Packers vs. Lions: Keys to the game

Al Harris' matchup against Roy Williams is just one thing to watch when injury-riddled Detroit (2-11) visits inconsistent Green Bay (5-8) on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The Detroit Lions haven't won a game in Wisconsin in 14 years. The Green Bay Packers are 1-5 in home games this season.

Something has to give, but what will it be? Here are this week's five keys to the game.

Wounded prey

The Lions' best defensive player, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, is out for the season, which is good news for the young, lightweight interior of Green Bay's offensive line. Their most important offensive player, running back Kevin Jones, also is out for the season.

Position for position, the Lions shouldn't pose much of a problem for even a below-average Packers team.

The key will be emotion. Will the Packers actually take the Lions lightly? And more importantly, will the Lions come out with fire in their bellies and really challenge the Packers, or will they come out flat given their woeful record, injury problems and franchise-wide ineptitude?

"San Francisco was a good victory, but I really want to see how we take this into Detroit, and with success in Detroit take it into the next one," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "So it's part of the growth that we're looking for. These are three big games, no doubt about it."

Harris vs. Williams

Clearly, the best matchup will be Packers cornerback Al Harris against Lions receiver Roy Williams. It's a must-win matchup for the Lions, if they have any chance to win. If Harris wins, it's hard to imagine the Lions winning, barring a barrage of Packers turnovers.

Harris is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Williams almost certainly will get a Pro Bowl spot. He's third in the NFL in receiving yards, and racked up seven catches for 138 yards and a touchdown against a variety of Packers defenders during the Sept. 24 game.

The players spent the week bragging up the other.

"I vote for him for the Pro Bowl, every year, year in and year out. ... He's my measuring stick of how good I can be against him. I think he's a Pro Bowler. I think he's overlooked and underestimated," Williams said of Harris, noting the Packers' No. 1 cornerback is "8 feet, 12 inches (tall), and his arms are 36 feet long."

Harris took the praise in stride, knowing full well his success or failure against Williams — he'll follow him around the field this week, unlike the September game — will play a big role in determining the winner.

"Words don't go out and perform on Sunday. So a guy can say, ‘Hey, I think this guy is the best thing since sliced bread,' but if on Sunday he gives up 400 yards, 500 yards, with seven, eight touchdowns ..."

Pressuring Kitna

Without Jones, the Lions are likely to rely on the right arm of quarterback Jon Kitna much more than on the running game.

"There goes 75 to 80 percent of our offense," Williams lamented when asked about Jones' absence.

Then again, that might work to the Lions' advantage. The Packers' pass defense has been awful this season, and Kitna has built chemistry with Williams (69 catches, seventh NFC) and Mike Furrey (74 catches, second in NFC).

Clearly, the play of cornerbacks Harris and Charles Woodson will be critical, but so will be the ability of the front four to beat an injury-riddled line and harass Kitna. Look for defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who was demoted last week, to play the lion's share of the snaps this week. His matchup against Jeff Backus, and slumping Aaron Kampman's matchup against backup Barry Stokes, will be just as important as Harris' work against Williams.

Home-field advantage

Remember when home-field advantage meant something? Remember when the Packers won 29 straight at Lambeau Field from 1995-98? Remember when Mike Holmgren and, in his first few years, Mike Sherman were invincible at home?

Not anymore. The Packers are 1-5 at home, and the last two home games (35-0 against New England and 31-0 at halftime against the Jets) have been disasters.

Perhaps more than anything the Packers can accomplish during these final three weeks of the season is to restore a bit of the luster to Lambeau by beating Detroit and Minnesota.

"It's been recommended to put them on the bus before the game and drive around the parking lot and pull in, but I don't think that's going to do it," McCarthy said, contrasting the team's road success to home futility.

No, beyond gimmicks, the Packers simply need to perform well at home so this doesn't become a mental block that lingers into 2007.

"It definitely bugs us a lot," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We want to win at home. That's the best type of win you can get is at home, in front of your fans, in front of your family. The cheering, the intensity and the excitement when you're winning at home, it can't be matched."

Mix it up on offense

The Packers' offense came alive last week, and the reason is pretty obvious. Ahman Green and Vernand Morency were successful running the ball, and that opened up the Brett Favre-led passing game.

The 49ers had no idea what the Packers were going to do, and thus, couldn't stop anything.

Green Bay's offense will be hamstrung this week with Ruvell Martin almost certain to be on the sideline with a chest injury. It will be hard for the Packers to mount much of a passing game with only two legit receivers and a player who was on the street 10 days ago, Carlyle Holiday, being the No. 3 receiver.

If the Packers can mount a successful rushing attack — the absence of starting defensive tackles Rogers and Marcus Bell will help — then Favre will have a chance to hit Donald Driver for a big play or two.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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