Packers, Lions fighting for relevancy
In Week 17 of last season, the Green Bay Packers stormed into Ford Field to beat the Detroit Lions and capture the NFC North championship.
In Week 9 of this season, the Packers and Lions will be fighting for relevancy in their Monday night clash at Lambeau Field.
The Packers (4-3) looked like prime Super Bowl contenders until Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone during the first quarter at Minnesota on Oct. 15. The Packers lost that game and at home against New Orleans on Oct. 22 before last week's bye.
It was a busy week for coach Mike McCarthy and his staff, who needed to plot a new direction on offense without Rodgers and fix a defense that gave up almost 500 yards against the Saints. An extensive self-scout had the offensive coaches looking at the defense and vice-versa.
"This is all about improvement," McCarthy said when the team got back to work on Tuesday. "That's what today was designed for. We're better right now than we were at 7 o'clock this morning, I can say that just from the fact that we were able to take a good solid hour and talk specifics of football and apply it directly to each individual, each player that has played this year. So it's all about improvement and getting into the process and getting your plan exercised and getting ready to beat the Lions. That's really all our focus is right now, to beat the Lions."
The Lions (3-4) have dropped three in a row after a 2-0 start. They have issues, too. In last week's 20-15 home loss against Pittsburgh, Matthew Stafford threw for 423 yards but all the Lions could muster were five field goals by Matt Prater. Detroit went 0-for-5 in the red zone and ranks 28th in that category.
"Just not executing enough," Stafford said. "Whether it's me making a better throw or a guy making a catch or assignments in the run game, whatever it is we've just got to execute better."
Green Bay ranks 20th in points allowed and Detroit ranks 25th, but this is one case where the scoreboard might lie. Detroit's defense ranks fifth in rushing yards allowed per carry and seventh in rushing yards allowed per game. That might not have meant much against a Rodgers-led Packers offense. But the Packers' offense might be going through a different Aaron -- rookie running back Aaron Jones. Even while not touching the ball in the first three games, Jones leads the Packers and ranks fourth among all rookies with 346 rushing yards. He ranks second among all runners with 5.6 yards per carry.
"My coach (Ben Sirmans) just kept telling me, 'Stay with it, and it will come. You don't know when, you don't know where, but if you stay with it, good things are going to happen,'" Jones said. "And I did, and good things are happening now."
Jones won't have it easy against a Detroit defense that held Steelers star Le'Veon Bell to 76 yards on 25 carries with a long run of only 8 yards. Stopping the run plays into the hands of a big-play defense. Cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin have three interceptions apiece.
Detroit ranks third in the league with 16 takeaways and 10 interceptions. Rodgers' replacement, Brett Hundley, has four interceptions in his two games -- both of which ended with sub-40 passer ratings. Thus, Green Bay has scored 27 points the last two games after averaging 27 points in the first five games.
Caldwell, however, is taking nothing for granted -- though he no doubt is relieved to not be facing Rodgers, who has a career record of 13-3 against Detroit and threw a combined eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in last year's sweep.
"He's a great player, but you find that you look across the league and there's a number of teams that have guys starting for them that they're not the starter at quarterback position (but) still play extremely well," Caldwell said. "That's a good football team all the way around. They're good on defense. They're good kicking game. They have a really good unit. He's obviously a phenomenal player, but I still think Green Bay is Green Bay."