Friday, December 15, 2006

Lions: The Trap Game?

As the Packers continue their roller coaster season (that's probably had a few more drops than hills), they seem to be on the cusp of what appears to be a two-game winning streak as the Lions come to town on Sunday.

There is nary an aspect of the on-paper match ups that would put the Packers at any disadvantage whatsoever. The Packers are favored to win, they’re at home, and hold statistical advantages almost across the board.

Furthermore, the Lions are a miserable 2-11, haven’t won since the beginning of November, and have the look in their eye that seems to be begging, "Can we just concede and go home now?" Poor Lions, it’s a bit reminiscent of the 2005 Packers season. The injury bug has even starting striking, removing Kevin Jones, their starting running back, not only for this season but likely a good chunk of 2007.

The fans are so drained that can’t even muster up the energy to boo or chant "Fire Millen!" anymore. The Lions are like Akili Smith on the sidelines of his last preseason performance with the Packers: a pariah within their own family, a car wreck waiting to be cleaned up.

The Packers, coming off an impressive win in which they truly controlled every quarter, return home to rematch the team they've already beaten once this year in Detroit. They’ve made some adjustments and have seemed to have gotten the ship seaworthy again. Favre is closing in on the touchdown record and will break the all-time completions record this weekend.

So, this game is as sure of a thing as we’ve had all season, right? Right?

You don’t hear any bravado, though, from the Packer faithful. Optimism is a far cry from confidence. Hope isn’t the same thing as a guarantee.

And there’s nothing worse than looking past an opponent.

jkThe Green Bay Packers, however, do have their Achilles’ heels. As the Lions adjust to the loss of Jones, they will likely rely on quarterback Jon Kitna to lead the charge. Kitna has attempted one less pass than Favre this season, good enough for third in the NFL. He’s fourth in yardage and is second in interceptions. If there’s any part of the Packer defense that can be picked apart, it’s the secondary.

San Francisco played a pretty vanilla offense against the Packers last week, but you can bet that the Lions, with nothing to lose, will do what they can to beat our safeties to the punch, and WR Roy Williams would love nothing more than to tie up Al Harris all day and allow Mike Furrey and the other receivers to gash the Packers for big plays on their home turf.

And of course, that brings up the other issue: the Packers have done more than lose the home-field advantage; they now officially have a home field DISadvantage. Perhaps it’s mental, kind of like feeling snake bit, that playing in front of a home crowd with high expectations psyches the players out. Who knows? But the point stands that the Packers have only beaten one team on their home field this year, a game in which rookie Matt Lienart was clearly baffled by the pro game (not unlike Alex Smith last week).

Jon Kitna isn’t Matt Hasselback or Tom Brady, but he’s a veteran who isn’t going to be shaken as easily as a kid.

All in all, this is a game that the Packers should win. And that is the inherent danger: it almost makes it a “must win” situation, but not in a good way. This is a game that you have to guard against all those internal demons that cause you to beat yourself. You can’t play not to lose. You can’t over think your executions and try too hard to not make a mistake. You don’t want to rub their face in a lead, but you don’t want to play a prevent and allow them back in the game, either. Don’t forget our own fans booed us last time, too.

And, you can't think to much about all these things, or you'll lose your focus.

This is the definition of a “trap game”, a game where the only person who should be able to beat you is yourself. This is also a critical game for the McCarthy era. The Packers have done a fairly good job this year beating the teams that they “should” beat: pathetic teams like the Lions, the Dolphins, the 49ers, and the Cardinals. However, they’ve also lost some winnable games to non-playoff teams, like the Bills, the Jets, and the Rams.

This game is a reflection on “Packer People”, how this team is prepared to show up and play. Too often this year we’ve seen our team come out and be embarrassed on our home field by superior teams. The Packers need this game. It pushes them to at least 6-10 (with a weak schedule) and sends a message that we are getting to the point where we not only beat the teams we should, we do it on our home field.

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