The Opposite Sideline: Lions listless
Each Thursday, Press-Gazette Media will get the lowdown on the Green Bay Packers’ next opponent from a beat writer who covers that team.
After a 6-0 start, it now seems like an eternity since the Green Bay Packers’ last victory. As coach Mike McCarthy put it Monday: “Lord knows we haven’t won a game in a while.”
Oct. 18, to be exact, by a score of 27-20 against the San Diego Chargers. Since enjoying a bye week, the Packers have been pummeled on the road in consecutive weeks by the Denver Broncos (29-10) and Carolina Panthers (37-29).
The Packers (6-2) need a tonic, and the Detroit Lions seemingly are just what the doctor ordered.
The Lions are in disarray. Their 1-7 record is the worst in the league, and last week they fired team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and the offense look lost, and the defense hasn’t recovered from losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to free agency and playmaking linebacker DeAndre Levy to a hip injury.
We asked beat writer Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press what the Packers can expect when the Lions make a house call Sunday at Lambeau Field:
How have the Lions gone from playoff team to worst record in the league so quickly?
DB: “Everything has gone wrong. I wish there was an easy explanation. It’s personnel: On defense, they just don’t have the same playmakers. Their defense carried them so much last year. You lose Ndamukong Suh and DeAndre Levy, their two best players. And they got old on that side of the ball. (Defensive tackle) Haloti Ngata, (linebacker) Stephen Tulloch, (strong safety) James Ihedigbo, some guys who they were expecting to be complementary players are now supposed to be their best players, and they’re 30-plus years old and not able to handle it.
“Offensively, Stafford hasn’t played really well. It’s a chicken-or-egg thing. The offensive line has been terrible, and those two go hand-in-hand. They can’t run the ball, but the offensive line and Stafford are the biggest issues on that side of the ball. Now things are just swirling … It’s a pretty toxic atmosphere.”
Is Calvin Johnson still a force to be feared?
DB: “He’s still a good player, but he’s not quite the Calvin Johnson everyone knows. He’d still be the team’s offensive MVP at this point in the season, but he has been relegated to being a possession receiver in a lot of ways, just by the way they’ve played offense. You’ve seen him get open a couple of times deep, but the better cornerbacks he has played against – (Denver’s) Aqib Talib, (Arizona’s) Patrick Peterson and some of those guys – he hasn’t gotten open. He’s caught some balls, but he hasn’t been a big playmaker against those teams.”
With Stafford, is it a case of a poor offensive line and no help around him, or has he just played poorly?
DB: “It’s both. Stafford certainly has come under a lot of fire here. He’s not being helped by his offensive line, he’s taking a pounding, 22 sacks. But it’s more than that. There was the first game against Minnesota where he got hit eight times and only sacked once and that’s when he bruised his ribs. So they’ve had some protection issues and they can’t run the ball and teams are teeing off on them. But Stafford calls some of the line calls, too, so some of that is on him. He has a coaching staff that was brought in to fix him, but he seems to have regressed under their command.”
How will the Lions try to defend against Aaron Rodgers?
DB: “They always talk about stopping the run first. I know Eddie Lacy isn’t playing real well, but if they can take that out of their hands, that’s a good thing. Getting pressure on Rodgers is another one. (Defensive end) Ziggy Ansah is having a really good year. He’s the only playmaker in that front seven right now; no team has been able to stop him. But the Lions are allowing quarterbacks to complete more than 70 percent of their passes; they don’t have a lot of playmakers in the back end and the linebackers have really struggled in coverage, so there are going to be some opportunities for Rodgers and the Packers to get going.”
What about the Lions should most concern the Packers?
DB: “I’d say maybe the biggest thing is the new offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter. The offense was pretty much the same in his first game against Kansas City (Nov. 1 in London), he didn’t have time to change things up. The biggest thing this week might be that, coming off a bye, he’s got a little more time to fix things and put his own little stamp on things. So maybe there are some nuances in there that opponents don’t know about and maybe he can catch them off guard.”
With team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew having been axed, what’s next?
DB: “Most people around the league that I’ve talked to think it’s just a matter of time before virtually everyone else goes, (coach) Jim Caldwell chief among them. … There’s an apathy here, people are so angry about this team because they just feel it’s been an extension of (former president) Matt Millen, and Martin Mayhew certainly was, and Tom Lewand was, they both worked under him. And they hired Jim Caldwell, and I don’t think anything short of cleaning house would appease the fan base.”
The Lions haven’t won in Wisconsin since 1991. Any chance it happens Sunday?
DB: “I can’t see it happening. Maybe something happens to Aaron Rodgers … I think that’s the only chance, because this Lions team has been a disaster all year. They’ve got two huge losses where they’ve quit. They can’t get anything going, all the changes didn’t seem to work. The players certainly can see the writing on the wall. I would expect the Lions to maybe put up a fight early but, once they get down as they inevitably will, I think it’s going to be all she wrote.”