Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Double Coverage: Packers at Lions
By Michael Rothstein and Rob Demovsky
Things seemed focused completely on football this week -- at least for a day.
Then Packers offensive lineman Josh Sitton changed all of that Tuesday evening when he went on WSSP Radio in Milwaukee and gave his opinion of the Detroit defense, particularly the defensive line.
It wasn't a pretty assessment.
“They go after quarterbacks. Their entire defense takes cheap shots all the time. That's what they do. That's who they are,” Sitton said. “They're a bunch of a dirtbags or scumbags. That's how they play, and that's how they're coached. It starts with their frickin' coach. It starts with the head coach, [Jim] Schwartz. He's a d---, too. I wouldn't want to play for him. It starts with him, and their D-coordinator and their D-line coach. They're all just scumbags and so are the D-line.”
In a game with the feel of an elimination contest, Sitton added another layer of fun and intrigue -- at least in the pregame. ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down the Thanksgiving Day matchup.
Rothstein: There is a long history with these two teams -- even on Thanksgiving going back to the Ndamukong Suh stomp of Evan Dietrich-Smith -- so were you surprised at all that Sitton decided to rip into the Detroit defense and Lions coach Jim Schwartz?
Demovsky: If anyone on the Packers was going to pop off, Sitton would be the first guess followed by his offensive linemate T.J. Lang. They’re the two most outspoken guys on the team. Let’s face it: Sitton probably said what a lot of people around the league have been thinking about the Lions. That said, it probably wasn’t the smartest move to make before a game that you’re going into with your backup quarterback. It was already going to be an uphill battle. As entertaining and refreshing as it was, I don’t see how this helped the Packers’ cause.
Rothstein: I see your point there, but I also wonder how much it really matters. I've never been a believer that this type of talk -- especially on the professional level -- really matters a whole bunch in an actual game. It's fun for fans and gives us something to chat about, for sure, but when you're dealing with grown men, I just don't know how much it really changes a game.
Moving on, Rob, what happens at the quarterback position this week with Green Bay? Does Matt Flynn's history with Detroit play a role here?
Demovsky: When Mike McCarthy said Aaron Rodgers' chances of playing on Thursday were “slim to none,” it seemed obvious that Flynn would be the starter even though McCarthy wouldn't commit to anything. He was much more effective than Scott Tolzien because he can do more in the offense. He's much better versed in running the Packers' version of the no-huddle, which has become a staple of their offense in recent years. Flynn actually has played two games against Detroit. Everyone remembers that 2011 game -- the one that made him about $15 million with his 480-yard, six-touchdown performance -- but don't forget he also struggled in relief of Rodgers in the 2010 game at Ford Field after Rodgers left with a concussion.
How are the Lions approaching the Packers' quarterback situation?
Rothstein: Seemingly by preparing as if Rodgers was going to play. Detroit doesn't see much of a change in the offense from Rodgers to Flynn, so they are going to prepare for the same offense the Packers usually run. Of course, the Lions could be in better shape if Green Bay chooses to run the ball more since the Lions haven't given up a rushing touchdown since Week 4. So if the Packers roll with a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy, that could be a benefit for the Lions.
This obviously leads into the next question: How does Green Bay's offense change with Flynn in the lineup, or is Detroit accurate in how it says it is going to prepare? And how much different is this offense from what the Lions saw in October?
Demovsky: Of all the backup quarterbacks the Packers have played this season, Flynn is probably most like Rodgers, although none has the arm strength Rodgers possesses. But in terms of knowing the system, being able to read defenses and having the freedom to make checks at the line of scrimmage, Flynn is probably the next best option. Still, without Rodgers, there are major differences. Flynn doesn't throw the deep ball as well, and he doesn't have the touch. That was evident on the third-and-goal play in overtime when Flynn badly overthrew Jordy Nelson on a fade.
Speaking of different offenses, the Packers got a break by not having to face Calvin Johnson in the first meeting. Now, the Lions not only have Johnson but also have Nate Burleson back. What's the dynamic with those two?
Rothstein: The dynamic is pretty good and should give the Lions another playmaker the rest of the season. The biggest issue for Detroit's offense Sunday was Matthew Stafford's inaccuracy, but when he was on, the offense was able to move well with Burleson, Johnson and Reggie Bush out there. If teams focus on those three guys, Brandon Pettigrew and Kris Durham have shown, in spurts, to be effective. That's the entire plan with this offense.
Of course, it still only resulted in 21 points last Sunday, but that is at least Detroit's plan.
Both of these teams remain in the playoff picture despite fairly average seasons thus far. What do you think this says about the Packers -- and the NFC North?
Demovsky: It's amazing that the Packers haven't won since Rodgers got hurt yet they're only a half-game out of first place. Certainly, Rodgers gave them a nice cushion with a 5-2 record, but the Lions and Bears certainly missed opportunities to bury Green Bay over the last month. There's probably only two or three elite teams in the NFC, and none of them resides in the North. Can you see any of these teams going on the road in the playoffs and beating a team like the Saints or Seahawks? I can't.
The Packers might not admit it, but I think this is an elimination game for them. Do you think it would have the same consequences for the Lions if they lose?
Rothstein: Tough to say for the Lions, but it would certainly put them in a bad position having lost three straight games. I think it all depends on what Chicago does. If the Bears were to lose, then it's still a race. Otherwise, the Lions would be chasing two teams and that won't bode well for a team that hasn't won a division title this century. If Detroit loses, it becomes a very difficult path to the playoffs. It would still be possible, but there would certainly be a lot of doubt for a franchise that just doesn't make the playoffs all too often.