The first time the Detroit Lions played the Green Bay Packers, Detroit was forced to go without the services of Calvin Johnson. That produced some ugly results for the offense, which sputtered most of the day. The Packers, meanwhile, got just enough from Aaron Rodgers and James Jones to pull out a victory.
This time, however, it will be Green Bay minus a significant star. Though he practiced Tuesday for the first time since injuring his collarbone, Aaron Rodgers is still expected out, meaning Matt Flynn will encounter the Lions for the first time since his big day on the first of January, 2012. What else has been going on around Titletown since the team's last met? Here's a closer look.
Packers' Offensive Difference Maker: Eddie Lacy, RB. Since Rodgers has been absent, the Green Bay running game has stepped up. Lacy has found the end zone three times since his quarterback went down, and has run for 360 yards in four games. The Lions have become elite at stopping the opposition's rushing attack lately, so Thursday will be a good test for Lacy. Can he help the Green Bay offense move the ball? If so, they could be in business, given how bad Detroit's pass defense has been.
Packers' Defensive Difference Maker: Mike Neal, DE. When these teams met in October, Neal was a dominating force, collecting six total tackles and one of his three sacks on the season. Since, Neal has come on strong with two sacks in the last two weeks. He's also got an interception on the year. The Lions' offensive line has played well, but in the last game against the Packers, there were a few cracks in the line. Can Neal, if completely healthy, exploit that once again? They'll need pressure to get in Matthew Stafford's face to prevent him from picking apart the 20th rated pass defense.
Packers' Major Problem Since Teams Last Met: Consistent defense. Though Rodgers' absence has been tough on the offense, he isn't in charge of suiting up or calling out defensive signals. The Packers have quietly struggled incredibly on the defensive side of the ball lately, giving up 27 points in each game they lost and 26 Sunday's tie against the Vikings. Along the way the Packers have struggled containing rush offenses, allowing the Chicago Bears to rush for a whopping 171 yards, the Philadelphia Eagles to go for 204 and 232 against Minnesota. Passing games have also had their moments, as the Eagles threw for three scores, and the Giants for one and 279 yards. Against an offense as combustible as Detroit's, Green Bay defenders had better have a good day.
Packers' Major Strength Since Teams Last Met: Survival. Without Rodgers and in the absence of Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, Jermichael Finley and others at times, the Packers are 0-3-1, yet they still haven't lost much ground in the division. That might speak more to the failures of the teams around them rather than Green Bay themselves, but if the Packers can manage to get a win against Detroit and continue to bide their time until Rodgers returns, they could suddenly be in business down the stretch.
Intangible: Emotion. The Lions are coming off two shocking losses and plenty of defeats historically on Thanksgiving, and the Packers decided to talk this week, with Josh Sitton making a few choice comments about Jim Schwartz and Detroit's defensive line. Is Green Bay prepared to back that talk up? After all, Sitton did also remark in the same interview that all he wanted was a "frickin' win," so there's the element of desperation and frustration behind his words. Will the Lions push back in the wake of their losing and Sitton's comments? It shapes up to be an interesting day with everything on the line.
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