Sunday Night Football, on the first day of the New Year, is the biggest game that Ford Field has seen in quite some time. When all of the other games are decided, the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions will take the field in a defacto winner-take-all NFC North Championship game. It’s the type of scenario sports fans and specifically the NFL love on the last day of the season. It becomes boring when teams have playoffs berths and Conference Championships locked up by week 12, and the ensuing “do we play our starters” debates begin. Luckily for Lions fans, we have a very meaningful game in Week 17.
Now, in the need for full disclosure, I must make known that last week I did call for a tongue-in-cheek abandonment of the rushing attack for the Lions. And also, in the vein of a well-manicured excuse, I wrote that piece before the Lions took on the Cowboys Monday Night. But Sunday Night, having a rushing attack, and choosing to use it accordingly, is of utmost importance if the Lions plan on winning. And that plan should revolve around #34 Zach Zenner.
Coming into last week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Lions were tasked with facing the #1 ranked rush defense in the league. The Cowboys only had given up an average of 81.5 yards per game to opposing rushers. And we all know the Lions troubles with running the ball–not having a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush ran for 117 yards on Thanksgiving in 2013!
Zenner was on track to do that against the Cowboys, racking up 10 carries for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half Monday Night. He ended the night with only 12 carries and 67 yards, which completely baffles the mind. If he can put up those type of numbers in the first half against the best rushing defense in the League, then he definitely can be an x-factor for the Lions in the crucial Sunday Night Game.
Here’s a few stats just to prove my point. Green Bay’s defense ranks 2oth overall in the NFL, according to NFL.com. They allow roughly 361 yards per game, and rank 29th in pass defense (265.1 y/g) and 9th in rushing defense (95.9 y/g). While this seems to say that the onus is going to be on Matthew Stafford to bring home the cheese (pun intended), Zenner’s ability to control the clock and slice and dice the defense is of utmost importance. If the Lions choose not to try to establish some semblance of a balanced attack, it will be a long night, just like last Monday Night was. If Zenner can attack a defense like Dallas’s, then he should be able to shred the 9th ranked defense as well.
The use of Zach Zenner and the ground game will be the deciding factor in the game. Stafford will do what he does against weak secondaries, but if we can flip the script in the run game, then say hello to your NFC North Division Champs–The Detroit Lions.