Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 27, 2018 at 1:43 am.

Packers a different team since season’s start

The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions will meet for the second time this season, but the teams that will be playing for pride on Sunday at Lambeau Field will hardly resemble the teams that battled at Ford Field on Oct. 7.

Of the Packers’ 11 defensive starters that day, four are on injured reserve (defensive tackles Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, outside linebacker Nick Perry and cornerback Kevin King), one has been traded (safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), one has changed positions (Tramon Williams, from safety to cornerback) and one barely plays (safety Kentrell Brice). Oh, and they’ve fired their longtime head coach, Mike McCarthy.

It’s not much different for Detroit’s offense, with which three of its top performers will not be on the field for the rematch of a game the Lions won 31-23. Receiver Golden Tate was traded, receiver Marvin Jones Jr. is on injured reserve and running back Kerryon Johnson is also on injured reserve. Detroit has scored 20 points or less in eight of its last nine games.

“You always go through it and say, ‘All right, what were the problem plays? How did they attack us? What were the things that were an issue in the game?'” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of his thoughts when watching the first matchup. “You try to understand what you do well in the game, and you’ve got to take that all into account. But you do 100 percent have to take a look at where the teams are now. It’s really important to understand what the teams are currently with the players they have and the scheme, and what’s worked for them recently and how they’ve been able to be productive and try to understand that you have to defend that first.”

Other than draft positioning, there is nothing of consequence on the line. Detroit (5-10) has lost seven of its last nine games and clinched last place in the NFC North. Green Bay (6-8-1) earned its first road victory of the season last week at the Jets and is locked into third place.

Still, the Packers under interim head coach Joe Philbin will be playing to win.

“The reality, and I told the team this morning, by Monday at 5 o’clock, right, this is going to be a ghost town,” Philbin said. “I mean, it ends rapidly, and whether you finish the season as Super Bowl champions or you lose in ‘X’ round of the playoffs or you don’t get to the playoffs, it’s, bang, all of a sudden it’s over. And the reality of it is some of these guys may never see each other the rest of their natural lives on Earth, right, because things change in the National Football League, regardless of the win-loss record you had that particular year.

“So just basically, let’s enjoy the week. And really, they’ll never regret finishing the season strong. I said guys, ‘Five years from now, you’re not probably going to remember the score of the Jets game. But you’ll remember the feelings you had in the locker room.’ It didn’t matter what the team’s record was. It’s still an awesome opportunity to go out there and compete and play in the National Football League. And to do it for the Green Bay Packers is, it’s about as good as it gets.”

Injuries will be a big issue as Green Bay limps into the finale. Receivers Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Equanimeous St. Brown, left tackle David Bakhtiari, cornerback Jaire Alexander and outside linebacker Clay Matthews did not practice on Wednesday

SERIES HISTORY: 177th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 98-71-7. After going undefeated against the Lions in the state of Wisconsin for a quarter-century, the Packers lost games in 2015 and 2017.