time MVP is out. The Lions need to and should win this game. If they don’t, it may be time to reevaluate the state of the franchise.

Lions 27, Packers 20

Michael Downes: This game should be a breeze for the Lions if they are legit contenders this season. No Rodgers, a shoddy run game and a weak defense, these are all things the Lions need to take advantage of against the team in the tundra.

Lions 24, Packers 10

Noah Goad: The Lions have a history of being bested by the Packers. This time will be different. With Rodgers out, the Packers offense has managed just 27 points since his injury in Week 6.  As long as the Lions’ defense does their job, Detroit should have no problem coming out of Lambeau with a win.

Lions 28, Packers 17