The Green Bay Packers (1-2) host the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions (3-1) at Lambeau Field on Sunday and will look to avoid an early 1-3 hole on the young 2013 season. If the Packers are going to improve to 2-2 and inch closer to the Lions and Chicago Bears (3-1) in the division, both the offensive and defensive line play must come alive.
On Wednesday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said typically in the division games, the team who wins the battle up front usually ends up winning the game. Rodgers is exactly right, as both the Packers’ and Lions’ offensive and defensive line play will prove to be a key contributing factor in Sunday’s final outcome.
For the Lions, their defensive line is loaded with talent, as they are led by defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Suh has a history of being quite a chippy and unsafe football player on the field (remember him kicking Packers’ offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving in 2011?), but Fairley is finally beginning to really come into his own as a stalwart NFL defensive tackle.
The Packers offensive line, though, has been incredibly under-appreciated so far through their first three games. The offensive line has drawn more attention because of Rodgers getting sacked ten times through three games instead of helping the Packers rank as the NFL’s third-best offense.
To further prove my point that the offensive line has improved since last season, the Packers’ so-called “non-existent” rushing offense is averaging 128 yards per game (9th in NFL) and has seen two different players record over 100 rushing yards in each of the last two games. The Packers’ and Lions’ offensive and defensive lines, respectively, have both improved. If the Packers offensive line wants to make a true statement, Sunday is a good time to do it.
Switching sides, the Lions offensive line has surprisingly been one of the NFL’s best, allowing a league-low three sacks in four games. The Lions’ are the NFL’s fifth-best offense through four weeks and it correlates to the offensive line play.
The Packers defensive line has shown flashes, but they lack consistency. Everyone knows what kind of impact nose-tackle B.J. Raji can make, but the key player for the Packers defensive line to help disrupt Lions quarterback Matt Stafford and the offensive line’s rhythm is not a defensive lineman but All-Pro Clay Matthews.
Matthews did not practice on Wednesday because of a hamstring injury which he suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 and he is questionable to play on Sunday. The Packers have a solid supporting cast at outside linebacker, but Matthews is the heart and soul of Green Bay’s defense.
If Matthews isn’t cleared to play on Sunday, the Lions may have a great offensive day in Lambeau. The Packers have history on their side, as they haven’t lost to the Lions at Lambeau Field since 1991. The streak won’t matter on Sunday, though, if the Packers defensive line can’t get to Stafford and the offensive line is unable to pave the way for the running backs or protect Rodgers.