Big? Sure. Must? Not yet. The Packers come off the bye and venture into the NFC North by welcoming the Detroit Lions to Lambeau Field on Sunday. Yes it's a big game, do the standings math. The Packers are 1-2 while Detroit is 3-1 with two of those victories already coming from within the division, 40-32 over the Chicago Bears at Ford Field last Sunday. This pride of Lions will arrive confident and very intent on bringing to an end a more than two decade run of futility on Wisconsin soil. They lost won a game in state in December of 1991.
Before we dive into the matchups, the medical news. James Starks, Casey Hayward and Greg Van Roten have been ruled out as of Friday's final injury report. Everyone else on the list, including the hamstring boys, are probable. Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, John Kuhn and Jarrett Bush all dealt with hamstring pulls. Jermichael Finley and Eddie Lacy have recovered from concussions and Johnathan Franklin is good to go with a foot injury.
As the Packers wrapped up the practice week, Head Coach Mike McCarthy finally gave us some idea how the return game will be handled in the wake of Jeremy Ross' release after the Cincinnati game. McCarthy said Randall Cobb, Micah Hyde and Franklin will all get opportunities bases on the situation. When the Packers are fielding a punt deep in their own end, expect Cobb for instance.
How do the boys in the locker room feel about this one? I'll give you a quick tour with quotes from several players who will play a big role in the outcome.
Here's how I see this game unfolding. Detroit's offense is explosive with the Megatron bomb on the outside in Calvin Johnson and now they dynamite in the backfield with Reggie Bush. Bush creates several matchup problems when he gets in space in the passing game. Joique Bell is still the banger at running back. The offensive line still has nasty Dominic Raiola at center but several new pieces elsewhere. They've held up well with Matthew Stafford getting sacked only three times in four games. The Packers need to apply some pressure because if Stafford has time to rear back and fire a normal delivery, he's especially dangerous. When he's forced to move, he often delivers the ball at unorthodox if not downright bad positions and is prone to mistakes. Stafford to me is a big numbers passer, but far from a polished NFL quarterback. The tight ends, Brandon Pettigrew most notably, are a security blanket and Stafford will find them if Johnson draws double teams. The Packers in the past have matched up Tramon Williams mano v mano on Calvin, with some success. I expect more conventional bracket coverages Sunday because of the presence of Bush.
Detroit's defense starts with the big boys inside at tackle, Ndamokong Suh and Nick Fairley. Suh is at his dominating best, without too much of the cheap stuff since his blindside block of John Sulllivan of the Vikings on opening day. Fairley is finally healthy and coach Jim Schwartz said it's the best they've played as a tandem by far. Their best pass rush comes inside and they much up the run. The linebacking corps is solid with Stephen Tulloch inside and former Badger DeAndre Levy outside. The secondary is finally figuring out how to take the ball away. Louis Delmas had a pair of picks of Jay Cutler last week. But Glover Quinn and Chris Houston missed a lot of practice time this week and that could expose the Detroit depth. It really hasn't mattered much over the years. If Aaron Rodgers is protected, the Green Bay passing game has overwhelmed this unit time and again. The Packers job begins and ends with neutralizing those big boys at defensive tackle.
The Packers rarely lose two in a row under McCarthy and Rodgers almost never has bad games back to back. Green Bay will have to bring the whip and a chair to tame these confident Lions but in the end, I think it will be another empty trip across Lake Michigan. I'll take the Packers 34-31 in a hard fought, satisfying victory.