(ALLEN PARK, MI) -- Does it get any tougher than this?
Not only do the Detroit Lions have a staggering twenty seven players listed on their injury report this week, but they are facing the task of going to Lambeau Field to take on the hottest team in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers with Hall-of-Famer in waiting Brett Favre -- healthier than he's been in weeks.
But don't tell that to Lions rookie quarterback Joey Harrington. Harrington, who will be featured on this week's edition of Sports Illustrated magazine as one of the "Young Guns of the NFL", was excited by the prospect of facing Favre on the legendary "Frozen Tundra."
"I'm excited. I'm stoked," Harrington said. "That's going to be fun. That's a place you watch growing up: the Green Bay Packers when it's 30 degrees out and everybody's freezing - except for me. I'm thrilled."
Youthful enthusiasm aside, Harrington and the Lions couldn't be going to a worst place to try to build a winning streak. Detroit has lost four of their last five meetings with Green Bay and four straight. The Lions haven't beaten Green Bay since 2000 and you have to go 12-years back to find out the last time they won at Lambeau.
The Lions are fighting a slumping offense that was only able to squeeze out three field goals in their 9-7, ugly win over the Dallas Cowboys. Harrington says the offensive woes have him concerned. "I wish I could put my finger on it. We just haven't executed. I know that sounds generic and boring and really overused but that's simply all that it is. It's not coming out cold in the second half - we just haven't been getting the job done."
While not an excuse, clearly injuries have something to do with it. The Lions have yet to field a healthy receiving corps this season and it isn't going to happen on Sunday. Az-Zahir Hakim, Detroit's #1 option, is still suffering from the effects of turf toe. Hakim says the toe injury limits his ability to cut and thus his explosiveness is diminished. Dropping the ball has also been a problem for Hakim, who lost two drops against Dallas. Bill Schroeder, meanwhile, is trying to play through a torn hamstring, but that takes away one of Schroeder's key assets: his speed.
Lions' head coach Marty Mornhinweg commented on Schroeder's efforts, saying he is playing strictly on 'guts.' Germane Crowell continues to nurse a season-and-a-half long recovery from knee surgery. Crowell has yet to show the breakaway speed and explosiveness he showed in his sophomore year for the Lions when many thought he would be a franchise receiver for the team.
Finally, tight end Mikhael Ricks is suffering from the effects of a pulled groin muscle that limited him to just one catch in the win over Dallas.
Meanwhile, in Green Bay, there are no such problems. The NFL's best player, Favre, is only limited by a knee brace that while annoying, hasn't hurt his effectiveness.
"I hope not to wear the brace much longer, (but) I'm going to have to fight them on it," Favre said in Green Bay's weekly press conference. The Pro Bowl quarterback said he's considered chucking the brace, but then thought better of it. "I don't want to go out, take the brace off and then be thinking, 'What can or what can't happen?'"
The tweak of Favre's knee in a 30-9 win over the Washington Redskins just before the bye week had many concerned about the effectiveness of their star, but Favre put all those fears to bed with another stellar performance, going 16-of-25 for 187 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT against Miami on Monday night. Favre remains the NFL's highest rated quarterback.
Packers' standout running back Ahman Green has been steady, but not spectacular, providing Favre with a nice security blanket by rushing for 72 yards against the 'Skins and catching six balls for 71 more.
Green Bay will be without the services of Vonnie Holliday, its best pass rushing threat. Holliday and fellow defensive line mate Cletidus Hunt were injured in the second half of Green Bay's win over Washington. The injuries will leave Green Bay without three starters on their defensive line, a weakness Detroit will try to exploit.
So what chance does Detroit have in this contest? The key is Favre. Favre doesn't have many bad games in Lambeau Field, or anywhere else for that matter, but at times Detroit has been able to rattle him and force him into bad throws. The Lions must generate a pass rush like they did against Dallas. Kalimba Edwards, who's played well in a situational role, must re-create the role that the 'legendary' Tracy Scroggins did many times in his battles with Favre. At one point, Scroggins had a running feud with Favre which threw the star off his game and allowed Detroit to disrupt Green Bay's offense. Robert Porcher needs to have another game like the Dallas contest when he was a constant factor in the Cowboys offensive backfield. They also need a push from Luther Elliss and Shaun Rogers, who's suffered a drop-off in his production from last season.
Detroit defensive backs must also play tight coverage and force Favre to go underneath for dump offs while limiting the big plays that the Lambeau field crowd loves so much. Offensively, James Stewart needs to exploit the middle of the Packer defense, which has been susceptible to the run to allow Joey Harrington and Marty Mornhinweg to pick their spots to attack the middle of Green Bay's defense. Historically, Detroit has been able to score against Green Bay, they just haven't scored enough.
A Lambeau field jinx? Coach Mornhinweg won't hear it. "As an opponent going in
there, there is absolutely nothing to it. The field is 100 yards long. They do have a big
winning streak there, but that's because they're a good football team. Back when they were
not a good football team, 10-plus years ago, they were losing there. They're a good
football team and that's why they win at home. They win on the road as well." As a
former assistant at Green Bay, Mornhinweg knows what he speaks. Still, Detroit will have
to play at their highest level for a sustained period to win this one.
Detroit has shown that they can pull an upset when they knocked off the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints, one of the NFL's top tier teams. However, Detroit did that at home. They fell just short of beating Green Bay at Ford Field, and my pre-season pick of Green Bay to be the NFL's representative in the Super Bowl doesn't appear to be slowing at all.
Green Bay Packers 27 - Detroit Lions 20