Receiver-less Packers can be had

The Detroit Lions haven't won a game at Lambeau Field in their last twelve appearances, and haven't notched a road win in over two seasons. This is the time to buck that trend. Lions' insider Mike Fowler provides an in-depth preview of Sunday's matchup.

(ALLEN PARK) - The Detroit Lions haven't won a game at Lambeau Field in their last thirteen appearances. This is the time to stop that trend.

This is one of the worst Green Bay Packer teams in recent memory. In fact, you'd have to go back to 1999 season under Ray Rhodes when the Packers finished 8-8, one of the few times in the last 20 years when the Packers failed to post a record higher than .500.

But the Packers have suffered some tremendous personnel losses and it is beginning to show in their player. Particularly on defense where the team loss defensive end Vonnie Holliday to Kansas City as an unrestricted free agent. Restricted free agent Na'il Diggs signed an offer sheet with the Lions that the Packers matched. Nate Wayne was released by Green Bay and then promptly signed a four-year deal with Philadelphia. Detroit was interested in Wayne. Also departing were corners Tod McBride and Tyrone Williams. Green Bay also saw productive linebacker Hardy Nickerson retire.

Still, the thinking has been as long as Hall-of-Fame in waiting quarterback Brett Favre was around, this team could overcome any deficiencies they had, just by rallying around the former Southern Mississippi star.

That thinking is going to be tested this year.

One of the reasons that is going to happen is the inevitable aging process. When a player plays as well as Favre has, despite injuries and lack of supporting personnel, there exists a tendency to think he'll always play that way. But eventually it is over for everyone. Just as Troy Aikman, Dan Marino and many other Hall-of-Famer's saw things go down hill quickly, the same will be true for Favre. This isn't to say that he can't play anymore, it's just to say, he's definitely on his last legs.

Favre suffered through a tough day, going 25-of-41 for 248 yards with four interceptions in last Sunday's 25-20 loss to Minnesota (passer rating 46.6).

"Obviously, I'm not pleased with the way I played, nor the team – at least in the first half. I'm speaking for our football team. The only way you can get that feeling out of you is to come back and play better the next week. We are very capable of playing at a high level. We didn't last week for whatever reason and it needs to start this week."

Another reason is the lack of a supporting cast. Right now, Green Bay has zero in the wide receiver department. Robert Ferguson has been put on injured reserve after suffering damage to his MCL and his ankle. Donald Driver suffered a concussion. Karsten Bailey, the number four receiver was waived to make room for Arena League player Chris Jackson.

But the Packers are hanging their hat on a player with diminishing skills, Antonio Freeman, hoping that he and Favre can resurrect the old magic they had in their Super Bowl years before "Free" was cut loose in a salary cap move.

"Of course as you get older you lose things - you lose hair, you lose speed, you lose a lot of things," said Freeman. "But you just compensate with my knowledge of the game and my ability to do what I do. ... I definitely have my own repertoire of what I can do effectively."

"You do the best you can obviously with what you have," said Green Bay Head Coach Mike Sherman. "Antonio has a lot of familiarity with our offense. I don't know if there is a receiving duo that has connected more times in the league right now than Antonio and our quarterback. There's a certain comfort level because he knows the offense. In the last year we've done a couple things differently and he's got to get up to speed on that. There's a comfort level because of what he knows and with our quarterback knowing him."

Green Bay's strategy to avoid losing their first two home games will be to try to establish their passing game in hopes of running the ball against Detroit's tough front four later in the game.

Why would Green Bay attempt to establish the pass early instead of the run? Because of two factors, Jeff Blake's 363-yard performance against the Lions last Sunday with a cast of receivers similar to Green Bay's current set and because of the presences of dominating defensive tackles Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson and Shaun Rogers.

Detroit will need to get immediate contributions from new corners Otis Smith (New England), Alex Molden (Washington) and Rod Babers (New York Giants) in order to combat the arm and knowledge of Favre. Detroit will continue to start Dre' Bly and Andre Goodman but will likely need to call on at least two of these newcomers in obvious passing downs.

Detroit's linebackers will also be tested in the passing game. The tight end position has always been one of Brett Favre's favorite weapons against the Lions and he has two good ones in Wesley Walls and Bubba Franks. Walls has yet to catch a pass and Franks has three catches for 18 yards, but look for Green Bay to go to this weapon to offset their lack of wide receiving threats.

Javon Walker will move up to become Favre's top receiver, with Freeman his secondary target. There is still a possibility that Robert Ferguson, who suffered damage to his MCL and his ankle could play, but it's extremely doubtful. Ferguson is listed as questionable, Favre's top receiver Donald Driver is out with a concussion.

Detroit will try to continue the offensive success it had against the Arizona Cardinals.

Joey Harrington (116.0 passer rating, tops in the NFL) was named NFC Offensive player of the week with his four touchdown, zero interception performance in Detroit's 42-24 win over the Cardinals.

Look for Olandis Gary to move into more of a featured back role. With James Stewart lost for the season and only rookie Avon Cobourne and Shawn Bryson in reserve, Gary is Detroit's best bet to establish a running game against Green Bay's defense.

"You know we lost James Stewart for the season, he's going to have surgery here soon, and Artose Pinner was placed on PUP for six weeks, so those are a couple guys we were counting on," said Lions coach Steve Mariucci. "Now we have Avon Cobourne, and unrestricted free agent rookie, Shawn Bryson from Buffalo, who had knee surgery and was very limited in training camp, and of course, Gary, we got from Denver. And he's got a little familiarity with this system. He played for Mike Shanahan. So we kind of shared the load last week with those three guys and we intend to do the same."

While Detroit took a mini-run at acquiring Freeman's services, they have a future star in Charles Rogers, who arrived on the scene last Sunday with two touchdown catches.

"I've said this all preseason: Charles is not going to be the single person that saves this franchise," said Lions' quarterback Joey Harrington.

"I think people were trying to draw that up too much when he came in and trying to over-hype the connection between Charles and I. Am I thrilled to have him on my team? Absolutely. I think he's an incredible player. But what Charles is going to do this year is not only catch a lot of balls, he's going to draw coverage. People have to honor Charles. No. 1 his speed, No. 2 he makes plays. So even when he's not catching the ball he's going to draw coverage and open things up for everyone else."

The "x" factor in Sunday's game is Bill Schroeder who was virtually run out of Green Bay by Favre and Sherman for his role in a multi interception game for Favre. Schroeder was accused of displaying "alligator arms" on some throws across the middle. Sherman acknowledged he was less that pleased with Schroeder and at the end of the season, he was released.

Since that time, Schroeder has been sort of a marked man in Green Bay and suffered several 'ailments' prior to games in Green Bay last season. If Schroeder can step up and answer the cat call and the insults of the Packer faithful, it could provide a lift in a hostile environment for the Lions.

Harrington for his part, doesn't attach any special significance to playing in Green Bay or Lambeau Field. "The frozen tundra – There's something about it but it doesn't matter if you don't play well out there. For the last few years that team has been playing pretty well so it's going to be a tough game to go up there no matter what the mystique is."

Still Harrington isn't conceding anything.

"Anytime you go into somebody else's stadium it's that much more important that you play mistake-free football because there are so many things going against you. You got the crowd, you got the travel, sleeping in a different bed the night before and all the little tiny details that get you out of your comfort zone. You need to go out there and play – definitely turnover-free, but mistake-free football."

Analysis: Detroit is catching Green Bay at a good time. Green Bay's receiving corps is decimated and its defense is on it's heels. Yes, they still have Favre, Franks and Green as weapons for the offense, but Detroit has the ability to stop the run and its linebacking corps did a good job against a top tight end last week in Freddie Jones.

Meanwhile, Detroit will need mistake free football from quarterback Joey Harrington on the road. Harrington will still need to stay agressive to make plays, but avoid the costly turnovers. "You just have to be careful with the football, that's the difference. You have to stay aggressive. You have to go after it because if you sit back and play careful football you're going to get run over especially at somebody else's place. You can't play careful, you have to play aggressive but you have to play smart."

Favre and Co. will score points, but the feeling is Detroit will play enough defense and cause enough turnovers to throttle the Green Bay offense. The losing streak is over.

PICK: Detroit 30-Green Bay 27

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