What to watch for in Packers-Lions on 'TNF'

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The Detroit Lions (4-7) haven't swept the Green Bay Packers (7-4) since 1991.

Putting that into perspective, Lions rookie running back Ameer Abdullah and second-year tight end Eric Ebron weren't even alive when the club last pulled that off.

Two-plus decades of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers under center will do that an oft-moribund franchise like the Lions, but Detroit has a chance to end this ugly streak on Thursday Night Football. Can they pull it off?

We previewed the game on the Around the NFL Podcast, but let's take another look at what to watch for on Thursday night:

What's up with the Packers?


1. Casual fans will tune in expecting Rodgers to author another heady prime-time blowout, but that's asking a lot of this Packers offense. Clinging to the NFC's fifth playoff seed, Green Bay is mired in a 1-4 skid after starting the year 6-0. On pace for their worst offensive campaign of the Rodgers era, the Packers have been a bore since Week 4, ranking near the bottom of the league in points per game (T-26th), yards per outing (27th), passing yards per tilt (25th) and third-down percentage (25th).

2. So what's wrong? Well, not much has changed since Chris Wesseling penned a column last month on how Green Bay's struggles chart back, in part, to a cast of slow wideouts. With Jordy Nelson on the shelf, the Packers rank dead last among 32 teams in average 40-yard dash time for their top three wideouts -- Randall Cobb, James Jones and Davante Adams -- and No. 1 tight end -- Richard Rodgers -- per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky.

3. The problems at wideout are another reminder that most offseason narratives mean nothing. Thousands of words were spilled over Green Bay's air-tight offensive roster, an embarrassment of riches that saw rookie Ty Montgomery (ruled out for Thursday) praised by Packers coach Mike McCarthy as "strong, very powerful, obviously gifted," while Making the Leap candidate Davante Adams was gushed over by Rodgers as an "incredible" talent possessing "humongous upside." McCarthy called Adams the "MVP or an All-Star" of the offseason.

Entering December, though, Adams is struggling with an ankle injury and battling confidence issues after catching just 32 of his 64 targets with a whopping eight drops, leading Adams to say of his troubles this week: "It's hard to let it go. You really want to have that, they call it, the DB (defensive back) mentality. Just let it go, and go to the next play. Forget about it. But it's hard."

4. These issues aren't going away, but Green Bay can take stock in the recent play of Eddie Lacy. After failing to cross the 100-yard barrier all season, the third-year back pounded the Vikings for 100 yards in Week 11 before chalking up 105 yards against Chicago on Thanksgiving. The powerful Green Bay back has struggled, though, in two career games at Detroit, running for a combined 52 yards at just 2.5 yards per attempt. The Packers desperately need him to show up on Thursday night.

Motor City turnaround?


5. Since Week 6, Lions signal-caller Matthew Stafford owns better numbers than Rodgers, topping last year's MVP in completion percentage, passing yards per game and quarterback rating. Jim Bob Cooter's elevation to offensive coordinator has ushered in a new day for Stafford, who is operating as a top 10 passer since the play-caller took over before Week 8. Stafford is making better decisions, reducing turnovers, finding his playmakers and throwing with confidence. The Packers need their sixth-ranked scoring defense to rattle Stafford, but that's a tall order from a pass rush with one or fewer sacks in four of their last five games.

6. Cooter has also done more with Ameer Abdullah, the electric rookie runner who is finally seeing an uptick in snaps. After just one touch in Week 8, Abdullah saw six in Week 10, 13 in Week 11 and a season-high 17 in last week's romp over the Eagles. The team has also made good use of passing-down option Theo Riddick, who flamed Philly for 62 receiving yards and a touchdown on Thanksgiving after piling up 72 yards through the air against Oakland in Week 11. We're finally seeing these weapons come to life.

7. Detroit's defense remains a mixed bag, but the Lions have been solid against the run over the past three weeks, while watching a star emerge in the form of Ziggy Ansah. Second league-wide with 11.5 sacks, the third-year pass rusher is making his case as the best first-round pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Lions are thrilled with his surge, leaving coach Jim Caldwell to say of Ansah, per the team's official website: "He's a rare cat, now. Very, very rare breed. I wish we could bottle it. That's what every coach, every GM, every president, every scout, they're all looking for that particular formula."

8. Why should you tune in? For starters, Detroit has a chance to spoil Green Bay's season on the national stage. Sweeping the Packers would leave McCarthy's bunch at 7-5 and one step closer to missing the playoffs. Meanwhile, a win would keep the Lions mathematically alive for a playoff spot after their 1-7 start. Likely? Not at all, but neither of these teams have followed the script in 2015.

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