STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel |
WR Bruce Ellington was placed on injured reserve Saturday for the second time this season because of a hamstring injury. Ellington opened the year with the Houston Texans and was released off injured reserve in October. The Lions signed Ellington after they traded Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles, but Ellington pulled his hamstring again in a Week 14 win over the Green Bay Packers. He had 23 catches in four games with the Lions.
TE Luke Willson's season is in jeopardy after he suffered a concussion in last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Willson did not practice Wednesday. He has career-lows of 13 catches and 87 yards receiving this season and will be an unrestricted free agent again in March.
CB Jamal Agnew returned to the lineup last week for the first time since he suffered a knee injury in an October win over the Green Bay Packers, but he did not play any defensive snaps. The Lions have said they intend to proceed cautiously with Agnew in his return after he missed more than two months. He handled kickoff- and punt-return duties last week against the Vikings and is expected to do so again.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TE Levine Toilolo. With the Lions receiving corps decimated by trade (Golden Tate) and injury (Marvin Jones Jr., Bruce Ellington), Toilolo has taken on a bigger role as a pass-catching tight end. Toilolo, who was signed for his blocking prowess and served primarily in that capacity early in the season, has 17 catches for 220 yards entering this week's season finale. Toilolo needs just 45 yards receiving to set a new career high, and his 17 receptions are his most since 2014. Toilolo will be an unrestricted free agent in March, and while his solid season should earn him looks elsewhere, he's a player the Lions will have to think long and hard about bringing back.
The Lions have followed the same blueprint for most of the last two months, and nothing much will change Sunday. Offensively, they want to run the ball and control the clock, and they'll use a variety of personnel in the backfield to do so. Zach Zenner has been the team's most effective back the last three weeks, and he could have success up the middle against a Kenny Clark-less defense. The Lions' downfield passing game has been mostly nonexistent since October, and even with Stafford a full participant in practice for the first time in about a month, they won't take many chances downfield given their lack of weapons on the outside and the fragility of their offensive line.
The Lions played Darius Slay almost exclusively on Davante Adams in the first meeting, and while they held the Packers scoreless in the first half, Adams finished with nine catches for 140 yards. While Slay and Adams could match up again, Matt Patricia has switched things up in the past against teams that have one receiver they rely so heavily upon by playing his No. 1 cornerback on the opposing team's No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1 most of the game. From a pass-rush perspective, the Lions are wary of Rodgers' ability to buy time with his legs and will try and keep him in the pocket in lieu of blitzing.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Lions C Graham Glasgow vs. Packers NT Tyler Lancaster. The Lions have become a run-first team in the second half of the season, and Glasgow, their most dependable lineman, has sometimes struggled against overpowering nose tackles. Lancaster is a 313-pounder who's played well at times this year, but he's also an undrafted rookie who lacks experience and is replacing a Pro Bowler in Kenny Clark. The Lions were effective running the ball in their first game against the Packers, when both Clark and Mike Daniels were on the field. If Glasgow can control the middle Sunday, they should an even better day on the ground.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Lions LB Jarrad Davis. The Lions have used Davis frequently this year as a spy on mobile quarterbacks, and that will be part of his duties Sunday. Davis has 92 tackles and eight for loss, and he's been an effective pass rusher this year with five sacks - many on delayed blitzes. Playing against the best quarterback in the game, Davis has many more responsibilities than just spying Rodgers. He has to match wits with Rodgers while setting the defense and being a force against the run. Often, the Lions defense has gone how Davis has gone this year, and Sunday should be no different.