The Green Bay Packers (1-2) have had quite a sluggish start to the 2013 regular season. Coming out of their early Week 4 bye, they will host the NFC North’s first-place Detroit Lions (3-1) at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
The Packers have been outplayed in the fourth quarter this season in every game and haven’t been as healthy as they’d prefer to be, but there is no need to worry in Packerland. Both teams are relatively even, but time is on the Packers side and it will play an important part in giving them a significant edge over the Lions on Sunday.
Overall, the Packers have outscored their opponents this season, 96-88. Despite outscoring the competition, the team’s fourth quarter performance has drawn great attention only four weeks into the season. The San Francisco 49ers (2-2), Washington Redskins (1-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) have each outplayed the Packers in the final quarter, combining to outscore the Packers 39-7.
The Lions haven’t played as poorly in the fourth quarter this season but they’ve had their moments. In their 40-32 home win over the Chicago Bears (3-1) on Sunday, the Bears outscored the Lions 16-3 in the fourth quarter. Besides Sunday’s game, the Arizona Cardinals were the only other team to outscore the Lions in the fourth quarter this year. Overall though, opponents have outscored Detroit 28-26 in the fourth quarter in four games.
Defensively, both teams have defended the passing game poorly, as the Lions have allowed 268 passing yards per game (22nd in NFL), while the Packers have allowed 311 passing yards/game (28th). The Packers and Lions defensive units, led by Clay Matthews and Ndamukong Suh, respectively, both have the ability to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Yes, the Packers have only recorded seven sacks in three games, but fans must remember that the first two games were against dual-threat quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. Instead of attacking, the Packers defense contained both quarterbacks and forced Kaepernick and RGIII to beat them with their arm. In the loss at Cincinnati last week against a traditional-style pocket-passer, the Packers sacked quarterback Andy Dalton four times and forced four Bengals turnovers.
Offensively, both teams are not quite what the Denver Broncos currently are, but both units are nearly as rich with talent. Led by Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson among other players, the Packers offense is averaging 454.7 total yards per game (third). The Lions offense, led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, has averaged 404.8 yards per game (fifth).
The Packers and Lions have very comparable offensive lines with notable offseason upgrades in the offensive backfield. The Packers added rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in April’s draft, while the Lions signed veteran Reggie Bush to pair up with Joique Bell. The Packers rushing attack is much improved already, averaging 128 rushing yards per game (ninth), but the Lions have only averaged 95.8 rushing yards per game (21st).
The reason why Packers fans shouldn’t worry though on Sunday is because the assumption is the fans will get to see many hobbled players return to the field after a much-needed bye week. After a week off from the regular season, there is no way in heck the Packers will endure another fourth quarter meltdown.
Packers safety Morgan Burnett, cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jarrett Bush, offensive back John Kuhn and outside linebacker Clay Matthews have all had hamstring injuries this season and they could all potentially return this weekend. Burnett and Hayward haven’t played yet this year and their presence would make an immediate impact whenever they are medically cleared to return to action.
Running back Eddie Lacy and tight end Jermichael Finley could both return after suffering concussions in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. Lacy, who practiced on Monday, is likely to play against the Lions on Sunday.
If the Packers are at full-strength against a relatively healthy Lions team, it should be a great day for Packer nation. The Packers haven’t lost a home game in over one year and the Lions haven’t won at Lambeau Field in nearly 22 years. The Packers are the two-time defending NFC North divisional champions and it is nowhere near time to give up in Green Bay.
Playing a team coming off of a bye week and a loss? Oh boy, I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that train. Breathe Packer fans, time is on our side; it’s going to be fun on Sunday.