The Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions have played many great games in their long rivalry. They first tangled in 1930 when the Lions were known as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. To date the Packers have held the upper hand and lead the regular-season series 79-64-7. Green Bay also has won both playoff meetings between the two teams. Having played for both the Packers and the Lions, this is a matchup I've always watched with special interest.
Unfortunately Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field will not help decide who wins the NFC North divisional title. It will not clinch a playoff berth for either team. It will strictly be for pride -- a situation neither one of these teams would have wished for at the start of the season. Both the Packers and the Lions have disappointing records and plenty of injuries. The Lions have fired head coach Steve Mariucci and replaced him with Dick Jauron as interim coach. With Mariucci's dismissal the Lions are dealing with a lot of dissension and finger-pointing right now. Cornerback Dre' Bly came out nationally last week and blamed quarterback Joey Harrington for all their problems. Jauron is trying to get things back on track. That's a tall order because his team is in awful shape health-wise and with all of the friction that's going on.
Meanwhile, Packers fans know all too well how difficult this season has been. The team has been decimated with injuries, and the season has been a real struggle. Brett Favre knows he has to play a nearly perfect game for the Packers to have any chance to win, and that's a real burden. While these conditions are unpleasant they also offer a real opportunity for certain players. They're playing for their jobs. They're playing for themselves. They're playing to make a good impression on the coaching staffs and the general managers. It's a great opportunity for a lot of younger players who are only out there because of the injuries on both sides. Guys who might not normally be playing have a chance to really make a name for themselves as the coaches begin planning for next year.
Naturally when things aren't going well there is no shortage of criticism. People can say what they want about Favre's decision-making. Yes, I'm sure there are quite a few of his throws that he'd love to have back this year. Two picks against the Chicago Bears quickly come to mind. The fact is you can't change the way Favre plays. He's played this way his entire career. As I said all week on my radio shows, the difference is his supporting cast -- a cast that's extremely young and short on experience. Favre's probably trying to make too much happen when things aren't there. That's hard to do. When a quarterback is used to making plays it's extremely difficult when your regular guys aren't in the lineup. Those are the guys that you are comfortable with, and their absence can have a very negative affect on what you want to accomplish as a quarterback. As a veteran quarterback, Favre still has to be smart and not force things. Take what the defense gives you and when things aren't there, just throw it away.
Sunday presents another challenge for Favre. Once again, he can't afford to try and do too much. Without question the Packers are in very good position to beat Detroit. Despite all of the disappointments this season, I've noticed a number of bright spots for Green Bay.
Samkon Gado has shown flashes that he might be the real deal at tailback. Last week against the Bears, Gado looked very comfortable in his running style. He was seeing the holes and getting to them with authority. Gado was particularly impressive in cutting back against the grain, ripping off nice chunks of yardage in the process. He did that against the great defensive front seven of the Bears. Another positive, from my point of view, was inserting Grey Ruegemer into the offensive line. I like the nastiness and the aggressiveness of his style. I thought the line was run blocking very well, and Gado elevated his game to take advantage of it. I want to see more of that this week against a decimated Lions defense. If the Packers can run the ball effectively, they'll be more balanced and give themselves a great chance to pick up a win.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers defense has been playing very well. They just need to continue to play the way they have been, pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run. The Lions are struggling and have been switching quarterbacks all year. Kevin Jones hasn't been nearly the factor he was last season, and their offensive line hasn't been playing well either. They haven't had anywhere near the production they thought they'd have at the beginning of the year with all of their offensive talent. Guys like Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams certainly have the ability, but as an offensive unit the Lions haven't been getting it done. I look for the Packers defense to dominate and avoid the season sweep by getting a little revenge for their loss in the first game of the season.
I also like the fact that the Packers have shown a lot of pride by being mentally into the games all year despite their record. My radio audience knows, and I'll say it here, too -- every game is worth winning. This Sunday night the Packers have an opportunity to go out there in front of those great Lambeau Field fans and make it happen. With all of their effort and the way they've hung together, team pride should will them to victory.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.