Here’s why these Detroit Lions scare the Packers

Jim Caldwell has changed the culture of the Detroit  Lions.

Jim Caldwell has changed the culture of the Detroit Lions.

These are not your father’s Detroit Lions. Thank goodness.

The 2014 Lions are a much more disciplined team that plays smarter and more in control. A surprise isn’t it? After so many years of foolish play and practically criminal penalties in crucial situations, these Lions look a lot more like a winning football team.

That’s not the view from rose-colored glasses either, it’s apparent to others around the NFL, including the Green Bay Packers, whom the Lions will face today at Lambeau Field to determine the NFC North title. The Packers may think they know the Detroit Lions, but they may not recognize this group of Lions, and it has to concern them. Here’s why.

Megatron is heating up

Calvin Johnson is the most dangerous wide receiver in football because he presents an impossible physical matchup. He’s stronger, faster, and more athletic than anyone his size has a right to be. In the history of the NFL there has never been a specimen like him. Opposing defenses literally have to devise a new game plan to deal with him. The Packers see him twice a year so they’re familiar with #81, but that doesn’t mean they know how to stop him. The only thing that can stop Megatron is an off-day by his QB or an injury. And Johnson was injured this season, missing three full games. But he’s back and well-rested, it’s almost like this is midseason for the big fella. In his last four games since Thanksgiving, Johnson is averaging 7 catches and 115 yards per game. He’s looked strong and he’s also seemed to curtail his earlier problems of dropping balls. With Golden Tate posing a threat on the other side of the ball and in the slot, Johnson should get more chances to punish the Green Bay secondary on Sunday. That has to make Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers a wee bit nervous.

Detroit has confidence facing the Packers

You wouldn’t know it by their recent head-to-head record, but the Lions have a lot of confidence when facing the Packers. Though the Lions are only 2-4 in their last six games against the Packers in any venue, they have played their rivals tough in all but one of those games. The Lions beat the Packers earlier this season soundly. Last season they split with them but could have won the other game. In 2012 Detroit lost two games to Greenbay, but each defeat came by less than a touchdown. In 2011 in the final game of the season which was a tune up for both teams for the playoffs, the Lions narrowly lost 45-41 in Green Bay in an epic shootout. Really, since that Week #17 loss on the Frozen Tundra the Lions have had a swagger when facing the Pack, as if to say “We can beat you.” The problem is they haven’t done it enough and they still haven’t beaten the Packers in Green Bay. That could easily change on Sunday and the Packers realize that.

The Lions defense is scary good

In Week #3 the Lions beat the Packers at Ford Field by the score of 19-7. In that game the Lions’ defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, controlled the line of scrimmage all day long. The packers managed only 14 first downs, many of them in the last quarter when Detroit had built a lead. Aaron Rodgers was pressured all day and sacked twice. He only managed 147 net passing yards, his worst showing of the season. Better yet, the Lions defense produced big plays: DeAndre Levy tackled Eddie Lacy in the end zone for a safety, and Don Carey scooped up a fumble and ran it 40 yards for a touchdown for the first score of the game. The Detroit defense, under the guidance of Teryl Austin, is performing like a fine-tuned machine. They will be ready on Sunday, which means Detroit will be in the game, regardless of how well the Detroit offense plays.

Despite a sputtering offense, Matthew Stafford is a dangerous passer

As is the norm for a player at his position, Matthew Stafford takes the heat for his football team’s offensive woes. The Lions rank near the bottom in passing yards and Stafford has tossed a dozen interceptions. That’s not good, though some were not completely his fault. But it’s important to note a few things that are facts: Lion receivers have dropped 35 passes this season, which ranks third in the NFL. In addition, Stafford’s offensive line hasn’t helped him out much – the Detroit QB has been pressured 43 times, which tops the NFL. It’s safe to say that the 2014 season has seen Stafford in danger more often than any other year of his career. But still Stafford has topped 4,000 yards and managed to rally his team to several come-from-behind victories. He’s not universally loved in Motown, but Stafford is better than many think. Give him a great O-line and he’d be amazing to watch. Even an average O-line would help him out a lot. It should be noted that Stafford does deserve blame for the times he tries to beat the pressure by throwing a pass out of the pocket that flails overhead or is intercepted.

Having said all of that: Stafford is a real talent. When he has time to throw he can pick apart defenses. And the Packers defense is not noteworthy: the Pack rank below average defensively in points, yards, and first downs allowed. If the Detroit defense keeps Rodgers off the field and forces the Green Bay D to play a lot, Stafford and the Lions can do what they’ve rarely been able to do in 2014: throw the ball, stretch the field, and put up points.

Jim Caldwell isn’t fooling around

Since his first day in Detroit, head coach Jim Caldwell has shown how serious he is. This isn’t The Old Jim, this is The New Jim, and he doesn’t mess around. It’s not a coincidence that Suh is having his best year under the new staff, or that the defense has shown such a turnaround. Caldwell has settled the team down, established his authority, and removed much of the doubt about where this franchise would go after the death of William Clay Ford. Not since Sparky Anderson’s “My way or the highway” speech has a new coach taken such firm command of his team in Detroit. The Packers are fully aware that these are not The Same Old Lions.

What do you think will happen on Sunday? Will the Lions break their losing streak at Lambeau Field and defeat the Packers to win the division title? Tell us what you think in the comments below.