For years, there were two major story lines every time the Detroit Lions visited the Green Bay Packers. One, could the Lions control Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? And, two, would the Lions ever win a game at Lambeau Field?
Both of those questions are off the board as these NFC North rivals get ready for their Week 3 matchup. Rodgers' struggles from last season have continued into this season. One of his poor performances from last year came when Detroit snapped its 24-game losing streak in games played in Wisconsin by beating the Packers 18-16 in Week 10.
Based on this year's performances, the quarterbacking edge belongs to Detroit with Matthew Stafford. Through two weeks, Stafford has thrown for 600 yards, completed 67.1 percent of his passes and ranks ninth with a passer rating of 101.3. Compare that to Rodgers, who has thrown for 412 yards, completed 57.1 percent of his passes and ranks 22nd with a passer rating of 82.5.
Rodgers knows he must play better as the Packers begin a rare four-game home stand.
“As a leader, you have to take the blame when it's necessary and even sometimes when it's not your fault,” Rodgers said. “I think it's important to let those guys know that you're going to stick your body on the line but also you're going to stand up for them when you need to in the locker room, the meeting room and the media and take your responsibility for the way you played.
“I didn't play as well as I wanted to last week and I turned the ball over twice, and I can't do that if we're going to win the game. So I've got to play better and I've got to play more efficiently on offense.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell isn't buying the talk that Rodgers' play has slipped.
“Greatness,” Caldwell says, is what he sees when he watches the tape.
Rodgers, however, hasn't been great. The NFL's career leader in passer rating hasn't even reached 100 in 14 consecutive games. With the game on the line at Minnesota last week, Rodgers fumbled with the Packers in field-goal range on their next-to-last possession and was intercepted on their final chance.
Green Bay will attack a Detroit defense that has allowed 5.1 yards per carry and an opponent passer rating of 112.7. The linebacker corps has been gutted, with injuries to DeAndre Levy (quad) and Kyle Van Noy (calf) leaving only Tahir Whitehead among the starting trio from last week vs. Tennessee. The Lions have a star cornerback in Darius Slay, who Rodgers avoided in last year's game in Green Bay, and an excellent safety in Glover Quin.
Change has been the constant for Detroit's offense. Calvin Johnson, still one of the premier receivers in the NFL, retired in the offseason and the Lions filled the void by signing Marvin Jones and veteran Anquan Boldin. Combined with Golden Tate, who has back-to-back seasons of 90-plus catches, the Lions have a talented three-receiver package.
Jones has 12 catches and ranks seventh in the NFL with 203 yards, Tate has nine catches for 54 yards and Boldin has seven catches for 83 yards and one touchdown. They represent three of the Lions' five players with at least seven receptions.
“I think anytime you lose a talent like (Johnson), it's tough,” Stafford said. “But our guys have done a really nice job and the ball is being spread around. We've got a lot of guys with a bunch of catches already this year. Hopefully, we'll continue to do that and spread the ball around and make it tough on defenses.”
The changes go beyond the passing game. Detroit placed leading rusher Ameer Abdullah (foot) on injured reserve on Wednesday. Theo Riddick, who led all NFL running backs with 80 receptions last season while carrying only 43 times, and rookie Dwayne Washington will take over the ball-carrying chores. They'll be running into the teeth of a Green Bay defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL by a considerable margin in rushing yards allowed per game (39) and per carry (1.6).
That unit, however, suffered a blow at Minnesota when defensive tackle Letroy Guion exited with a sprained MCL. The Packers already were short on veteran talent on their defensive line. They'll head into Sunday with standout veteran Mike Daniels, first-round pick Kenny Clark, hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end Datone Jones, fourth-round pick Dean Lowry and first-year player Christian Ringo.
“It's always a big loss to lose one of your starters, especially somebody who's as effective as Letroy,” Daniels said after the Packers held Minnesota to just 30 yards on 22 carries. “But the young guys, they're pulling their weight and they're doing a heck of a job. We just have to continue to push them to get better.”