Lions-Packers Preview: 5 Questions with Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated
Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated has covered the Packers since 2008. He answered five questions heading into the Lions-Packers' divisional matchup tonight on Monday Night Football.
JM: There is a noticeable difference with this Packers team under the new regime. What have you observed is different in 2019 in comparison to previous seasons?
BH: First, the talent is better. GM Brian Gutekunst changed the defense -- and as a byproduct, changed the entire team when he signed outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith as well as safety Adrian Amos in free agency. They’ve been fantastic additions, especially the Smith's. They are the only top-10 tandem in sacks. The defense has a swagger it hasn’t had in years, and it starts with those guys.
Second, coach Matt LaFleur is making life easier for Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers’ numbers aren’t very good by his otherworldly standards, but the weight of the world no longer is on his shoulders. LaFleur has stuck to his word and run the football after the Packers fielded the most pass-happy offense in the league last year. Plus, there are more in-rhythm passes compared to the past few years when it was up to Rodgers to ad-lib his way into a lot of completions.
JM: How big of a loss is WR Davante Adams (inactive for Monday night’s game)?
BH: Huge. Without Adams last week, Rodgers completed just 4-of-12 passes to the rest of the receivers. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the last pick of the fifth round in 2018. The rest of the receivers were undrafted free agents. Valdes-Scantling is the best of the rest, standing 6-foot-4 and with 4.3 speed in the 40. But it hasn’t added up for him just yet. I think Detroit’s got a really good group of corners, so it’s advantage to the Lions in the passing game.
JM: What are the key matchups you are paying attention to on Monday night?
BH: First and foremost, it’s the offense-minded LaFleur against defensive-minded Lions coach Matt Patricia. I’d think Patricia will try to take away Packers running back Aaron Jones. If he’s successful, how will LaFleur counter? On the other side of the ball, it’s the aforementioned Smith's against Lions offensive tackles Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner. Not that he’s any different from most quarterbacks, but Stafford has struggled while under pressure this season. On special teams, Jamal Agnew is an electric returner, and Green Bay’s kickoff coverage has been atrocious.
JM: What is the most concerning aspect of Detroit’s overall game that the Packers must pay attention to?
BH: The Lions have stuck with running the football. Kerryon Johnson hasn’t been overly effective, but the Packers’ run defense hasn’t been overly effective, either. In fact, Green Bay’s run defense is statistically one of the worst in the NFL, though there was at least some progress last week against Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott. If the Packers can’t stop Johnson, I’d be surprised if the Lions aren’t walking out of Lambeau with a victory. Also, LaFleur noted Detroit’s penchant for forcing fumbles as something he’s stressed this week.
JM: This game has implications aplenty regarding the division race already! Who do you have winning and why?
BH: I’m picking the Packers, if only because I’ve picked them to lose four times this season and have taken three Ls in my personal standings. I’m telling you, though, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Lions win the game. If Patricia’s defense can limit Jones, can Rodgers cobble together enough of a passing game with a makeshift receiver corps? Detroit is coming off its bye week -- not as much of an edge as you might think but an edge, nonetheless. The key will be turnovers. That’s obviously not a bold thought, but the Packers are going to have to win the giveaway/takeaway battle to earn a fifth win.