How the Green Bay Packers can defeat the Detroit Lions in Week 17

One win stands between the Green Bay Packers and an NFC North title. What must they do to defeat the Detroit Lions in Week 17?

Sitting on top of the division hasn’t been commonplace in the 2016 season, but here we are. Two Detroit defeats on the bounce opened the door for the red-hot Packers to take control of the North. It matters for nothing if they surrender the crown to Detroit in the NFL’s regular season finale.

PACKER PERSPECTIVE: Green Bay ready for playoff run

The Lions have exceeded expectations of many, a strong bounce back from a disappointing 2015 campaign. For the second time in three years, Green Bay and Detroit will battle it out for the division title in Week 17.

This time it’s at Ford Field. A one-legged Aaron Rodgers powered the Pack to victory 24 months ago, but he won’t hear “MVP” chants from the home crowd this week. Any roars of that nature will belong to Matthew Stafford, who has carried his team to the brink of the postseason.

What must the Packers do to reclaim the title they lost at the same stage a year ago?

Dec 3, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass during an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Win on third down

It’s not called the money down for nothing.

Both the Packers and Lions have moved the ball on third down successfully. Green Bay is No. 2 in the NFL for third down conversion percentage (46.2 percent), Detroit is No. 9 (42.6 percent).

Likewise, neither team has been able to stop third down conversions with enough frequency. Green Bay is No. 24 in third down defense (allowing 41.2 percent), Detroit is No. 29 (allowing 44.9 percent).

Third down success is pivotal for both teams in this game. A failure to either move the chains or stop them on third will have negative effects on both sides of the ball.

In the Week 3 meeting, the Packers converted 5-of-10 third down attempts, but this is hardly surprising as they averaged just five plays per drive in a dominant performance inspired by big plays.

Green Bay must be wary of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin when Matthew Stafford needs to move the chains. Jordy Nelson is Aaron Rodgers’ go-to in the same situation.

The third down battle may prove to be the most important. Sustaining drives or stuffing them could make all the difference.

Dec 24, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) hands the ball off to running back Ty Montgomery (88) in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY Sports

Move the ball on the ground

Minnesota did a nice job of bottling up Green Bay’s ground game last week, but the Packers must get Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael more involved this week.

Mike McCarthy likes to establish balance, and this is especially important away from Lambeau. Running on the Vikings proved to be tough sledding, but it should come easier against a middle-of-the-road Lions run defense, allowing 4.3 yards per attempt and 103.2 yards per game.

Dallas ran all over Detroit on Monday night. Ezekiel Elliott ignited the fire with a 55-yard touchdown run. The trio of Elliott, Darren McFadden and Dak Prescott averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 30 attempts to the tune of 164 yards and two touchdowns. Not many teams run the ball as efficiently as the Cowboys, but the Packers should be able to find success against this defense.

Establishing the run also sets up McCarthy’s play-action passing game. The Packers are hitting deep down the field with more frequency than earlier in the season, and running with more success is a reason why. In Green Bay’s first eight games, they averaged 6.4 yards per pass attempt. That number has increased to 8.0 per attempt in the past seven games. It should be no surprise, then, that December is the Packers’ most productive month on the ground this season (averaging 117 yards per game).

Running the ball successfully sets up the big pass play. With Montgomery and Michael, the Packers have a 1-2 punch capable of dictating the tempo.

Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is sacked by Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Perry (53) in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure Matthew Stafford

Dallas got in the face of Matthew Stafford last week, sacking him four times for a total loss of 31 yards. The Packers’ pass rush displayed some early-season form versus Minnesota, taking Sam Bradford down four times, losing 29 yards in the process.

Clay Matthews was more himself after looking like a ghost in weeks prior. His shoulder continues to bother him, but he registered three tackles, a sack and tackle for loss, his best outing since the Philadelphia game he got injured in.

Nick Perry was instrumental too, sacking Bradford twice despite sporting a massive club on his broken left hand.

These two will look to build on a strong performance. Perry was brilliant in the Week 3 meeting of these teams, racking up two tacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Rookie Kyler Fackrell also notched a sack that afternoon.

Stafford moves well within the pocket and is better avoiding rushers as many might expect. Given the Packers’ struggles in the secondary, giving Stafford time in the pocket could yield devastating results.

In what may turn out to be a high-scoring game, throwing Stafford off rhythm and forcing him into hurried decisions will be key.

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