Lions Look to Capitalize on Packers' Defense

With an on-the-fly rebuilding process, the Detroit Lions might be catching the Green Bay Packers at the right time. Complete in-depth game preview from Lions' insider Mike Fowler, including quotes from Lions' quarterback Joey Harrington and more inside.

ALLEN PARK - Rebuilding on the fly. 

It's a concept the Detroit Lions decided not to buy into when Matt Millen arrived in 2000 as the new president and general manager of the team. The Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, are starting down that road this season. The Packers drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers of California to be the heir apparent when Brett Favre eventually decides to hang up his cleats.

Detroit built a 13-0 halftime lead behind Kevin Jones' 24-yard TD run. But Brett Favre led the Packers comeback. Following two Ryan Longwell field goals, Favre hit Donald Driver for a 23-yard TD and grabbed the victory when Longwell booted a 23-yard field goal with :02 remaining.
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New general manager Ted Thompson began his work of purging the roster of malcontents and under achievers and this year's Packers team might suffer in the short term. Gone are starting linebacker Hannibal Navies and defensive tackle Cleditus Hunt. Linebacker Ray Thompson was also let go leaving the Packers struggling to field a representative defense. The moves were made to get unproductive players off the cap now, rather than let the threat of cap hits loom for future years. Adding to the Packers defensive woes, stalwart N'ail Diggs is hobbling after tearing his medial collateral ligament and may not be able to play in the season opener.

The Lions should be the beneficiaries of the Packers decisions on Sunday. Detroit has a unique opportunity to do something it hasn't been able to do before - move ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North and stay there for a while.

With Green Bay's front seven in disarray, Detroit should put this game squarely on the back of its Pro  Bowl alternate running back Kevin Jones. Jones, who rushed for 986 yards over the final nine game stretch of the 2004 NFL season, is ready, willing and able to be the focal point for Detroit in this contest.

Jones gets better the more carries he gets, and while fans may clamor for the Lions to (borrowing a phrase from former coach Wayne Fontes) send rockets shooting over the sidelines, Detroit has a better chance if they are able to establish Jones against the Packers depleted front.

Additionally, Detroit's offensive line, led by guard Damien Woody, is better in run blocking than they are in pass protection. Detroit's group was exposed when the St. Louis Rams ran blitz after blitz against Detroit's offensive front which is still getting to know two new starters in guard Rick DeMulling and tackle Kelly Butler. With time, Detroit's offensive line will communicate and continue to gel against opposing blitzes, but they know it isn't a strong suit right now.

Still, Lions' starting quarterback Joey Harrington, doesn't expect to see much blitzing from the Packers.

"From what we have seen, and we can only go from what we have seen in the preseason. Take a look at what Miami did last year. That is where their coordinator came from. Even back at Miami, they were pretty straight-forward with what they did. They will always have a few new things for us, but I guess you can only go off of what you see."

In the interim, Lions head coach Steve Mariucci would like to take advantage of the Packers depleted front seven.

"Nail Diggs hasn't played - and Grady (Jackson). They've had some in-and-outs and some guys not participating much in the preseason for various reasons. We study their scheme. If you need to study the personnel, you look back to last year's games with the Packers. You look at their scheme and you look at Miami from the last year. (Green Bay hired former Dolphins defensive coordinator Jim Bates as their new defensive coordinator) So we do a little bit of all of that."

An additional reason to emphasize the run is the loss of backup quarterback Jeff Garcia for much of the season. Garcia suffered a broken fibula and a severely sprained ankle that has kept the Lions from being able to definitively determine how long he will be out of action. That means rookie sixth round draft pick Dan Orlovsky becomes Harrington's immediate backup. That's scary, even as impressive as Orlovsky has looked because rookies typically don't fare well against NFL defenses.

Despite that, the Lions don't appear to be overly concerned about what an injury to Harrington at this point would do to their playoff chances.

"If there's a surprise in our draft class - in our rookie class - maybe it's Dan Orlovsky,"  Mariucci said. "He's been very good, improving every week. It doesn't seem too big and fast for him. He loves playing. He's a confident guy. So he wants it. He's not afraid of it. He welcomes the opportunity if it presents itself. We like him, he's doing a good job. So we take that all into a situation."

If Harrington were to be injured, Orlovsky would play and wide receiver Kevin Johnson would take over as the backup. Detroit expects to have Johnson in the emergency quarterback role on Sunday.

Harrington says he'll let it all hang out regardless of the injury situation: "I have never changed the way I prepare or changed the way I play. The only thing (the injury to Garcia) does affect is having him out here on the field and having him in meeting rooms. He was great; we worked well together. I can only wish that he gets back as soon as possible."

Harrington said Detroit's young receivers had better be ready right from the start.

"You have all seen Roy (Williams) play. Everybody in the state of Michigan has seen what Charles (Rogers) can do. I know Mike (Williams) is coming along very well actually - in the last two weeks especially. I am excited to get them into the season. Get Mike some game experience and let him see what it is all about."

The Packers continue to be a threat as long as quarterback Brett Favre is behind center. Favre will be making his 226th consecutive start, an NFL record and will have with him running back Ahman Green and wide receiver Javon Walker, giving the Packers the ability to score points in bunches.

The problem for Green Bay is a revamped offensive line after losing both starting guards to free agency. The Packers will have former Michigan State standout William Whittacker, a 7th round pick starting at one guard and Adrian Klemm at the other. The Packers were unable to move the ball much of the preseason and Favre was sacked several times.

Detroit's front seven, led by defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, should be able to get penetration against the inexperienced Packers front allowing end James Hall to pressure Favre. Expect Favre to rely on tight end Bubba Franks to get him out of jams. Detroit has never had much success corralling tight ends and will use speedy Boss Bailey to work against Franks in the middle of the Lions defense. Detroit will be without workhorse Teddy Lehman in the interior so speedy, but undersized Alex Lewis will get a lot of snaps in this one in passing situations.

When Green Bay runs the ball, look for them to do what every other team facing Detroit has done - run right at Detroit's ends. Teams have discovered that the Lions have a problem holding the point of attack against a power off-tackle running game and when running on their strong side they can get into Detroit secondary.

The Lions may use more of Jared DeVries, an unsung, toughy, gritty run stopper who at times can get to the passer. DeVries came on strong in training camp towards the end and appears primed to make a run at a starting position.

Another woe that plagued Detroit's defense in 2004 was the big play. Detroit had expected that the safety tandem of Terrence Holt and free agent signee Kenoy Kennedy would shut down the big passing play, but Kennedy is hobbled with a sore hamstring and may not be able to go in this one.

That could put aging veteran Bracy Walker into the game as the starter. Walker is a solid special teams player but didn't fare well in his playing time in the secondary this preseason. Detroit isn't giving up on Kennedy just yet. "Well, he's getting better," said Mariucci. "He ran yesterday and moved around a little bit today. He's not at full speed yet. We're just taking it easy with him."

Mariucci indicated he would know by the end of the week if Kennedy would start or even play at all. He was non-committal on whether Walker or perhaps veteran R.W. McQuarters would start at the strong safety opposite Holt.

A raucous home crowd, eager for a taste of success after four bad seasons, will greet the Lions on Sunday. While the Packers still have enough weapons in Favre, Walker, Green and Franks to be dangerous, Detroit ought to be able to shut down the run and turn the game into Favre vs. the World. If they can do that, ballhawking corners Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant will get a chance to make some plays.

Detroit ought to be able to control the ball for long stretches against the depleted Green Bay front seven and hit big plays behind play action looks. But if Green Bay can run the football, look out, they have the capability of an upset. The "X" factor in all of this is return man Eddie Drummond, the NFC's Pro Bowl kick returner who is ready to go after not appearing in the preseason.

Detroit 27 - Green Bay 17

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