What: Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) at Detroit Lions (6-5)
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
When: Thursday, Nov. 28, 12:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman with the call, Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews on the sidelines.
The winner of the first game of Week 13 will take the lead in the NFC North. Whether that team remains in first depends on what happens when the Chicago Bears, who are 6-5, take on the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
For the Lions, this game is critical. Even after two disappointing losses to teams with losing records, Detroit still controls its own playoff destiny. Now they must take care of the Packers in the friendly confines of Ford Field.
Green Bay harbored visions of an Aaron Rodgers return, but the star quarterback is extremely unlikely to play just three weeks after breaking his left clavicle. Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien have started in his place, but neither was very effective. That means Detroit gets to face an old nemesis.
Enter Matt Flynn. He essentially owes his bank account to the Lions. The last time he played against Detroit was in Week 16 of the 2011 season. Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns that day.
He parlayed that outrageous performance into a free-agent deal with the Seahawks. Since then, however, his NFL experience has soured.
Now he returns to Detroit with a chance to redeem himself. Yet while everyone focuses on his most recent start against the Lions, it's important to go back to his first start against Detroit.
Ah yes, that game. The one that nobody west of Lake Michigan dares speak of or acknowledge.
It was Week 13 of the 2010 season, and Flynn filled in for an injured Aaron Rodgers in Detroit. Those Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, but behind Flynn they lost 7-3 to a Detroit team that was 2-10 at the time.
The young quarterback threw 26 times, completing just 15 passes for 177 yards. He did not throw a touchdown but did toss an interception. Drew Stanton, filling in for an injured Shaun Hill replacing an injured Matthew Stafford, was the better quarterback on that day.
Packers fans conveniently overlook that game when thinking about their beloved team. Yet the fact remains that on that day in Detroit, Matt Flynn could not lead the eventual Super Bowl champs to a single touchdown while playing against a backup quarterback on a 2-10 team.
It's important for Jim Schwartz to remind his Lions of that day. They've not only beaten Matt Flynn and the Packers before; the Detroit defense thoroughly dominated them. At this point, Detroit needs every little boost of confidence it can get.
Here are a couple of other ideas to help the Lions emerge victorious.
Don't Take the Bait
Packers guard Josh Sitton threw some gasoline on the fire early in the week. During a guest spot on Milwaukee radio station WSSP, Sitton did not hold back his enmity towards Detroit.
Here is some of what he said, courtesy of Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
They go after quarterbacks. Their entire defense takes cheap shots all the time. That's what they do; that's who they are. They're a bunch of dirtbags or scumbags. That's how they play. That's how they're coached.
Sitton wasn't done, incredibly deciding to take the flame war to a new low...
That starts with their frickin' coach. The head coach, (Jim) Schwartz, he's a (expletive), too. I wouldn't want to play for him. It starts with him and their D-coordinator and D-line coach. They're all just scumbags and so is the D-line.
At the root of his comments, Sitton does have a leg to stand on. The Lions' defensive line commits far more penalties than it should and is an incredibly aggressive unit at its core.
However, making it personal and profanely insulting coaches escalates his basic principle to another level entirely. It's almost as if it's a calculated effort on his part to try and get a mental edge on his opponents.
The Lions need to resist the temptation to punish Sitton with cheap shots or getting too mouthy in response. It will take a constant focus on discipline and restraint from players not normally associated with those traits.
Don't Get Fooled Again
The Packers have turned to rookie running back Eddie Lacy to carry the offense without Rodgers under center. Thus far the Alabama product has impressed.
In watching Lacy this season, two things are very evident.
First, Lacy is exceptional at breaking tackles. He gets his shoulders squared to contact very handily, and his leg drive and forward lean allow him to blast would-be tacklers to the turf.
Detroit has done an excellent job against the run lately, but they will need to stay sharp and relentless in getting the powerful back to the Ford Field turf. It might take secondary and even tertiary assistance, but the Lions cannot allow Lacy to set the tone.
They can do that by applying some film lessons, because the second note I have about Lacy is readily evident from his game tape.
Eddie Lacy is not a deceptive runner. In the four games of his I charted, he cut back from his designed blocking on exactly one run. Lacy follows his blocking and the design of the play like a train going over a bridge.
The Packers use a lot of "heavy" sets to help create space for Lacy. He follows fullback John Kuhn almost invariably when Kuhn is in the game as a lead blocker, and they also use tight ends to help seal open creases.
Green Bay does this very well. These are not the Packers of recent times, units which perennially struggled to create much run blocking surge. Their interior line is coordinated and effective as run blockers, notably the aforementioned Mr. Sitton.
The key to stopping Lacy and the Green Bay running attack is to read his anticipated hole and fill it before he can get there. Easier said than done, of course, but this does play to the strength of the Detroit defense.
Here is a play where the New York Giants did this very effectively.
Tackle Cullen Jenkins (No. 99) immediately defeats the block from the center with a quick swim move. He slashes into the backfield before right guard T.J. Lang can get to him.
Lacy has no options here. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (No. 74) successfully stacks up the edge, and the pursuing linebacker has beaten the blocking back to the outside lane option. This is perfect run defense against the Packers, and the Lions absolutely can replicate this.
Tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley need to successfully tie up the Green Bay interior trio, while ends Willie Young and Ziggy Ansah must slow-play their pursuit up the field. Where Lacy has thrived is when opposing end take themselves out of the play, allowing him to cut in front of them.
Linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy must quickly read the play and attack. The Lions have been doing this very well lately, but it's imperative that it continues here. If Lacy can get his shoulders turned north and south and get some momentum going forward, the Lions are going to have trouble bringing him down.
We have seen Suh quickly jump inside the down block and destroy run plays in the backfield. He did it just last week, clubbing Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey with a powerful paw to the chest and slamming him for a 3-yard loss.
It will not be easy. Lacy is bound to break a couple of tackles and chew up more yardage than the Lions have allowed in the last few weeks. He might even rip off a 30-something-yard touchdown.
The Lions must not get discouraged or relent. There is too much at stake here. The NFC North is still there for the taking. Roar, Lions, roar!