Packers-Lions: 5 Things To Watch


The teams: The Green Bay Packers (10-0) vs. the Detroit Lions (7-3).

The time: 11:30 a.m. CST Thursday.

The place: Ford Field, Detroit.

The TV coverage: WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee) and WMSN (Ch. 47 in Madison).

The announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth with Pam Oliver reporting from the sidelines.

The coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy is 64 -34 (including 5-2 in the postseason) in his sixth season as the Packers’ coach and as an NFL head coach. Detroit?s Jim Schwartz is 15-27 in his third season as the Lions? coach and as an NFL head coach. McCarthy is 9-1 all-time against the Lions; Schwartz is 1-3 all-time against the Packers.

The series: The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series, 89-64-7, although the Lions hold a 40-36-3 advantage in Detroit, including last year?s 7-3 victory.

The rankings: The Packers? fourth-ranked offense is No. 21 in rushing and No. 3 in passing. Their 30th-ranked defense is No. 12 against the run and No. 31 against the pass. The Lions? 11th-ranked offense is No. 22 in rushing and No. 8 in passing. Their ninth-ranked defense is No. 28 against the run and No. 5 against the pass.

The line: The Packers are favored by 6.5 points.

The injury report: Packers ? LT Chad Clifton (hamstring) is out. RB James Starks (knee/ankle) is questionable. OLB Frank Zombo (hamstring), ILB Desmond Bishop (calf), WR Greg Jennings (knee), OLB Clay Matthews (ankle), LT Marshall Newhouse (knee) and RG Josh Sitton (knee) are probable

Lions ? RB Jahvid Best (concussion) and P Ryan Donahue (quadriceps) are out. DE Lawrence Jackson (thigh) is doubtful. DT Corey Williams (calf) and DE Willie Young (ankle) are questionable. QB Matthew Stafford (finger), RB Maurice Morris (ankle), WR Calvin Johnson (ankle), WR Rashied Davis (hamstring), S Chris Harris (ankle), LB DeAndre Levy (elbow), S Amari Spievey (toe) and WR Maurice Stovall (shoulder) are probable.


Safe at home: History buffs have been aware of this factoid for several weeks, but for the uninitiated, the last time a 10-0 Packers team went to Detroit for Thanksgiving was in 1962. By the end of the Lions? 26-14 victory, the Packers were no longer undefeated and quarterback Bart Starr had been sacked a whopping 11 times by Alex Karras, Roger Brown and the rest of the Detroit defense.

With the 2011 Packers carrying their 10-0 record into Ford Field knowing the kind of stellar front four ? led by tackle Ndamukong Suh ? the Lions have today, will history repeat itself? From the outside looking in, the recipe for beating the Packers would be to generate pressure with just four, avoid the blitz ? against which quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the highest passer rating in the league ? and shrink the passing windows by having more defenders in coverage. That was certainly Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham?s mentality, as he sent five or more rushers on just 11 percent of Rodgers? drop-backs in the teams? two meetings last year.

?I would again say (that) I don?t think there?s a recipe to beating us,? Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPNMilwaukee and ESPNMadison. ?A lot of people are talking about the way to beat us; well, it hasn?t happened yet. Nobody has beaten us. We?re 10-0, we?ve found ways to win against various defensive styles and coverages. But you know, this (Lions) team really gets after the passer with their front four. They have two of the top ends for sure in the NFC in (Kyle) Vanden Bosh and (Cliff) Avril, and guys in the middle who can really get some pressure on the quarterback. So protection, as we always talk about, is going be the most important thing when you?re looking at trying to attack these guys. We?ve got to make sure we?re slowing those guys down a little bit and changing the launch angle.?

Then there?s another historical marker: The last time the Packers played in Detroit, Rodgers left the game with a concussion, having been hit hard at the end of an 18-yard scramble on which he should?ve slid after picking up the first down. To hear Rodgers tell it, that won?t happen again.

?I think it?s important to remember my role on this team. If I?m not taking care of myself, I can hurt this team,? Rodgers said. ?If I got the first down, I?m probably not going to outrun anybody or make too many guys miss, so make sure I get down pretty quickly.?

Asked what he remembers from that game, Rodgers, who missed the next week?s game at New England because he couldn?t pass his concussion tests, replied: ?I remember being disappointed on the flight home when I started to come to a little bit. It was frustrating to lose at that point in the season; we were 8-5 I believe. The playoffs were looking a little dim at that point. It was frustrating to suffer another concussion, the uncertainty of my future at the time. I was glad to be able to get back on the field a couple of weeks after that.?

It?s on like Ndamukong: The heart and soul ? and, in the opinion of some, the evil leader ? of the Lions defense is Suh, who met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently to discuss playing within the rules, as he was leading the NFL in personal foul penalties. His battle with Packers right guard Josh Sitton, who had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2010 but has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play this year, could very well decide the game.

?I think over the last year, my battles with Sitton have been pretty productive,? Suh said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week. ?He?s a great player, but at the same time I like going against great players and it gives me a challenge and it gives me something to really hone into. He?s a great player that I enjoy going against because of his talent, his strength, his abilities, being able to have quick feet and so forth. It?s always a fun time to go against him.?

As for Suh?s growing reputation as a dirty player, the party line during the week that came down from coach Mike McCarthy was not to ?get caught up in those types of things. ? They have an aggressive style to their defense. It?s a challenge. We?ve played (against) their scheme now going on three years; that?s really what we?re focused on.?

Asked if he was concerned about Suh and the game getting chippy ? as the Lions? loss to Chicago did after Nick Fairley attempted to bury Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six feet deep in his own end zone ? Rodgers replied: ?Suh is a great player and in a short time he?s really become a top guy at his position. So it?s going to be important for us inside to make sure we figure out a way to stay in front of him. I think we understand the consequences of those kind of penalties. Hopefully we?ll be able to rise above a lot of that.?

Much improved ? no lion: While it?s impossible to measure exactly what the Lions? 7-3 victory over the Packers last year at Ford Field meant to coach Jim Schwartz?s program, it?s not hard to see that that victory was the start of something for a franchise that two years earlier had gone 0-16. The Lions reeled off four straight victories to end the season ? including one at Tampa Bay on Dec. 19 that essentially kept the eventual Super Bowl champions? playoff hopes alive ? before opening this year with five consecutive victories.

?It was the first of four wins in a row, so I guess you could classify it that way. But I think that even the 10 losses that we had to that point, there were a lot of things this team gained confidence from, including going up to Lambeau and losing by 2,? Schwartz said of the Lions? 28-26 Week 4 loss in Green Bay.

Regardless, even after losing three of their last five, the Lions are clearly playing with a belief that they can beat anyone ? even when falling behind. Three times this season, they?ve rallied from deficits of 17 or more points to win. Their latest was last week?s 49-35 victory over Carolina, in which quarterback Matthew Stafford recovered from a pair of early interceptions to throw five touchdowns to rally the Lions from a 24-7 deficit.

?We can get as hot as anybody in the league,? Schwartz explained. ?We didn?t play well in the first quarter, offensively, against Carolina. We were interception, interception, fumble in our first three series. Then we had nine series after that and scored seven touchdowns. That?s pretty hot. We scored about 45 straight points against Denver. Scored I think 42 straight points against Kansas City. We can go on some runs and get hot. And it?s not just the offense, but defense starts getting some stops.

?The team has confidence. They have some football character. We certainly don?t want to get behind in any game, but when we have, we?ve been able to get that thing righted and get hot. The one time we weren?t able to do that was in Chicago a couple weeks ago (in a 37-13 loss).?

The third men: Search hard enough and scour enough statistical categories and you?ll usually find an interesting numerical matchup in just about every game. But for this one, one category jumped off the page: The Packers offense comes in No. 2 in the NFL in third-down efficiency (converting at a 51.2 percent clip) while the Lions defense comes in ranked No. 1 in third-down defense (allowing conversions at just a 28.6 percent rate.

?Third-down conversion is definitely a situation that should be an emphasis or highlight of this game,? McCarthy said. ?Some people call the NFL a ?third-down league,? (and) rightfully so. Third down is a bigger challenge, especially playing on the road in the noise, and it will be no different for us on defense. It?s a critical down. Something you practice, you spend a lot of time in the offseason on making sure you have the concepts that are readily available throughout the season. And it will be no different.?

Rodgers, who leads the NFL in passer rating in all situations, also is tops in the league on third down, having completed 59 of 83 passes (71.1 percent) for 828 yards with six touchdowns and one interception (122.0 rating) on third down. Whether he can be that effective against the Lions? defense likely will decide the game. Rodgers also pointed to red-zone efficiency, with the Packers? offense ranking No. 2 in that department (scoring touchdowns on 64.3 percent of their trips inside opponents? 20-yard line) while the Lions? defense is No. 7 in the NFL (41.3 percent touchdowns allowed).

?I think the situational game will be most important. Converting on those third downs, giving us more downs and keeping their offense off the field,? Rodgers said. ?In the red zone, we?re doing a good job scoring touchdowns; they?re doing a good job of keeping you out of the end zone. We need to win those situational games; the third downs and also in the red zone get seven (points).?

Silence is golden: Since they started playing Thanksgiving games in Detroit in 1934, the Lions are a combined 33-36-2, with victories hard to come by in recent years. In fact, the Lions have won only one Thanksgiving game in the past 10 years ? beating the Packers, 22-14, on Thanksgiving Day 2003. Since then, they?ve lost seven straight, and often this game was viewed as their Super Bowl, the one time the locals could get excited about the home team.

Not so this year. The Lions? 5-0 start, wide receiver Calvin Johnson?s outstanding play (59 catches, 974 yards, 11 touchdowns this season, 35 receptions for 508 yards and eight TDs in seven career games against the Packers), quarterback Matthew Stafford?s good health (although he is playing with a broken finger on his right hand and wearing gloves as a result) and the Lions? tough-and-aggressive defense have fans believing in them again.

That, in turn has created a challenging environment at Ford Field for opponents, where opposing offenses have committed a league-high 20 false start penalties in five games, including nine by the Bears in a 24-13 Lions victory on Oct. 10.

?When you?re 0-for-8, that?s no homefield advantage,? Schwartz said of the Lions? past struggles at home. ?(But) there?s great football fans in the state of Michigan. There?s great football fans in Detroit. They never went away, even when the team wasn?t doing well over a long period of time. I?ve said this before that Lions fans maybe are like that grass that goes dormant in the summer and gets brown and then it takes one good rain and it?s green again. That?s the way our fans are. They?ve been behind us all year. They?ve made Ford Field a very, very difficult place to play for opponents. They?ve affected the game.?

The Packers, by comparison, have been guilty of 17 false-start penalties on offense this season, led by left guard T.J. Lang?s six. But, the Packers are confident in their ability to deal with noisy environments ? ?We get the crowd (noise) going and we practice against it so much, everything comes so natural,? halfback James Starks said ? and Rodgers is effective with silent snap counts.

?We?re just trying to approach this like any other game with noise,? Rodgers said. ?We?re fortunate to play in the Metrodome ? or whatever they?re calling that stadium up there in Minnesota ? that?s loud. Atlanta is always loud. It?s going to be kind of fun to be at Detroit where the crowd is actually going to give you some issues. It hasn?t been that way for a while. They have a good team this year, though.?


While I still don?t believe that the Packers will go 19-0 this season, the game that I was convinced would end their winning streak ? this one ? doesn?t seem like such a sure bet anymore. While the Lions have been impressive at times this season, and their ability to rally from big deficits has made folks sit up and take notice, I?m still certain that the Packers are the far superior team. Will they play like it on Thanksgiving? If their porous pass defense isn?t overwhelmed by Calvin Johnson and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, yes. If their offensive line gives Aaron Rodgers ample time to throw and isn?t overrun by the Lions? physical front four, yes. But if the NFL?s 31st-ranked pass defense struggles again, and Suh & Co. have their way up front, Green Bay?s 16-game winning streak will come to an abrupt end. I went back and forth on this pick all day. In the end, I?ll stick with what I?d been thinking for weeks. We?ll see. Lions 35, Packers 31. (Season record: 9-1.)

? Jason Wilde