The Green Bay Packers (10-0) travel to Detroit to take on the Lions (7-3) Thursday. The following 10 are things you should watch during the first Thanksgiving contest between the two teams since 2007:
1. Right side of the offensive line
A lot of the talk on Thursday will be about right guard Josh Sitton and his ability to keep Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh out of the Packers backfield. While that is obviously an important matchup, don’t forget about right tackle Bryan Bulaga. He had his worst game as a professional last December in Detroit, allowing two sacks, one quarterback hit and four pressures. Bulaga needs to play better against the Lions’ edge rushers on Thursday.
2. Stay disciplined
The Lions have gained a reputation as a “dirty” team this season, and Suh—the leader of bunch—has already ran his confident mouth this week. The Packers have done well in 2011 to avoid lowering themselves to such tactics (see: Atlanta Falcons week). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Lions didn’t try to get under the Packers skin on Thursday. All 46 of the men on the gameday roster need to keep their heads in a tough atmosphere.
3. Kevin Smith’s resurgence
Lions running back Kevin Smith was sitting at home without an NFL job two weeks ago, but he burst back onto the scene with 201 total yards and three scores against the Carolina Panthers last week. The Packers have been susceptible against both the run and running backs catching the ball out of the backfield this season. They need to make sure Smith isn’t the guy who beats them on Thursday with his legs.
4. Availability of James Starks
The Packers have officially listed Starks as questionable for Thursday, which gives him a decent chance of playing against the Lions. You’d think the Packers would need him, too. Not only is he a physical presence running the football, but he’s also improved leaps and bounds in pass protection. Not having him available, and potentially having to lean on rookie Brandon Saine in spots, could leave the Packers vulnerable.
5. Megatron engaged
No receiver in the NFL has had as much success against the Packers in recent years than Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. He has nine touchdown receptions in eight career games against Green Bay since being drafted by the Lions in 2007, and there hasn’t been a more dominant receiver to start the season than Johnson since maybe Randy Moss. While the Packers have primarily used Charles Woodson against the 6-5 Johnson, I’d expect to see more of Tramon Williams on him Thursday. Either way, stopping Megatron will be a tough task for the Packers up-and-down secondary.
6. Turning field position
Both teams have an electric return guy, and whoever’s plays better on Thursday could go a long ways in deciding the outcome. Detroit’s Stefan Logan is small but explosive returner who is hard to find in kick coverage. He hasn’t had the same impact in 2011, but Logan is plenty capable of turning around a game in an instant. The Packers counter with rookie Randall Cobb, who has two touchdowns (one punt, one kick) but also three lost fumbles. The ability of both to turn field position is something to watch closely Thursday.
7. Keep C-Wood active
Part of the reason I think Tramon Williams will see the majority of time on Calvin Johnson is Dom Capers’ tendency to move Charles Woodson around. In recent weeks, we’ve seen Capers do this more and more. When the two are at their best in calling and disguising blitzes, Woodson can be a devastating force in both the pass and run games. The Lions—like any divisional opponent—have plenty of film on those kind of blitzes. How Capers counters the chess match with Woodson is always an important part of how the Packers defense plays on a given week.
8. Dealing with adversity
Both teams have shown the ability to deal with adversity positively. It’s been a common trend for the Packers, who have trailed in a handful of games but also seen leads dwindle. At 10-0, they’ve obviously reacted positively in those situations. The Lions are no stranger either, however, as they’ve come back from double digits in several games this season. Cold Hard Football Facts had an amazing number on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford: In 10 career games where the Lions have trailed by 17 or more points, Stafford is 4-6. Four wins when down that many points is a tremendous accomplishment. No lead will be safe for the Packers on Thursday.
9. Keep Jordy rolling
The Packers will want to get Greg Jennings more involved this week, but a knee bruise and the emergence of Jordy Nelson as a go-to-guy can’t be understated. Nelson just seems to be on the same wave length as Aaron Rodgers in recent weeks, and his ability to consistently win one-on-one matchups is the reason for his big numbers the past couple of weeks. Facing the Lions second, and sometimes third best cornerback, Nelson needs to keep winning those battles.
10. Win turnover battle
Finally, we get to the most important part of this football game: Turnovers. The Lions have proven to be an average bunch when they turn it over, and Matthew Stafford has thrown six interceptions since hurting a finger on his throwing hand three weeks ago. The Packers have the most interceptions in the NFL and have been good at getting turnovers when they need them most. On offense, the Packers have given it away just 10 times, which ranks second in the NFL. If Green Bay can get a couple of Stafford turnovers and be clean on offense, they should be able to escape Detroit with an 11-0 record.
Packers 28, Lions 24
I made the mistake early in the year (see: 8-2 record picking Packers games) of picking against the Packers in games like this one. I won’t do that again until they snap their unbeaten streak. While a lot of the Lions’ strengths match up perfectly against the Packers’ weaknesses, this Packers team has shown the resolve to work through the tough times. Thursday will certainly have some rough patches. I also think the Packers will get the well-timed turnovers that turn the tide in so many games. As long as Aaron Rodgers plays a full four quarters (or more if it hits overtime), the Packers should pull off a close win in Detroit.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2