Lions seek early separation from Packers

October 5, 2013

 

Green Bay Packers free safety M.D. Jennings (43) returns a fumble 24-yards for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sept. 22nd in Cincinnati.

GREEN BAY - There's an early-season role reversal in the NFC North.

The Detroit Lions are tied at the top at 3-1. The two-time defending champion Packers are third at 1-2.

Doesn't seem right, especially after Detroit finished 4-12 last season. But here come the Lions with a chance to create more divisional separation when the old Midwest rivals meet Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Fueled by an offense that added multidimensional running back Reggie Bush and a defensive line spearheaded by tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Lions are off to a fast start, They are just one win from matching their victory total for 2012.

Now that talk about winning a division title doesn't seem too far-fetched.

"Last year, we did not win a division game. This year, we're 2-0 in the division. This would give us a chance to go 3-0," coach Jim Schwartz said. "This gives us an opportunity to get another win, get a division win, and also put a loss on one of our division opponents."

Not if Green Bay has anything to say about it. The Packers are back from a bye and a week to stew about a wild 34-30 loss at Cincinnati.

There's no sense of panic.

"You don't want to put yourself in this position because it's a tough battle and we've got 13 straight games here, which gives it an extra dimension as well to the toughness," Aaron Rodgers said. "But we're going to rely on our veterans to stay healthy, play well and lead, and our young guys to come along and grow up fast."

Five things to watch ahead of the 168th meeting between the teams:

WISCONSIN BLUES: The Lions haven't beaten Green Bay in Wisconsin since 1991. That's 22 straight victories for the Packers at home, including one playoff win. The 21 straight regular-season home wins for Green Bay against Detroit are an NFL record.

It's an eye-catching statistic for writers, players on both teams said this week. But they're not paying attention to the streak. Honest.

"We've got to go out there and spend all of our time preparing to play the 2013 Green Bay Packers and not the ones from '94, '95. That has nothing to do with what we're trying to do this weekend," said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was 3 years old when the Lions last beat Green Bay on the road.

"We're preparing to play this team and doing that to the best of our ability."

BACKFIELD BEAT: The Packers' defense will be busy keeping track of Bush out of the backfield after he amassed 173 yards from scrimmage in last week's 40-32 win over the Bears. But there are signs of life in Green Bay's once-struggling running game, too.

Eddie Lacy's back from a concussion. Fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin is over an apparent minor foot injury suffered after rushing for 103 yards on 13 carries against Cincinnati, including a 51-yard dash. The Packers now have had back-to-back games with 100-yard rushers after going nearly three years without one.

BIG PUSH: It's hard to miss the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Suh, the Lions' force in the middle. It was hard to stop him last week, too, when he had two sacks and a forced fumble.

The Packers are also worried about fellow tackle Nick Fairley. The push up front has played a key role in the Lions; defense forcing 11 turnovers so far, while also holding opponents to a 21 percent conversion rate on third downs, tops in the NFL.

RODGERS SHOW: Then again, the Lions also haven't faced one of the NFL's best quarterbacks yet in Rodgers, and the dangerous Packers receiving corps. Rodgers is looking to rebound from a rare two-interception game. He'll also have tight end Jermichael Finley back from a concussion.

THE BUSH EFFECT: It's no longer just the Calvin Johnson show in Detroit. Bush adds speed out of the backfield and another option for Stafford, who is playing well.

"You can't focus all your attention on Calvin. At the same time you can't put all your attention on Bush," Packers safety M.D. Jennings said. "You've got to stay balanced as well on defense."

Associated Press