These are the five big things that you need to know about the Thursday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.
Following an emotional win and a fourth-quarter comeback over the New Orleans Saints, it’s a quick turnaround for the Packers, who now take on the 2-1 Detroit Lions. The winner will be the early leader in the NFC North.
Matt LaFleur used the word ‘resilient’ on a few occasions following the Packers’ most recent win to describe this team. Despite a poor fourth quarter against Atlanta, where Green Bay blew a 12-point lead and three-quarters of sloppy football on offense against New Orleans, this young Packers team was able to flip the switch and mount an impressive comeback.
The next challenge for them with a short week will be how quickly they can turn the page coming off a big win as they prepare for a well-rounded and hard-playing Lions team.
"“I would say it gives you momentary momentum,” said LaFleur after Sunday’s win, “but that all gets erased as soon as Thursday hits. Like I said, it’s Wednesday in our world and our guys are in the tubs right now doing some recovery. We’ll give them until tomorrow to try to get their bodies back and then it’s a grind from here on out until Thursday. That’s the way Thursday Night Football rolls.”"
The Lions have won the last three matchups with the Packers. Here are five key things to watch for, along with some final thoughts on the matchup.
The Packers need to get the running backs involved in the passing game
Running backs in the passing game have given the Lions’ defense fits through the first three games. In total, running backs have been targeted 20 times, catching 15 of those passes at nearly 8.0 yards per catch. By DVOA, the Lions rank 28th in defending running backs in the passing game, which is all the more reason the Packers need Aaron Jones back, who is listed as questionable.
If Jones can play, the Green Bay Packers will have one of the better pass-catching options at the running back position available to them. Jones can impact the game in that capacity from the backfield, slot, or out wide, and as we saw in Chicago, he brings big play ability and can create mismatches as well as opportunities for others.
AJ Dillon has caught three passes this season at 8.3 yards per catch, while Patrick Taylor – who has to be signed to the 53-man roster if he is going to be available – had a pair of fourth-quarter receptions against New Orleans. Emanuel Wilson has one catch for six yards.
Given Detroit’s struggles with defending running backs in the passing game, trying to exploit this part of their defense should be a key part of the Packers’ game plan. These are also typically quicker routes, which will help get the ball out of Jordan Love’s hands a bit quicker to avoid Aidan Hutchinson – more on him in a minute – while still having the opportunity to generate an explosive play.
Packers have to find success in the run game
This is not going to be an easy task for the Green Bay Packers, given their struggles in moving the ball on the ground this season and the fact that the Lions have been one of the best defenses against the run. Through three games, Detroit is allowing just 3.2 yards per carry, which includes bottling up Bijan Robinson and the Atlanta Falcons run game last Sunday, holding Robinson to only 33 yards on 10 carries.
Without Aaron Jones, the Green Bay run game has struggled mightily, although even in Week 1, when he was available, it wasn’t terribly effective. The 3.4 yards per carry the Packers are averaging as a team ranks 26th currently. In Jones’ absence, AJ Dillon has shown a lack of burst and hasn’t had great vision or balance at times. With that said, it’s not as if the offensive line has provided him with huge running lanes, either.
If the Green Bay Packers can’t get going on the ground, it’s going to put them behind the sticks and in predictable passing situations. We saw in the fourth quarter against Atlanta how much more difficult moving the ball through the air can be when not having early down success. This allows the defense to do the dictating by getting into favorable matchups, and against the Lions specifically, it will allow Aidan Hutchinson, against a Packers team without David Bakhtiari and potentially without Zach Tom, to pin his ears back and get after Jordan Love.