Justin Rogers and John Niyo discuss the Detroit Lions' upcoming matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Packers at Lions
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Packers 2-1, Lions 1-3
Line: Packers by 1.5
View from the other side
Michael Cohen covers the Packers for The Athletic. He breaks down the Lions’ upcoming opponent for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Sunday’s game. You can follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.
►Question: Are there any lingering concerns with Aaron Rodgers' health after the scare with his knee a few weeks back?
►Answer: I don't think there any concerns about the knee itself; Rodgers has proven he can maneuver well enough with the brace. The larger concern, in my opinion, is that he continues to miss a portion of practice time each week. The Packers practice Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and up until last week — prior to the Bills game — he was only participating in the light session Saturday morning. Now he's in a pattern of practicing Thursday and Saturday. From a mental standpoint this probably doesn't matter much for Rodgers, whose understanding of defenses is clearly at an elite level. But he's missed some routine throws the last couple weeks, and it makes you wonder if the reduction in practice time is influencing his sharpness and the overall cohesion of the offense.
►Question: The Packers invested heavily in the secondary this offseason, using two top-50 draft picks on cornerbacks. And both Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson are seeing significant snaps early. How are they performing through four games and how much has their presence helped shore up one of the team's most-glaring roster holes from 2017?
►Answer: Alexander and Jackson have been terrific for the Packers thus far. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine went as far as labeling Alexander one of the best overall players on defense through the first few weeks of the season. Alexander has split playing time between the perimeter (in base) and the slot (in nickel and dime packages), and the coaches love his feisty, aggressive attitude. Jackson can be a bit grabby at times, evidenced by two penalties late in Sunday's win over the Bills, but he's been a significant upgrade, as well. Like Alexander, he plays inside and outside to give Pettine a lot of versatility. It should also be noted that 35-year-old Tramon Williams continues to play steady football after more than a decade in the league. He plays every snap on the perimeter. He even returned punts against the Bills when wide receiver Randall Cobb, the team's primary returner, was injured.
►Question: The backfield rotation seems to be tilting in Aaron Jones' favor. What is he doing well that's put him in line to take advantage of Detroit's porous run defense?
►Answer: Jones is really, really explosive. He's had 17 carries this season after serving a two-game suspension, and 41.2 percent of those rushes have generated first downs. A year ago, Jones ranked 11th in the league with six rushes of 20+ yards despite having only 81 rushing attempts all season. Some context: Tevin Coleman (156 total carries), Alex Collins (212) and Carlos Hyde (240) also had six rushes of 20+ yards with exponentially larger workloads. In other words, Jones was generating explosive gains at a remarkable rate. The Packers are still going to rotate fellow tailbacks Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery into the equation, but Jones is the only home run threat of the bunch. He's the player opposing defensive coordinators should be most worried about.
►Question: Given the position he plays, I don't think many Lions fans are attuned to the emergence of Kenny Clark. What does he do well from that interior spot and how important is he to the Packers’ overall defensive success?
►Answer: One of Clark's best attributes is his ability to shed blockers and stop running backs for minimal gains. If you watch the film, Clark can be seen getting his arms extended against offensive linemen — keeping them at bay — while his eyes scan the backfield to follow the running back. Then he relies on a vice-like grip to shed blocks and make plays laterally along the line of scrimmage. As a former wrestler, Clark has a terrific understanding of leverage and how to manipulate blockers. He's very athletic for a nose tackle and often chases ball carriers from sideline to sideline, even if he's not always the first player there to make the tackle. Clark is probably the Packers' best player on defense.
►Question: The Packers win this game if ...
►Answer: The defense can find way to stop a veteran quarterback. Through four games, the defense has played very well against Mitch Trubisky and Josh Allen but was torched by Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins, whose understanding of defenses is more thorough after so many years in the league. Mike Pettine's scheme puts an emphasis on motion and disguise that forces quarterbacks to re-read the defense after the ball is snapped. Younger quarterbacks often struggle to make the correct decisions in real time. Of course, Matthew Stafford has seen every blitz under the sun at this point in his career; he won't be rattled. But if the Packers can find a way to slow him down, Pettine will know he's making legitimate progress.
►Prediction: Packers 28, Lions 24
Three Packers to watch
►Kenny Clark, DT: Clark might be one of the best defensive players in the NFL who most fans don't know. A first-round pick in 2016, he's quietly developed into one of the game's upper-echelon defense tackles, with 11 hurries, a dozen run stops and a pair of batted passes this season.
►Davante Adams, WR: Green Bay's leading receiver is banged up with a calf injury, but should still suit up Sunday. He's shown a true knack for the finding the end zone, with 25 touchdowns in his past 34 games, thanks to his slippery release at the line of scrimmage.
►Jaire Alexander, CB: The rookie cornerback isn't playing like a first-year player, allowing just 13 receptions on 22 targets while in coverage. He plays both inside and out and should pose a stiff challenge for Detroit's Golden Tate, who is pacing Detroit's passing attack with 389 yards through four weeks.