Gameday Preview: Packers at Lions

In their first road game of the season, the Packers need their young offensive line to perform better in the new zone-blocking scheme, and provide time to quarterback Brett Favre with a hungry Lions' defensive line awaiting them. Complete pre-game analysis inside.

Green Bay Packers (0-2) at Detroit Lions (0-2)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 09/24/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Terry Donahue
SERIES: 154th meeting. The Packers lead the series, which originated in 1930 when the Lions were based in Portsmouth, Ohio, 82-64-7. There have been two postseason encounters between the division rivals, both won by the Packers in the NFC wild-card round in 1993 and '94. Green Bay has won nine of the last 11 meetings, dating to 2000, but Detroit has prevailed at home two of the last three years.
2006 rankings: Packers: offense 15th (24th rush, 8th pass); defense 27th (11th rush, 30th pass). Lions: offense 26th (31st rush, 16th pass); defense 21st (15th rush, 24th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: In their first road game of the season, the Packers need their young offensive line to perform better in the new zone-blocking scheme. A breakdown last Sunday led to a key fumble by RB Ahman Green, and the Lions have a talented defensive line capable of capitalizing on missed assignments on the cut-back lanes. Green has averaged just 65 yards in three games at Ford Field, but the Packers need a strong performance on the ground because QB Brett Favre historically struggles against the Cover-2 defense the Lions employ. Detroit's own offense has sputtered out of the gate, but QB Jon Kitna should have more opportunity to exploit Green Bay's porous secondary. He has protected the ball well, but hasn't created many plays downfield. RB Kevin Jones has been effective, albeit not spectacular, as a duel threat in Mike Martz's new offense.

FACT FACTS: Packers: Favre needs one TD pass to join Dan Marino (420) as the only players with 400 for a career. ... Coach Mike McCarthy seeks to avoid become franchise's third coach out of 14 to lose his first three games. Lions: Kitna has no INTs in 67 pass attempts this season. ... Jones has averaged 102.0 rushing yards in three career games against Green Bay.

PREDICTION: Lions 24-21

The Packers' struggles in dome games with Brett Favre at quarterback are legendary. They're 18-25 in those indoor incursions.

  • LG Jason Spitz (thigh bruise) was sidelined again Thursday and likely won't play for the second straight game. He's still on the injury report as questionable.
  • RB Ahman Green, although questionable (hamstring), will get the start on Sunday. Green missed Friday's practice.
  • Rookie LG Daryn Colledge worked with the first team and stands to be the starter Sunday against Detroit. He made his first NFL start last Sunday and was adequate.
  • CB Al Harris practiced for the second straight day, although he's questionable for Sunday's game because of a sore shoulder. Harris said he will be ready to make the start.
  • TE David Martin returned to practice after missing a day to rest a sore knee. He expects to play Sunday but is questionable.
  • WR Koren Robinson has taken more reps with the offense this week than he did last week after he signed a two-year deal and should get his first action at receiver in 2006 on Sunday.
  • RB Vernand Morency is up to speed with the offensive playbook and figures to have a role as a third-down back Sunday. The Packers acquired Morency in a trade with Houston last week for RB Samkon Gado.
  • Yet, as Green Bay enters the controlled climes of Detroit's Ford Field on Sunday, there's a better barometer of how the matchup between 0-2 teams might pan out.

    If Favre is put in a position in which he has to make at least 40 passes, the Packers likely will remain winless.

    "When we have to throw 40 or more times, whether it's here or in domes, you'll probably lose, at least in this offense," Favre said this week.

    The unsavory results substantiate the claim. In the midst of Favre's 243-game starting streak dating to 1992, the Packers have had 60 outings in which he's had 40-plus pass attempts. They've won only 18 of those.

    The correlation between excessive throws and losing has been more defined in recent years. The Packers have lost 18 of 24 such games since 2000, and they're riding a nine-game losing streak when Favre reaches the forbidden 40.

    The last time the Packers managed to win a game in spite of a high pitch count by their quarterback was Nov. 21, 2004, at Houston -- Favre had 50 throws. That's one of only two instances out of 10 the Packers have won when Favre flung the football at least 50 times.

    He's coming off a 55-pass performance in the 34-27 loss to New Orleans last Sunday. It was all Favre for most of the afternoon because the run game stagnated.

    "We call runs, we have to execute the runs better than we did last week," right tackle Mark Tauscher said. "Obviously, with what we're trying to get done, running the football is our number one priority."

    More often than not, though, the Packers wind up leaning on Favre when they play under the roof at Detroit, where they're 6-9 since 1992. Eight of the games resulted in Favre's having at least 40 passes; Green Bay won just once.

    "We have to run the football well enough so that you're not dropping back and (the defenders) can pin their ears back and just come at you," Favre said. "In those cases, that's what's happened. We've either fallen behind or put ourselves in situations offensively (with) third-and-long, second-and-long, where they can rush the passer and then you're getting sacked or hit, the ball's coming out, you're throwing interceptions and you're making a bad situation worse.

    "That's probably more than anything why we haven't had success. So, run the football better so you're not passing the ball every snap."



    The Detroit Lions have two facets of their offense that they're trying to correct. But if they're able to fix at least one of the two, the other is likely to follow.

    The team's running game has been unable to get unhinged thus far into the season, averaging just 42 yards per game. Coupled with an offensive scheme that has been hampered by penalties and injuries to the offensive line, and the Lions have managed just 13 points.

    But excuses aside, a few corrections might be able to -- for lack of a better phrase -- get the ball moving.

  • CB Fernando Bryant, who shared playing time with Jamar Fletcher at LCB in the Lions' game Sunday at Chicago, did not practice Thursday. Coach Rod Marinelli said Bryant did not practice for personal reasons and did not elaborate but it appears he might be splitting the playing time again in the upcoming game against Green Bay.
  • TE Casey Fitzsimmons will return to the line-up after missing the first two weeks with an injured wrist.
  • SS Daniel Bullocks will get his first start in place of the injured Kenoy Kennedy; the Lions expect Brett Favre to attack Bullocks early and often.
  • MLB Boss Bailey will start at middle linebacker for the first time in his career. Bailey has always played on the outside, and has sufficiently recovered from off-season injuries to get the nod.
  • RT Jonathan Scott will get his first NFL start in place of injured tackle Rex Tucker. Tucker is expected to return next week.
  • LG Ross Verba is listed as questionable for the Lions game Sunday at Green Bay but he participated in most of the practice Thursday and it appears he will get his first start of the season. Verba missed the first two games with a hamstring injury and the Lions are hoping his return will help the running game.
  • RB Kevin Jones has lost three fumbles in the Lions' first two games, one of several problems besetting the team's running game. Jones lost only one fumble in his entire first two seasons in the NFL but this year is averaging only 3.0 yards per rushing attempt and has 79 yards on 26 carries.
  • QB Jon Kitna ranks third among NFL starting quarterbacks with a 65.7 percentage of completion in the Lions' first two games. Kitna is one of seven NFL starters who has not thrown an interception but he is also one of a handful of starters who has not yet thrown a touchdown pass.
  • "You see it -- a block here, a helmet on the wrong side, things are kind of set up a little bit and we're doing just the littlest things (wrong) right now," said Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli of the team's anemic running attack.

    And Marinelli knows what the Lions have to do about it.

    "We've just got to stick with it," he said. "We got behind (against Chicago) and weren't able to stay with it. We had a couple breakout runs early in the game and then we just -- in terms of attempts -- we didn't get as many attempts after we got behind 24-0, we ended up throwing the ball."

    Running back Kevin Jones has caught the brunt of the criticism, carrying the ball 26 times for just 79 yards and losing three fumbles. One of Jones' best career days, though, was a 156-yard rushing performance at Green Bay in 2004.  It was also one of the last times he reached the century mark (Jones did not reach a 100-yard plus single game last year).

    On Sunday, Jones will welcome the return of left guard Ross Verba to the line-up, which could help provide more running room for the third-year back.

    An established ground game in Detroit could kick-start the passing game that has also been unable to breakout. But regardless, if the Lions hope to put points on the board, one of the two has to come through.

    During practice this week, Lions' offensive coordinator Mike Martz expressed optimism about the passing game. According to Martz, quarterback Jon Kitna approached him on Tuesday, telling the coaching staff that he finally felt completely comfortable with the team's intricate playbook.

    In addition to what he considers an improving receiver core, Martz seemed confident that Detroit's offense would turn it around eventually and start to realize its elusive potential.

    "We'll improve every week," said Martz. "I'm excited about where these guys are headed. They're starting to really understand why we do things and what we're trying to accomplish. In the opener, we were pretty clueless sitting there, but I think the light is starting to go on for everybody.

    "That part is really fun to watch in practice."


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