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

As the temperature drops and the calendar turns, let's, for a hot second, flash back to a better time, a simpler time for fans of the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

The month was October. The Week was 4. Detroit and Green Bay stood atop the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers, with two good clavicles, was one week from silencing Cowboys' stands forever.

Just one month and change later, the Lions have lost three straight and the Pack have lost their starting quarterback and his collarbone for the season. Suddenly, the Minnesota Vikings, led by Case Keenum of all people, are in control of the Norse division, two games up on Acme and three up on Motown.

If either mid-tier Midwest club doesn't act fast, the Vikings are going to sail into the postseason, without their starting quarterback and running back and without a fight from their foes to the east.

The battle back into the playoff race begins on Monday night for both Detroit and Green Bay. The Lions have an opportunity to rattle off a three-game winning streak if they knock off Green Bay in Green Bay for the second time in their last three tries; after the Pack, Detroit has meetings with two rookie quarterbacks in consecutive weeks (DeShone Kizer's Browns, Mitchell Trubisky's Bears) before clashing with the Vikes.

It won't get easier for Rodgers fill-in Brett Hundley after Monday night. His next three opponents (Bears, Ravens, Steelers) all boast fierce front sevens and top-10 pass defenses. A win over Detroit, to stay two games over .500 at the midway point, would be tight.

Here's what else you should look for on the first Monday evening of November in the year of our Lombardi 2017:

  1. The drop off in play from Aaron Rodgers, gone but not forgotten, to Brett Hundley is noticeable and will go under the microscope on prime-time television this week. On tape, it's clear Hundley struggles to throw the deep ball with any accuracy and is at his best when he's throwing timed routes short of the sticks or behind the line of scrimmage. If Green Bay gets down early against Detroit, there's no evidence that Hundley has the capacity to lead a game-turning drive. But that was all before the bye. Maybe since, the Packers' consecutive losses to Minnesota and New Orleans, in which they scored fewer than 20 points, Green Bay has crafted a package that suits Hundley better. Potentially something with more quick strikes to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb or read options with ... Aaron Jones.

Jones, thrust into the spotlight due to injuries to Rodgers and starting back Ty Montgomery, the rookie out of UTEP has assumed a predominant role in Green Bay's offensive game plan. With Hundley going through the motions and the Packers' offensive line getting healthier, Green Bay should rely on the speedy freshman on Monday night. Besting the Lions front seven will be a tough task though. Detroit has only surrendered over 100 rushing yards twice this season and just last week held Le'Veon Bell to his worst showing in five weeks.

  1. Detroit's red zone woes last week have been well documented. The 27th-ranked red zone scoring offense in the league made five trips inside Pittsburgh's 20-yard line and came out with nine points. Nine! Three field goals and two turnover on downs for an offense that otherwise railroaded a competent Steelers defense for 482 yards, the third-most yards scored without an offensive touchdown in NFL history. The Lions ran 17 plays inside the 20 and tallied nine total yards. Amazingly, Detroit gained more than one yard on only three of those 17 plays.

Part of the Lions' problem was the absence of a go-to red-zone receiving threat; the big-bodied Kenny Golladay was out and Eric Ebron has not been reliable. Part of their issues stem from the lack of a consistent power running game; Lions coach Jim Caldwell insists Dwayne Washington can play that role, but the back attempted four red-zone carries and came up with just six yards. After a week of deep reflection and self-evaluation, will Detroit's scoring issues persist against Green Bay?

  1. The Packers' defense will be happy to welcome back two potentially crucial contributors on Monday night: veteran safety Morgan Burnett and rookie linebacker Vince Biegel. Sidelined by a hammmy the last two games, Burnett is the irreplaceable fixture of Green Bay's nitro nickel defense and returns to the Green Bay secondary just as injuries are mounting. Burnett is charged with calling out the plays and getting the defensive lined up, so look for Green Bay to limit Detroit's big plays with the safety back in action. Biegel was highly touted coming out of Wisconsin, but was injured during his first week of practices and has yet to see the field. Activated off the PUP list this week, he will likely make his debut against the Lions, either in special teams or sub-packages.
  1. Detroit has something brewing in the front seven. The Lions boast a young nucleus of first- and second-year studs up the middle, namely Jarrad Davis, A'Shawn Robinson, Anthony Zettel and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. As with their divisional foes in Chicago, Detroit is surprising offenses with its run-stuffing ability, but will be tasked Monday night with slowing down Jones, one of the league's most proficient hole-hitters.

The same competence cannot be said about the other side of the ball. "Paced" by Ameer Abdullah, the Lions' running game has underwhelmed so far. Detroit hasn't broken 100 yards on the ground since Week 2, and a Lions running back hasn't rushed for over 100 yards since Reggie Bush in November 2013. Perhaps that will change against the Pack, who haven't surrendered fewer than 100 rushing yards since Week 1.

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