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Three Days to Kickoff: 3 Reasons to Worry vs. Detroit Lions

Led by Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions have the big-play weapons to beat the Green Bay Packers.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are six-point favorites for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, according to FanDuel. Despite being sizable favorites against a team it’s beaten 100 times in series history, there are areas of concern against a team that Packers coach Matt LaFleur won’t let his players take lightly.

“The fact that they were winning for literally 120 minutes out of 120 minutes, it was pretty much a miracle that we were able to take both those games,” LaFleur said.

Not Running on Empty

The Lions signed 35-year-old Adrian Peterson last week. Six days later, he ran for almost 100 yards against Chicago. Peterson leads the NFL with 10 runs of 10-plus yards. He’ll face a Packers run defense that was porous last season and didn’t exactly get off to a rousing debut in last week’s win at Minnesota.

“Obviously, he’s still a playmaker,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “If you look at how he runs, he still runs behind his pads. You still have to bring it when you hit him. He still has a great jump cut and great vision. He had a couple splash plays in the first game. I think he still has it. We have to remember this is Adrian Peterso,n so we’ve got to play him like when he was in his prime. We’ve got to make sure that we gang tackle. We’ve got to make sure that when we hit him, we hit him hard. I think that’s what we’re going to do on Sunday.”

Peterson has rushed for 1,975 yards in 19 career games against Green Bay. Only Walter Payton (2,484 yards in 24 games) and Barry Sanders (2,059 yards in 19 games) have topped 2,000 yards against the Packers.

“He looked strong,” Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told reporters in Allen Park, Mich., on Tuesday. “He looked explosive, looked like he had his speed. He was breaking tackles; he was making moves. I mean, just really excited about what he was able to do in that game.”

Peterson Sets up Play-Action

Can Peterson beat the Packers by himself, like he was capable of doing when he was in his prime with Minnesota? Probably not. But he’s good enough to keep the defense occupied, and defenses that are worried about the running game are susceptible to play action. In Week 1 against Chicago, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was 8-of-11 for 105 yards and a 102.5 passer rating on play action.

In last year’s loss at Green Bay, Stafford was only 4-of-7 on play action but turned those into 147 yards. That was part of Stafford averaging 12.0 yards per play-action attempt, which was second only to Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s got an elite arm talent,” LaFleur said. “I think that he’s unfairly criticized, to be quite honest, and I think he’s one of the best QBs in the league. He just consistently can make any throw on the field and I just think he’s one of those underrated players in the National Football League.”

Perhaps working in Green Bay’s favor is star receiver Kenny Golladay might be out with a hamstring injury. According to PFF, he tied for the NFL lead with 16 receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield last season. However, Marvin Jones is a big-play threat in his own right. He tied for the NFL lead with 16 deep receptions in 2016 and hauled in 8-of-18 last year.

Unhappy Returns

In his first three seasons, Lions returner Jamal Agnew returned four kicks for touchdowns (three on kickoffs). He had a 16-yard punt return and kickoff returns of 31 and 35 yards vs. Chicago.

“Yeah, we’re really close” to breaking one, Lions special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs told reporters in Allen Park on Tuesday. “Guys are collectively, not just him, we’re kicking ourselves over that watching tape because you hate to get that close and leave the opportunities out there on the field. But I think for him, it was a great start. You get a new system in front of you and whole new schemes and things like that and you’re like, ‘OK, this sounds good, but is it really going to work.’ For us to have a couple seams and for things to look OK for him, I could just kind of sense his confidence growing throughout the game with each opportunity he got.”

Agnew’s big-play ability will put the stress on punter JK Scott to keep Agnew pinned to the sideline with excellent hang time and kicker Mason Crosby to bomb the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs.

“He’s one of the best in the league,” Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga said. “We’re going to do the very best we can to try to eliminate him from the game. I know Brayden comes from the Darrin Simmons family down in Cincinnati and they’ve done a great job. Jamal is definitely one of the best there is. We’re going to do the best we can to keep the ball out of his hands then do the best job we can when we do have to cover as far as staying in front of him and making tackles. It’s going to be key because he can definitely change the game.”