O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: Lions rare favorites at Lambeau

Posted Nov 6, 2017

Mike O'Hara shares his final thoughts heading into Monday's Lions-Packers matchup.

GREEN BAY – Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers Final Thoughts:  My pick with the Lions being rare favorites at Lambeau; a bigger role possible for Ameer Abdullah; a Packer to watch and random thoughts on the Lions’ run game, a Lambeau memory and more:  

Taking the favorite: It doesn’t happen very often that the Lions are the team to beat when they play the Packers at Lambeau Field, but this is one of those rare times.

The Lions are slight favorites against a Packers team playing with unheralded Brett Hundley starting at quarterback in place of Aaron Rodgers, who is out with a broken right collarbone that could cause him to miss the rest of the season.

This is only the third time in 27 seasons that the Lions are favored in a game against the Packers, and the Lions are 1-1 as favorites.

In 1991, the Lions clinched a playoff berth with a 21-17 win in Game 15 over a Packers team that finished 4-12 and would miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season and 19 times in 20 years.

In 2011, both teams had playoff berths wrapped up going into the final week. With Rodgers resting for the playoffs, the Lions’ defense failed to show up in a 45-41 loss. Matt Flynn torched them for six touchdown passes.

Tonight’s game is different from the other two in nearly every way.  It is critical for both teams. The Lions cannot afford to have their record drop to 3-5 with a fourth straight loss. The Packers, with two straight losses since Rodgers went out early in Game 6, would drop to 4-4 with a costly loss to the NFC North rival Lions.

Without Rodgers, the Lions are the better team overall – better on offense, better on defense and better on special teams. This is a game the Lions should win – and I think they will win.

Prediction: Lions 26, Packers 13.

Heavier run load: A highlight play in the Lions’ first seven games was a three-yard touchdown run. What it lacked in length to be considered a highlight was made up for in power and determination.

Ameer Abdullah, all 203 pounds of him, looked like a short-yardage power runner when he scored on that three-yard run for the Lions’ only touchdown in a 14-7 road victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Game 4. 

That run is just one reason why the Lions might consider featuring Abdullah more – starting tonight – in their run-starved offense. Another reason is that he’s their best running back.

On the TD run, Abdullah took Matthew Stafford’s handoff and disappeared in a mosh pit of several tons of humanity at the four. He popped into view as he crossed the two with a dive and slammed the ball in the end zone with his right hand.

Abdullah is not campaigning for more carries – either on third downs, where he’s had none, in the red zone, where he’s been used sparingly, or in any other situation.

“I’m never going to tell the coaches what to do,” he said earlier this week. “Their job is to design, put us in the best situations. My job is to execute – execute under any circumstance. I’m never going to tell the coaches what they should or shouldn’t do.”

The stats speak for themselves. Through the first seven games, Abdullah has rushed for 369 yards and 3.7 yards per carry. The rest of the backs have combined to carry 47 times for 119 yards – a miniscule 2.5 yards per carry.

Packer to watch – Nick Perry: Perry has been a consistent force at outside linebacker on a defense that ranks near the bottom of the league with only 12 sacks.

Perry, drafted in the first round and 28th overall out of Southern Cal and Detroit Martin Luther King Jr. High School in 2012, leads the Packers with 3.5 sacks.

Perry has given the Lions problems in the past. He had three of his career-high 11 sacks last season in the Packers’ sweep of the Lions.

Two sacks and a forced fumble were in the Packers’ 34-27 win at Lambeau in Game 3. He had one sack in the 31-24 win in the final-game showdown that gave the Packers their fifth NFC North title in six years and relegated the Lions to a wild card berth in the NFC playoffs.

Random thoughts: 

Turf war: Guard T.J. Lang downplayed any edge he might give his Lions teammates in his first game back at Lambeau, his home field for eight seasons before signing with the Lions in March. However, one tip – or perhaps a reminder for veterans who’ve played at Lambeau – is to prepare for the footing on natural grass. It can be slippery at times, Lang said earlier in the week. He noticed how opponents occasionally would lose their balance on the turf.

Abdullah, sticky fingers: The issues he had with ball security as a rookie in 2015 have gone away. Ameer had five fumbles, losing two, out of 145 touches (carries and receptions combined) in his first 14 games of 2015. 

Since then he has gone 181 touches without fumbling.

Schedule watching: The Lions have a slight edge over the Packers in strength – weakness, rather -- of schedule in the next three games, which adds importance to tonight’s game. The winner will start the second half of the season with a clear edge.

The Lions’ next three are home against the Browns, on the road against the Bears and home against the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day. The Packers’ next three are on the road vs. the Bears, home vs. the Ravens and on the road vs. the Steelers.

Lambeau memory: The first game I covered at Lambeau was game 12 of the 1977 season. The Packers blocked a field-goal attempt late in the game to help clinch a 10-9 victory over the Lions.

The Packers’ dynasty had long since crumbled, and they finished that season with a 4-10 won-loss record. It didn’t sap the joy of winning from the Packers’ faithful.

When the game ended, the fans carried the players off the field on their shoulders.