Preview: Lions Face Watershed Game At Home

Everyone knew that this would be a pivotal year in the development of the Detroit Lions franchise. Now comes a pivotal game, writes Lions' insider Mike Fowler, who provides an in-depth preview between NFC North opposites Green Bay (1-4) and the Detroit Lions (3-1).

WHAT: DETROIT LIONS (3-1) vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-4)
WHEN: SUNDAY OCTOBER 16, 1:00 PM EST
WHERE: FORD FIELD, DETROIT MI
LAST MEETING: DETROIT WON ON THANKSGIVING DAY 22-14
ALL TIME: PACKERS LEAD 74-61-6

INJURY REPORT:
DETROIT - LB Boss Bailey (knee) is out. CB André Goodman (hamstring) and FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring) are doubtful. CB Dré Bly (knee), RB Kevin Jones (ankle) and WR Roy Williams (ankle) are questionable. LB Earl Holmes (achilles) is probable. GREEN BAY - DT Grady Jackson (knee) and DT Lee James (knee) are out. LB Na'il Diggs (neck), WR Robert Ferguson (knee), RB Ahman Green (Achilles), CB Michael Hawthorne (concussion), LB Hannibal Navies (shoulder) and WR Javon Walker (hand) are probable.

(ALLEN PARK) -- Everyone knew that this would be a pivotal year in the development of the Detroit Lions franchise.  After 2-14, 3-13 and 5-11 seasons, it was time for the Lions to move toward respectability.

Detroit gained a large measure of that with their second road win of the season against a good Atlanta Falcons team.  Detroit is tied atop the NFC North with a 3-1 record.  Conversely, perennial Super Bowl contender Green Bay has struggled to get out of the starting gate.   The Packers lost a shootout at the RCA dome to the Indianapolis Colts, then were embarrased by the Tennessee Titans 48-27 last week on the same forum.

The catcalls began, calling for the retirement of one of the NFL's great quarterbacks, Brett Favre and the firing of head coach Mike Sherman.  Sherman, for his part says his team "is not done" at 1-4 and he expects them to turn it around.

Detroit cannot allow that to happen.  Green Bay historically has handed Detroit more painful loss than any other franchise.  It's time for the Lions to return the favor by putting an end to Green Bay's playoff hopes and perhaps hastening their rebuilding efforts.

WHEN GREEN BAY HAS THE BALL
Green Bay wants to jump start its running game, and hasn't gotten the results it has hoped for from Ahman Green (3rd in the NFC) who had a spectacular year in 2003.  Green has fumbled (four fumbles, three lost) in critical times giving opponents the football on a short field and causing the Packers brass to lose a bit of confidence in his ability to move the chains.

Playing from behind has caused the Packers to become one-dimensional allowing pass rushers to tee off, resulting in turnovers (six interceptions) and even worse for an aging Favre, excessive hits, hurries and sacks.  Favre suffered a concussion two weeks ago and has even hinted at retirement.

Still, Green Bay has an outstanding offensive line even without center Mike Flanagan.  Detroit must continue to effectively stop the run the way they did a week ago and force Green Bay to operate from third-and-long situations.  The Lions are plus-9 in takeaway/giveaway ratio, 3rd in the NFL.

Look for Favre to look to tight end Bubba Franks in this one.  The Lions have historically had trouble with the Green Bay tight ends. 

Detroit will have the advantage of a healthy Dre' Bly to go against Javon Walker (rank No. 1 in NFC, receiving yardage) who leads the Packers in receptions. 

The Packers could be without starter Robert Ferguson who injured his ankle in practice.  That would mean Donald Driver (8th in the NFC, receiving yardage) would move into the position opposite Walker.

"This is a very important game," said Lions head coach Steve Mariucci, "especially against a rival like the Packers. We had a heck of a battle with them on Thanksgiving Day last year."

" I know they probably feel like they've got something to prove and their back is against the wall. I know we'll get their very best effort. We are building this thing up to a point where we are making some improvements. We have a long way to go, but I think everybody is headed in the right direction. This is another important step."

WHEN DETROIT HAS THE BALL
The Lions got some great news in this week's injury report.  Rookie running back Kevin Jones practice Thursday to the surprise of Mariucci.

"All of a sudden yesterday he was out there practicing like crazy.  It was a miraculous recovery is what it looked like, " laughed Mariucci.  "I'm hoping he's not too sore today in practices."

The presence of Jones would change things for Detroit and re-open the playbook for Jones' speed and elusiveness. 

Roy Williams also could play in this one despite suffering a sprained ankle in last week's win over Atlanta.  "We're not just resting him, we're rehabbing him three, four or five times a day just trying to get him so he can move around tomorrow straight ahead and then the next day some more."

When asked if Williams will go on Sunday, Mariucci replied "it may be a game-time decision. It may be if he practices Saturday or Friday or something that we feel good enough to know that he is going to play. Conversely, if he comes out on Thursday or Friday and he says 'No, this is not right,' then we'll know. We'll just take it one day at a time."

The Lions know the presence of Williams forces Green Bay to roll coverage to his side, leaving Az-Zahir Hakim (9 receptions, 2 TDs), Tai Streets (10 receptions, 63 yards, 0 TDs) and Stephen Alexander (9 receptions, 58 yards) able to exploit one-on-one coverage.  

With disgruntled lead corner Mike McKenzie traded to New Orleans, the Packers have had to turn to rookie No. 1 draft pick Ahmad Carroll and backup Michael Hawthorne, both have struggled mightily opposite steady Al Harris.  Look for quarterback Joey Harrington (rank No. 3 in NFC 92.3 passer rating) to throw more as the Lions tilt their balance of run and pass, more to the pass to exploit the loss of McKenzie.

If Detroit should get the run game (ranks 29th in the NFL) going with Artose Pinner and Jones against Green Bay's tepid run defense (15th in the NFC), that bodes well for the Lions. 

INTANGIBLES
Detroit's 12th-man, their great fans become so loud during pressure situations that it is difficult for opposing teams to even think, let alone communicate under the thunderous noise of the snake pit that is Ford Field.

This week, Lions corner Bly encouraged the crowd to be even louder.  "I know this town is fired up. I encourage the fans to get there early and stay behind us, be that 12th man. We're going to need them."

Bly's egging the crowd on will likely result in the crowd being at a fever pitch from the starting kickoff.

KEY MATCHUPS
JAMES DAVIS VS. BUBBA FRANKS
Favre likely will look to Franks until Detroit proves they can cover a tight end.  Over his career as the Packers signal caller, Favre has used the tight end to great advantage against Detroit.  Can Davis run with Franks, if not, look for Detroit to use speedy Alex Lewis to shadow the sure handed former University of Miami tight end.

DRE' BLY VS. JAVON WALKER
Walker has emerged as Favre's top threat with 31 catches so far this season.  Bly is one of the best corners in the NFL when he's healthy. Bly says he's ready to go.  Look for Green Bay to moe Walker around in the formation to try to avoid Bly and go against Fernando Bryant in key situations, but Bryant has been the Lions steadiest corner to date.

GREEN BAY'S OFFENSIVE LINE VS. DETROIT DEFENSIVE LINE.
With center Mike Flanagan out for the season, Green Bay's offensive line has been weakened somewhat but still is a steady unit.  Detroit's front four led by the NFC's defensive player of the week James Hall has throttled opponents all season. 

Shaun Rogers is emerging as a Pro Bowl type player and tackle Dan Wilkinson has been been nearly as good.  Cory Redding is an emerging talent and Kalimba Edwards appears to have regained the burst that allows him to get to the passer off the edge.

PICK
The Lions are a good team that plays even better at home.  The Packers are a mediocre football team and their quarterback historically doesn't play well in domed stadiums.  Still, look for Green Bay to give Detroit their best shot.  It isn't enough.

LIONS 28 - PACKERS 20


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