The Detroit Lions head back to Lambeau this week, where they haven't won in eleventy-billion years. The Lions (3-1) are coming off a big win against their biggest rival, the Chicago Bears. The Green Bay Packers (1-2) are coming back from their bye week, where they were sent to their rooms to think about what they did against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers are a disappointing third in the NFC North, but most agree that they are still a team to be reckoned with. Vegas agrees, as the Packers are favored by 7 points over the Lions on Sunday. Do the charts agree?
Lions Pass Offense (5th) vs. Packers Pass Defense (28th)
The Lions pass offense continues to roll along nicely. Throughout the first quarter of the season, the Lions find themselves ranked ninth in passer rating (96.2), seventh in yards per attempt (8.1) and 11th in completion percentage (64.1%). They are, by all means, a top 10 passing offense.
However, it should be noted that the Lions have yet to face a pass defense better than 20th in the league. As you can see from the chart, every opponent is giving up, on average, a passer rating above 87 each week (the league median is 85.8). Still, the Lions are outperforming their opponent's averages more often than not.
The Packers pass defense has been truly awful. Giving up yardage can be forgiven if the team is playing with a lead most of the game. But the Packers are 1-2, and are also ceding an incredibly high passer rating each week. Overall, the Packers rank 31st in passer rating allowed (113.7), 31st in yards per attempt allowed (9.0) and 28th in completion percentage allowed (68.2%).
As noted in our five questions series, part of this poor defense can be attributed to the absence of starters Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward. Burnett, who will likely be returning this week, was a defensive leader last year, starting every game at safety. Hayward has been ruled out this week, and the Packers will miss his ball-hawking skills. As a rookie, Hayward caught 6 interceptions last year.
Player to watch: Clay Matthews. I really think the play of Matthews is the only thing that can save the Packers in this matchup. The Packers will need to get to Matthew Stafford often to disrupt the flow of the Detroit offense. Otherwise, Stafford will pick apart this poor defense.
Advantage: Lions +2.5. Matchups don't get much more lopsided than this. What tempers my expectations a bit is the Lions' inability to replace Nate Burleson. Last week, Kris Durham did catch 3 passes for 58 yards, but no other receiver outside of Calvin Johnson had a reception. Still, the Lions shared the ball with running backs and tight ends and were more than efficient against the Bears.
Lions run offense (21st) vs. Packers run defense (8th)
Well, a week after I buried the Lions run offense, they went out and dominated a decent Bears defense. In both Week 1 and Week 4, the Lions were opening up huge holes for Reggie Bush. But that was completely absent in the other two weeks. So I am left very confused. Overall, the statistics sill aren't very good. The Lions rank just 21st in yards per carry (3.6) and have a league-high 6 fumbles on the year.
However, Bush actually ranks 16th in rushing yards, despite missing a game and a half (he ranks sixth in yards per game), and he is averaging an impressive 5.3 a carry. So overall, I think there are reasons to be optimistic for the Lions' running game, despite what I said last week.
The Packers run defense has been quite average through three games. To open the season, the Packers stuffed the San Francisco 49ers into just 90 rushing yards on 2.6 a carry. However, since then, they've yet to hold an opponent significantly below their season averages. They are holding opponents to just 3.7 yards per carry (tied for seventh best), however.
With only three games of data, and the least amount of rushing attempts against, it's hard to draw any real conclusions about the Packers run defense. So for the sake of simplicity, let's call them average.
Player to watch: Brad Jones. The Lansing native is off to a hot start in 2013, leading the Packers with 26 total tackles (20 solo).
Advantage: Draw. The Lions certainly have a chance to get the edge here, but their play has been too inconsistent for me to give them an outright advantage. As for the Packers run defense, the jury is still out.
Packers pass offense (3rd) vs. Lions pass defense (21st)
Though they headed into the bye week on a sour note, the Packers pass offense still seems to be as potent as ever. Despite Aaron Rodgers having his worst statistical game in three years against Cincinnati, the Packers still rank third in passer rating (105.1), fourth in yards per attempt (8.7) and sixth in completion percentage (66.4%). They have two receivers (Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson) who are both averaging more yards per game than Calvin Johnson.
However, their kryptonite may be in pass protection. So far, the Packers have given up just over 3 sacks per game, which places them in the bottom 10 in pass protection.
The Lions pass defense continues to surprise me. Not only have they held all of their opponents below a 75 passer rating, but they also have the second-most interceptions in the league (8). Overall, they rank sixth in passer rating allowed (69.4), 14th in yards per attempt allowed (6.9) and 15th in completion percentage allowed (60.6%).
It's important to note that the Lions haven't faced a good pass offense yet. By passer rating, the best offense they've played is the Washington Redskins, which rank 17th in the league.
Unfortunately for the Lions, they come into Green Bay ailing in the secondary. They should have Rashean Mathis back this week, who was taken out of the game against Chicago for a maybe, possibly, or maybe not, I don't know concussion. But Chris Houston's availability is much more in question. After missing all week of practice, Houston returned on Friday. However, it is believed by most that his mysterious leg injury may keep him out of action on Sunday.
Player to watch: Randall Cobb. I have to agree with fellow writer Eric Shinabarger when he called Cobb "the most dangerous of Rodgers' toys" earlier in the week. Cobb leads the team in receiving yards with 290, and a whopping 128 of those yards came after the catch. The Lions safeties will be tested this week, and will need to respond with responsible angles and solid tackling.
Advantage: Packers +2. I'm still not quite a believer in the Lions pass defense, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Once the Lions have faced a fair share of decent passing attacks, we will get to see the true nature of their defense. This week will be a perfect test, but with the Lions likely shorthanded in the secondary, I don't see a good outcome on the horizon.
Packers run offense (9th) vs. Lions run defense (20th)
One of the most surprising things about this Packers team is their running game. Aside from a lackluster performance against San Francisco, the Packers have dominated on the ground, averaging 160.5 yards in the past two games for nearly 6 yards per carry. Overall, the Packers rank second in yards per carry (5.3).
This week, they get back rookie Eddie Lacy, who suffered a concussion early against the Redskins. However, it has been James Starks who has been leading the Packers run offense with 187 rushing yards on 5.5 a carry.
In other surprising news, the Lions have struggled mightily in stopping the run. Despite leading for long periods of time in all four games, opposing teams have been having their way on the ground. They've only held one opponent significantly below averages, and that was a game that started with an Adrian Peterson 78-yard rushing touchdown.
Last week, the Lions were again victimized by a long rushing play, allowing Matt Forte to scamper for a 53-yard touchdown. The two long rushes by Peterson and Forte now account for nearly 30 percent of the rushing yards allowed by the Lions. However, putting those two rushes aside, the Lions are still giving up 3.8 a carry, which would rank them tied for 10th.
But those runs did happen, and the Lions are truly giving up 5.2 a carry (tied for 28th). They have given up the third-most rushes of 20+ yards (5) and are one of four teams to give up two rushes of 40+ yards.
Player to watch: Ndamukong Suh. Suh leads the team with 3 tackles for loss and has been wreaking havoc on every offensive guard he's faced. He should be in the conversation for defensive player of the year right now.
Advantage: Packers +1. The Lions should really have a decent run defense, but they haven't shown it through four weeks. The Packers don't have a dynamic running game, but it is much better than it has been in the past.
Lambeau. 'Nuff said.
Weather. It has been raining all week in Green Bay, but the forecast at the moment claims there's only a 20 percent chance of rain on Sunday. Still, the field may be a bit slick, which may benefit the Packers since the Lions are used to the comfort of turf.
The Packers end up edging the Lions with a +0.5 advantage. The Packers also have all the advantages in the intangibles (home field, coming off a bye relatively healthy, etc.). However, I still don't quite understand the high betting line on the game. These teams are extremely close in talent. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if the Lions end the streak this year, but since I'm a slave to the numbers, I have to pick the Packers this week. Packers 31, Lions 27.