Eleven of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford’s first 20 touchdown passes this season went to his go-to guy, Calvin Johnson.
Then, last Sunday, Stafford threw a career-high five TD passes and Johnson didn’t catch a single one of them.
Translation: The Lions are growing as an offense, particularly with Stafford enjoying the best stretch of health thus far in his young career.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Packers safety Charlie Peprah said. “This is a different Lions team.”
It’s one becoming known for its comebacks, as Detroit has rallied from 17 points down, or more, three times this season. The third time was last Sunday against Carolina, as the Lions scored touchdowns on five of six possessions in the second half at Ford Field.
Johnson was an important part of Detroit’s 49-point day, with five catches for 89 yards, but Stafford’s touchdown passes went to running back Kevin Smith, receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young, and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.
All but Young, the lone rookie in the bunch, had a reception gain at least 16 yards in that game as Stafford rebounded from a two-interception first quarter to finish the day 28 of 36 for 335 yards. Stafford also bounced back from throwing two pick-sixes the previous week in windy Chicago, showing how much more trouble the Lions present when playing at home in their dome.
“You don’t have to look very far to see how explosive they are,” Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said. “They’ve had games where they started off slow, but it doesn’t make any difference. You’ve got to play for 60 minutes against these guys and you have to understand the big-play capability they have.”
The biggest of those big-play makers, though, is still Johnson, a fifth-year pro and former first-round draft pick. He began this season with eight TD catches through the first four games, and three times against the Packers in his career he has scored two touchdowns in a game.
Nicknamed “Megatron,” Johnson uses his 6-foot-5, 236-pound frame in a number of ways.
“He’s his own style of guy,” said safety and fellow Georgia Tech alum Morgan Burnett. “He’s a big receiver, but he’s got a lot of speed for his size. He can go up and catch the ball at its highest point, or he can run past you, so you really have to stick to your techniques and play the defense.”
Even that sometimes isn’t good enough. That’s what makes Johnson, whose 11 TD catches and 974 yards rank first and third in the league, respectively, so difficult to prepare for.
“You have to force him to make that circus catch that he’s good at making,” Peprah said. “Force him to do that. That’s all you can really be asked to do.”
Injury update: Running back James Starks was a limited participant in practice on Tuesday, as he tries to quickly recover from knee and ankle injuries to be able to play on Thursday.
“I feel a lot better than when it actually happened,” Starks said. “I ran on it and felt good today in practice. It’s obviously going to take some time, but I’m getting better.”
Starks didn’t say he feared the worst when he went down in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay, but the injury did give him significant pause.
“It was scary,” he said. “It felt different than the x-rays showed. I’m fine. I guess it’s because I’m bow-legged.”
Receiver Greg Jennings (knee) also practiced on a limited basis, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he expects him to play. Outside linebacker Frank Zombo (hamstring) was a full participant and has a chance to be active.
Hall calling?: For the first time, former Packers General Manager Ron Wolf has been named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Hall released its list of 26 modern-era semifinalists on Tuesday out of 105 preliminary nominees. Wolf had been on the preliminary list before but had never advanced in the process.
The list of 26 semifinalists will be reduced to 15 finalists, plus two Seniors Committee nominees, in January, with the 2012 class being selected on Super Bowl weekend.
Also advancing to semifinalist for the first time is Clay Matthews, father of the Packers outside linebacker. The elder Matthews played 19 seasons for the Browns (1978-93) and Falcons (1994-96).
Kevin Greene, the Packers outside linebackers coach, is also a semifinalist for the fifth straight year. Greene’s 160 career sacks are the most in league history by a linebacker and the third most all-time. Additional coverage - Nov. 22