Thanksgiving football in Detroit is a great NFL tradition that dates back to 1934 and has been an annual event since 1945. This year, the Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) will travel to the Motor City in a crucial NFC North battle against the Lions (6-5).
There has already been some major bulletin board material issued through the media, so let's take a look at the keys for both of these teams heading into the early Thanksgiving kickoff.
Packers: Matt Flynn Needs to Produce
Franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers may have practiced on Tuesday for the first time since breaking his collarbone in Week 9, but he won't be ready for the Thanksgiving clash in Detroit. On Wednesday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy announced Matt Flynn would start and that Rodgers would be out.
It's just the latest turn in what's been an evolving situation at Green Bay's quarterback position, as noted by ESPN NFL:
THIS JUST IN: Matt Flynn will become the Packers 4th starting QB this season when he faces the Lions tomorrow at Detroit.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 27, 2013
Flynn started the season as the starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders but was eventually supplanted by Terrelle Pryor and released. After a short stint with the Buffalo Bills, Flynn recently signed on to return to Green Bay, where he played from 2008-11.
He joins Rodgers, Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien as quarterbacks to start for Green Bay this year. Flynn entered last week's 26-26 tie against the Minnesota Vikings to replace a struggling Tolzien, finishing with 216 yards on 21-of-36 passing with a touchdown.
This week Flynn will be preparing for a familiar foe, per Drew Smith of FOX 11 in Green Bay:
While Flynn isn't expected to throw for six touchdowns like he did in 2011, he needs to bring some stability to a position that has been the main reason behind Green Bay's 0-3-1 record since Rodgers went out. But Flynn will have his hands full, as Pro Football Focus graded Detroit's defensive line as one of the best in the league.
Lions: Contain Packers RB Eddie Lacy
This game is sure to be heated following recent comments made by Packers guard Josh Sitton on Wednesday with 1250 WSSP radio:
The frontman for Detroit's bad boy defense has been defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Along with fellow DT Nick Fairley and defensive end Willie Young, Suh has helped the Lions rank fourth in NFL rush defense, giving up an average of 88 yards per game.
The Lions face a daunting task this week with big-bodied Eddie Lacy, who has been one of the NFL's most consistent featured backs this season. The rookie burst onto the scene in Week 5 with a 23-carry, 99-yard performance against the Lions in a 22-9 victory and has been a fixture in Green Bay's offense ever since.
Detroit's defense might be tough, but so is Lacy. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Lacy is one of the NFL's best when it comes to yards after contact:
Most yards after contact by RB in 2013- Adrian Peterson 486, Marshawn Lynch 426, Alfred Morris 425, Eddie Lacy 401— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 27, 2013
It will be paramount for the Lions to slow down Lacy and make Flynn beat them through the air. The last thing Detroit needs is Green Bay's rushing attack to eat up clock while quarterback Matthew Stafford sits on the sidelines.
Packers: Slow Down Megatron
Green Bay's secondary dodged a bullet during their Week 5 meeting with Detroit, as All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson was sidelined with a knee injury.
The Packers will have no such luck this time around, as Johnson is as healthy and productive as ever. Johnson enters Thursday's tilt with a league-best 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns on 66 catches (18.2 average).
The unenviable responsibility of trying to slow down Johnson will belong to cornerback Sam Shields, who missed the past two contests with a hamstring injury. McCarthy commented on the importance of Shields, per Green Bay's Twitter account:
McCarthy-(on Sam Shields) I'm happy to have him back on the field. Calvin Johnson is a dynamic player, he's a real focus for us #Packers— Green Bay Packers (@packers) November 27, 2013
It's no secret. While Detroit certainly has other weapons with running back Reggie Bush and receiver Nate Burleson, Green Bay is zoned in on No. 81.
Lions: Keep Feeding Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush has played in 10 contests for the Lions this year, with Detroit going 5-5 in those games. In the five victories, Bush has averaged 23 touches and 146.8 yards from scrimmage, compared to an average of 17 touches and 77.2 yards in the five losses.
It's clear that keeping Bush involved in both the run and pass game is key for the Lions to keep their offense moving. Scott Hanson of NFL Red Zone shared some perspective on Bush's production this year:
Who Will Win?
Detroit has long been looking for a featured back, and Bush seems to fit its system perfectly. He was held in check by Green Bay in Week 5, however, carrying the ball 13 times for 44 yards while adding four catches for 25 yards.
But with Johnson on the field this time around, Detroit's offense will have a completely different look to it, and Bush should benefit.