Green Bay Packers-Detroit Lions Week 3 game preview
Four Downs is back with the Packers’ first of three straight NFC North games, this one in Detroit against the new-old Lions.
1. The geniuses at Football Outsiders were writing about Week 2’s results, giving each game its own value, and how a team’s performance was better or worse than a league-average baseline, represented in a percentage, called DVOA. (Read more about that here.) Jacksonville’s 41-10 loss in Washington registered a negative 117.9 percent. (Note: That’s really bad.)
We’re writing this because, as an example in demonstrating the Jaguars’ awful, really bad day, there was only one game worse than Jacksonville’s in the entire 2013 regular season: Green Bay’s 40-10 Thanksgiving pounding in Detroit, the last time the Packers faced the Lions. It got a well-deserved DVOA of negative 140.5% percent. Even if this is your first time reading about DVOA statistics, this should scream very, very awful. Which, if you recall, was exactly what that Thanksgiving Day game was.
A loss like that this Sunday could be, somehow, even worse. For two reasons in particular: 1) Aaron Rodgers will probably be playing quarterback this time and 2) a loss on Sunday would simply be a loss on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, and therefore could not be saved by the rest of what is the greatest American holiday we have.
2. It could theoretically be that bad, one supposes. It could, of course, be a whole lot better, too. The thing with these games is that it’s incredibly difficult to judge or guess any game involving the Detroit Lions, because they are only normal in how normally weird and different they are all the time, like the whole roster could be swayed by a pregame Hot Take or gameday traffic coming into the stadium. This offseason, different was the plan. Firing agro-bro Jim Schwartz and hiring the Subway six-inch plain turkey sub lunch of coaches personality-wise (Jim Caldwell) was meant to force change, different results.
In doing so there was some recognition that this team routinely hurt itself, took itself out of contention with mistakes and penalties and various levels of control lost. In doing so it appeared they wanted more discipline, more control to all the power they possess. They changed the guys who try to teach that power, not the forces themselves. For as unwieldy as Matthew Stafford or the defensive line have been, there’s just too much natural potential to give up on. Therefore, maybe a new leader-guy, one with less of a “personality,” to gloss over Schwartz’s whatever that was, would be the change they needed to move forward, and up.
After a very short and non-conclusive two weeks of 2014, who in the world can say that the Lions have changed? Beating the highly dysfunctional New York Giants at home is fine but not all that telling. Losing to the Panthers in Carolina, getting stuffed into a garbage can by that defense for four quarters, isn’t exactly an embarrassing defeat. But, either of these events could have been foreseen in previous Detroit teams, right? What makes them hard to figure out is that, on paper and in fantasy points, there’s all this reason to believe the Lions will convert power and skill into a positive, winning force. But then we continue seeing the same things – Stafford forcing passes to Calvin Johnson, breakdowns, mistakes, and turnovers – the same disjointed results. There is just no way to guess which Lions team we’ll see.
3. There’s no real reason to say anything all that differently about the Packers, either, at this early point in the year. This doesn’t mean negative things, necessarily, only that it’s hard to know what we’ll see from week to week right now. (Aside from Jordy Nelson getting targets because obviously.) Many advanced numbers project them being among the league’s best this season, especially offensively, and a major comeback win is a good thing to bask in for a week.
Detroit has had big days and bad ones against Green Bay’s defense before. We could see the former happening before the latter simply based on overall play thus far. We say that knowing there were positive notes to take away from last week. The Packers defense did appear to click a little in the second half of that Jets game, its secondary making plays on passes and pressure affecting Geno Smith enough when it absolutely counted to force incompletions. Their rush defense stifled New York’s running game most of the day.
The Lions though, for whatever they are or are not on a given week, are better-stocked with receivers and tight ends, with a quarterback more capable of catching fire, than the Jets at this point. Seattle’s receiving corps is made up of good players that fit their scheme, but Detroit has the best assemblage of players who are really good at catching and running of the three teams. Green Bay doesn’t feel like it’s there yet defensively to shut down a Lions offense if it’s working at its best and scariest. Few teams could. That is a major variable, though: Green Bay could force or take advantage of Lions mistakes, or Detroit could go crazy. This is all a mystery.
4. We like the Packers to figure it out someway and somehow. We’re tying ourselves to history, knowing full well there’s enough change to both teams that recent results really shouldn’t matter, and omitting the history of the most recent Thanksgiving Day kind while sticking to the results that suggest Green Bay has almost always, since the dawn of the Rodgers/Mike McCarthy era, figured out some way – via some huge turnover or play in the passing game, sometimes just one more than Megatron and Stafford make – to win and move along. Sometimes it’s been a rout, other times close and ugly. Green Bay hasn’t always had to play its best against the Lions to win, that’s what we’re saying. Their best, on the other hand, has never not been enough.
But in the present we have two teams still working themselves into their 2014 identities. And out of two respective Week 3 works-in-progress thrust into a potentially-major early division meeting, the Packers just have to be a little better for a day in Detroit. That doesn’t read like a lot. And, while we really have no idea what to expect on Sunday, we do know this: It won’t be Thanksgiving Day again until November.