8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Packers -3.5, Over/Under: 45.5
A crucial NFC North clash ends the weekend of the football, as the reborn Green Bay Packers play host to the surprising Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With a quarter of the season in the books and coming off an early Bye Week, it’s fair question to ask just who the hell are the Lions (2-1-1, 2nd in NFC North)? Much has been made of the revolution spearheaded by Head Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn, who together have intention of rebuilding this franchise in the image of their former employer, the New England Patriots. This is Year Two for the former, and at this point the building blocks of what appears to be New England West has been laid, though Detroit has yet to actually resemble the reigning Super Bowl Champions in a number of areas. After a rough transitional year towards his preferred 3-4 hybrid scheme, the Defense has yet to make the requisite strides that Patricia and the Coaching Staff were expecting. Through four games, this group has allowed 23.8 Points per Game (20th Overall) on a disappointing 405.6 Total Yards (29th Overall), including 280.8 Yards against the Pass (26th Overall) on 6.3 Net Yards per Attempt (12th Overall), and another 124.8 yards versus the Run (23rd Overall) on 4.8 Yards per Carry (26th Overall), while permitting a 45.6% conversion rate on Third Down (26th Overall). However, they’ve stiffened in the Red Zone where they’ve allowed a Touchdown on just 50.0% of their opponents’ opportunities (9th Overall), and racked up Eight Takeaways (6th Overall). With personnel better suited for his Defense, it’s a bit disappointing to see them giving up the yardage they have, for it appears that they continue to look like a unit that is thinking far too much, rather than simply reacting. Of course, it would help if they got healthier, with the likes of All-Pro Cornerback, Darius Slay (7 TKL, 1 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD) along with Defensive Linemen A’Shawn Robinson (12 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 QBH, 0.5 SK, 2 FR, 1 PD) and Mike Daniels (2 TKL), each missing their last outing, a spirited 30-34 loss at home to the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs, due to various injuries. On that particular evening, Patricia’s charges relinquished 438 Total Yards, but also managed to relegate reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes, to Zero Touchdowns for the first time since the beginning of the 2018 campaign. The gameplan was sound, as the hosts forced Three Turnovers, held possession of the football for 33:55 on the strength of 186 Rushing Yards on Thirty-Five Carries, while piling up a total of 447 Yards of Offense. Sophomore Tailback, Kerryon Johnson (74 CAR, 251 YDS, 3.4 Y/C, 1 TD) had his best showing of the year, rushing for 125 Yards on Twenty-Six carries, while Matthew Stafford (62.4%, 1,122 YDS, 7.22 NY/A, 9 TD, 2 INT, 69.2 QBR), continued his renaissance, completing 21-of-34 Passes for 291 Yards and Three Touchdowns. While both players lost crucial Fumbles, one of which was returned 100 Yards for a Touchdown, they’ve really taken to the knew scheme provided by Offensive Coordinator, Darrell Bevell. Balance has long been an issue in the Motor City, with Quinn and Co. exhausting a plethora of resources to improve their play in the trenches, and it appears to finally be paying off; thus far, the Lions have rushed for 120.5 Yards per Game (11th Overall) on 30.8 Carries per Game (4th Overall), which are both the most by this franchise in well over decade plus some. For his troubles, Stafford looks better than he’s been in quite a while, posting a 6.4% Touchdown Percentage, 1.4% Interception Percentage, 8.0 Yards per Attempt, 7.82 Net Yards per Attempt, a 102.6 Passer Rating, and a 69.2 QBR, all of which rank as career-highs. Receivers, Kenny Golladay (19 REC, 243 YDS, 12.8 Y/R, 4 TD) and Marvin Jones (18 REC, 277 YDS, 15.4 Y/R, 1 TD), have been solid, while Rookie Tight End T.J. Hockenson (11 REC, 166 YDS, 15.1 Y/R, 2 TD) has had his moments, with all of these pieces comprising one of their more consistent Offenses in the league. At this stage, while the Offense is clearly ahead of the Defense it stands to reason that this team is far from a finished product, and if the latter can continue to grow, then maybe Detroit won’t find themselves in so many close games; under the previous regime, the Lions found themselves in a league-high thirty-five games decided by seven points or less, including twenty-two decided by four points or fewer, with the club earning a 20-15 record in such affairs. Since Patricia took over that hasn’t changed, with nine games decided by one possession, including all four of their outings in 2019, which have each been decided by at the most four points, including a 27-27 tie in the Season Opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
Meanwhile, it’s a brand new day for the Packers (4-1, 1st in NFC North), who have now won four of their first five games under new Head Coach, Matt LaFleur, reestablishing themselves as an NFC power in the process. Coming into the season, few teams were in need of a reboot more so than Green Bay, who had grown incredibly stale under the previous regime. However, under the 39-Year Old LaFleur, this team feels fresh, new, and above all else, dangerous. Throughout the first three gams of the campaign, it was the Defense that carried them, with Defensive Coordinator, Mike Pettine, continuing his work with a promising group of young talent, that has played well ahead of their years thus far; the Packers have yielded just 18.6 Points per Game (8th Overall), largely on their ability to force Turnovers, creating eleven already (4th Overall), while also amassing Fifteen Sacks (9th Overall). Free Agent acquisitions Za’Darius Smith (14 TKL, 5 TFL, 11 QBH, 5.0 SK) and Preston Smith (19 TKL, 4 TFL, 10 QBH, 5.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 INT, 3 PD) have been nightmares off the edge within Pettine’s scheme, while Sophomore Cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander (18 TKL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 9 PD) and Kevin King (23 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 INT, 6 PD) have grown into ballhawks. Furthermore, all of their Takeaways have occurred in their four victories, where they’ve enjoyed a Plus-9 Differential. Case in point, in last weekend’s surprising 34-24 triumph on the road against the Dallas Cowboys, which wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate, the Defense shut out the hosts for the better part of three quarters of play, picking off Dak Prescott three times and sacking him thrice. Both of the aforementioned Defensive Backs showed out in a major way, reeling in an Interception apiece, and combining for Eight Tackles, a Forced Fumble, and Five Passes Defended, while Smith and Smith accounted for all three of the unit’s Sacks, including Six Quarterback Hits. On the flipside, LaFleur and the Offense performed well enough without the services of Pro-Bowl Receiver, Davante Adams (25 REC, 378 YDS, 15.1 Y/R, 0 TD), who suffered a sprained toe during the previous week’s encounter with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Packers stuck with a largely grounded game plan, rushing for 120 Yards on Twenty-Nine Carries, allowing them to dominate Time of Possession (36:43) courtesy of Aaron Jones (78 CAR, 302 YDS, 3.9 Y/C, 8 TD), who had himself a career day, rushing for 107 Yards on Nineteen Carries, and a career-high Four Touchdowns, while hauling in another Seven Receptions for Seventy-Five Yards. Fans in Green Bay have been clamoring for more balanced approach on this side of the football, and it appears that they’ve finally gotten it in the form of the third-year Tailback, who has already matched last year’s total of scores (8), and has become a much bigger threat in the Passing Game, catching Nineteen Passes on Twenty-Three Targets for 150 Yards, nearly doubling his output from 2018. Of course, any renewed emphasis on the ground game will only benefit Aaron Rodgers (62.8%, 1,307 YDS, 6.43 NY/A, 6 TD, 1 INT, 55.4 QBR), whose growing relationship with LaFleur has been the subject of may around the league, particularly how his rapport with his previous Head Coach eroded in spectacular fashion. Now 36-Years Old, it’s a fair question to ask just how much longer the two-time MVP continue can play at such a high level. With LaFleur’s scheme far more modernized than that of his predecessor and tailored to accentuate the strengths of his Quarterback, the expectation is that once Rodgers immerses himself in it (which he hasn’t quite done yet), fireworks won’t be far behind. Through five games, it’s evident that No. 12 is still figuring some things out, but there have been some encouraging signs that he’s on the verge of a breakthrough; many of his statistics are comparable to those posted in 2018, including Completion Percentage (62.8%), Yards per Attempt (7.3), Yards per Game (261.4), and QBR (55.4), though he’s thus far been the recipient of much better Pass Protection, sporting a Sack Percentage of 5.3%, which would be his lowest such figure since 2014, and the second-lowest of his venerable career. He was solid if unspectacular in the win over Dallas, completing 22-of-34 Passes for 238 Yards, his first game of the term without a passing score.