The Detroit Lions swept the season series from the Green Bay Packers a year ago, but one more important component was missing from the bitter rivalry — Aaron Rodgers.
A broken collarbone forced Rodgers to miss the first matchup and Green Bay’s decision to place him back on injured reserve kept him out of the regular-season finale.
The Lions (1-3) exploited the absence of the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player and coasted to a pair of double-digit victories, marking the first time they swept the Packers since the 1991 season.
Detroit Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay is fully aware of the impact Rodgers has on the Packers and knows where his team’s focus must be when the Lions host Green Bay (2-1-1) on Sunday afternoon.
“Aaron, he’s a whole ‘nother animal out there,” Slay said. “He makes all the throws, makes all the right calls. One of the best in the game, easily. So we know one thing, we got to stop him. We stop him, we win the game.”
Rodgers’ history against the Lions bears that out. Green Bay is 13-3 against Detroit in games started by Rodgers, who guided the Packers to a series sweep in 2016 by throwing for four touchdowns and zero interceptions in each win.
“He believes in his arm, makes all the tough throws,” said Slay, who likely will be assigned to matchup against Davante Adams. “That’s what makes him so great at what he does. That’s why he’s the highest-paid quarterback in the league.”
Rodgers has been playing with an injured left knee that he hurt in the season opener against the Chicago Bears. Yet it was Green Bay’s lack of offensive production in last weekend’s 22-0 shutout of Buffalo that was front and center in his mind.
Calling the offense “terrible” despite rolling up 423 yards of total offense, Rodgers lamented the team’s game plan, but he said the critique would not be a source of friction with head coach Mike McCarthy
“Communication is the basis for a good relationship, wouldn’t you say? I think it is,” Rodgers said during his weekly chat with reporters at his locker. “For any relationship, it starts with good communication and being able to be honest with each other and then hug it out afterwards.”
Rodgers is more preoccupied with making sure there is more balance and efficiency in an offense that is averaging 23 points, which ranks 19th in the NFL.
“We’ve got to run the ball consistently and then be able to move the ball down the field in the play-action game,” Rodgers said. “We haven’t been able to hit a ton of that stuff. We’ve got to move the sticks and make plays in the situational offense. We haven’t been great over the course of the season in third down and definitely not in red zone.”
Running back Aaron Jones has added a dynamic element to the running game after returning from a two-game suspension. He had 65 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against Buffalo and is averaging 6.3 yards in a backfield that also features Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery.
Also, the Packers are hurting at wide receiver. Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison all sat out practice Thursday.
Green Bay and Detroit rank 19th and 20th, respectively, in rushing so the ground game could be a point of emphasis for both teams. Lions rookie Kerryon Johnson rushed for 101 yards in a 26-10 win over New England in Week 3 and had 55 yards and a TD on only nine carries in last week’s 26-24 loss at Dallas.
First-year Lions head coach Matt Patricia defended the workload of Johnson in last week’s setback. The second-round draft pick has a team-high 216 yards on 38 carries, yet has played fewer snaps than third-down back Theo Riddick and has about as many rushes as veteran LeGarrette Blount (35 carries, 95 yards).
“I think we have a lot of really good running backs and I think we try to use them appropriately,” Patricia said. “I think Kerryon played a significant amount of (against the Cowboys). He played 20 snaps of (54), that’s a good amount. Plus we have two other running backs, plus we have two-minute drives and other two-minute personnel packages and things like that. There was quite a bit of reps in there for Kerryon.”
Lions quarterback Matt Stafford has thrown for 1,202 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions on the season, but he has at least 300 yards and two TD passes in each of the past four meetings against Green Bay.
Golden Tate has a team-high 28 catches and three touchdowns for Detroit while fellow wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. have combined for 38 receptions and four scores.