Fast forward almost a year and Detroit will be without Stafford once again due to a shoulder injury as Shaun Hill gets his third straight start. But Johnson, who missed last season’s game in Green Bay with a knee injury, is healthy and ready to go.
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson has given the Packers some problems during his career, catching 17 passes for 241 yards (14.2 avg.) and five touchdowns in his last three games against them. Most of that damage came in 2008 when he posted a pair of 100-yard games with two touchdowns in each contest.
At Detroit on Thanksgiving Day last season, cornerback Charles Woodson recorded one of the finest all-around performances of his career, limiting Johnson to just two receptions for 10 yards while also posting a sack, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery on his way to earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“It’s definitely a different kind of focus going into the week if you are asked to do that (cover Johnson),” Woodson said. “Playing on the inside, you have a lot of different things to worry about, but when you have a guy like Calvin and you are asked to focus on that guy, it’s a different focus.
“If your team asks you to do it, it’s something that you go out there and that you take great pride in and get the job done. It will be a tough test, of course, and you look forward to it.”
The Lions added another dynamic playmaker this offseason when they drafted running back Jahvid Best out of the University of California at the end of the first round. He was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September on Thursday as he led all rookies with 307 yards from scrimmage (183 receiving, 124 rushing) and led all players with five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving).
Best injured a toe last Sunday in the Lions’ loss at Minnesota, and he is listed as questionable for Sunday. He returned to practice on Friday as a limited participant after not practicing the previous two days.
Called “one of those rare guys that can hit the home run from anywhere” by Woodson, Best became the first rookie in NFL history with at least 75 rushing yards (78), 150 receiving yards (154) and three touchdowns in a single game when he did so against Philadelphia in Week 2.
“You don’t have to watch much tape and he gets your attention,” Capers said. “Quick, fast, you make a mistake on him and he can go the distance.
“He can run with it and receive. I’m sure the longer he is around the more they are going to try to figure out ways to get him the ball.”
With Best (16 catches for 183 yards), Johnson (14-151), and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (14-158) and Tony Scheffler (14-108), the Lions are the only team in the league to have four different players post 14 or more catches in the first three games. Take that talent and combine it with a Detroit team that lost two of its first three games by five points or less, and Woodson isn’t concerned about anyone in the locker room looking past a Lions squad that hasn’t won a game in Wisconsin since 1991.
“We understand that this team, on both sides of the ball, really has weapons,” Woodson said. “They have some top players out there, so there won’t be any lack of focus from us.”
Next man up
With rookie cornerback Sam Shields listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against Detroit because of a calf injury sustained in practice on Thursday, the Packers defense is expected to have someone new manning the nickel cornerback spot.
Shields has handle the third-cornerback responsibilities in the first three games as the Packers have been in their nickel package the majority of the time. The options behind him are Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he would discuss it with the coaches in meetings on Friday before making a final decision on Saturday.
For most of the preseason, Underwood worked as the nickel back, but a shoulder injury sustained in the third preseason contest against Indianapolis on Aug. 26 knocked him out of action for a few weeks. He made his season debut on Monday night, seeing time on special teams against Chicago, with Lee a healthy scratch after playing in the first two games on special teams.
“(Underwood) is working his way back,” Capers said. “I don’t know if he is still all the way back yet. He has worked his way back into the mix.
“I really like the way Jarrett Bush has practiced. I think Pat Lee has practiced well this week too. So yeah, I think both of those guys have worked their way back into things. Jarrett has had experience playing in there at nickel for us.”
Bush took over as the nickel back last season when Tramon Williams moved into a starting role following Al Harris’ season-ending knee injury in Week 11. Bush, who has made his mark primarily on special teams during his four-plus seasons, said he saw increased reps in practice on Thursday and Friday with Shields sidelined, and will be ready if his number is called on Sunday.
“I always prepare like I am a starter, whether I am the dime, nickel or the 18th person going in,” Bush said. “It’s just one of those deals where I go in like I haven’t missed a beat, like I have been playing all season.”
Green Bay’s game at Chicago on Monday Night Football earlier this week attracted one of the largest audiences in cable television history.
The game drew a 10.8 U.S. rating and nearly 17.5 million viewers, making it the biggest cable TV audience of the year and the fifth most-watched cable program in history.
The Packers’ game at Minnesota last year in Week 4 on MNF still holds the top spot for cable television, a contest that pulled in a 15.3 rating and over 21.8 million viewers.
Linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) did not participate for the third straight day and was ruled out for Sunday. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop are expected to see increased action in the Packers’ sub packages in Chillar’s place.
Defensive end Mike Neal (side/rib), safety Charlie Peprah (quad) and linebacker Brady Poppinga (hamstring) are questionable. Neal practiced fully on Friday for the third straight day, while Peprah and Poppinga were limited participants on Friday.
Woodson (toe), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safeties Nick Collins (knee) and Derrick Martin (ankle) and linebacker Brad Jones (knee) are all probable for Sunday.
For Detroit, Stafford and running back Aaron Brown (finger) have been ruled out for Sunday. Linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin) and wide receiver Nate Burleson (ankle) are doubtful. Best and defensive tackle Sammie Hill (ankle) are listed as questionable.
Defensive end Cliff Avril (knee/finger), safeties C.C. Brown (forearm) and Louis Delmas (groin/biceps/calf), cornerback Chris Houston (knee), linebacker Landon Johnson (neck), guard Stephen Peterman (foot), cornerback Amari Spievey (illness) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (back) are probable.
Additional coverage – Oct. 1