GREEN BAY—The Packers and Lions bear little resemblance to the two teams that faced each other on Thanksgiving Day last year.
It was a showdown for NFC North supremacy, featuring one team that was undefeated and a 7-3 challenger that wanted to make a statement. The Packers won the game, 27-15.
The two teams will meet again this Sunday at Ford Field in a game that’s more than a showdown, it’s a matter of survival for the Lions and the first of consecutive road games for the Packers that will go a long way toward deciding the Packers’ fate in 2012. After the trip to Detroit, the Packers head to New York to play the Giants.
“With the Packers coming up, it’s obviously the start to an important home stand for us,” Lions Coach Jim Schwartz said. His team will play three straight at home. The Lions, 4-5, need a sweep of the three to get back into the NFC playoff race.
“Last year, we got off to a good start and then battled .500 the rest of the season. This season we didn’t start fast but there’s still opportunity for us,” Schwartz said, detailing the difference a year has made for the Lions.
“The deal with this league is being able to concentrate on the next week. This league has proven that you have to battle it out week after week, and get hot at the right time, and that’s what we need to do this week. There’s no better time for us than this week.”
It can also be said Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson hasn’t been the touchdown-maker this season that he was a year ago. Johnson has only two scores this year, as compared to 16 in 2011.
Quarterback Matt Stafford has thrown just 11 touchdown passes through nine games this season, compared to 41 last year.
The Lions are near the bottom of the league in rushing yardage, again, which attaches particular importance to Stafford’s and Johnson’s production. They are the engine that drives the Lions, and that engine has driven the Lions to the top of the league’s pass rankings, but isn’t scoring often enough.
“We’re not trying to have balance, we’re trying to move the ball,” Schwartz said.
The Packers were the kings of moving the ball at this time a year ago. No team was moving it with as much ease, efficiency or explosiveness. This season, however, has seen the Packers dogged by injuries that have cost the team wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the team’s one-two punch of a year ago, and most recently tackle Bryan Bulaga, gone for the season with a significant hip injury. The Packers’ numbers aren’t as gaudy as they were a year ago.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the major link between the two seasons. He’s enjoying another MVP-like year.
“He’s one of the best in the league at doing everything a quarterback does. Throwing it quick and accurate, throwing it deep down the field. There’s nothing Aaron Rodgers does subpar. He completely understands their offense,” Schwartz said.
The emergence of Randall Cobb as a receiver is another big difference between this season and last.
“He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He’s really taken a central role in the offense. He’s multi-talented and he’s been a big, big boost to their offense when they lost a great player like Greg Jennings,” Schwartz said.
Finally, the Packers defense is different.
“They got some young infusion of talent. Their schemes have pretty much stayed the same. They’re making a lot of big plays. They’re top 10 in third down. They’re second in sacks. They’re in the top 10 in interceptions. Those are drive stoppers. Those are times you get off the field and keep the offense from scoring. They’ve gone from the bottom defense in the league to the top 10 in a lot of categories,” Schwartz said of the Packers defense.
Different in many ways, yet, they remain two teams headed for another big game against each other in November. This one might even be bigger than last year’s. Additional coverage - Nov. 14