Detroit (4-7) has flipped the script on its season as of late, winning its last three games—the first of which, an 18-16 victory over the Packers, came at Lambeau Field on November 15.
On the other hand, Green Bay (7-4) has fallen a game back of the Minnesota Vikings in the standings during a stretch in which it's lost four games in the last five weeks.
When these teams faced off back in Week 10, many expected a blowout in the Packers' favor considering they hadn't lost to the Lions at home since 1991. The exact opposite happened as Aaron Rodgers and the offense around him sputtered all game long.
That loss was Green Bay's third in a row and it opened up some questions up and down the roster that have yet to be answered.
Let's take a look at some strategies the Packers can use on offense and defense to bring home a win over the Lions on Thursday.
Offensive Game Plan
Green Bay's offense finds itself in an interesting position following its loss to the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving.
The hottest player on that side of the ball is Eddie Lacy, who has reeled off back-to-back 100-yard performances over the last two weeks—his first times reaching the century mark all year.
Yet this is the same guy who averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and totaled 308 rushing yards in his previous eight games to start his 2015 campaign.
Despite Lacy's early-season struggles, the Packers may be wise to ride the hot hand and feed their running back often this week—especially against Detroit's 22nd-ranked rush defense.
On the flip side, though, focusing the offense through Lacy and the run game could bring up a few problems.
The Packers will be forced to make do with a banged-up offensive line in Week 13. Four of their lineman—starting center Corey Linsley (ankle), backup center JC Tretter (ankle), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle) and right guard T.J. Lang (shoulder)—were all listed as questionable ahead of Thursday night's game.
Linsley sat out the game against Chicago and has been limited in practice all week while his replacement, Tretter, was a late addition to the Wednesday injury report as he likely hurt his ankle during that day's practice, according to ESPN's Rob Demovsky. Despite the uncertainty at the center position, Bulaga failed to practice all week after leaving the Bears game with an ankle injury of his own.
Come Thursday, it remains to be seen who will start and how limited each will be in giving Lacy enough room to find holes in Detroit's defense.
When you factor in how well the Lions have fared against the rush over the last three weeks, Lacy's streak of 100-yard games may come to an end regardless.
Back in Week 10, Detroit held Green Bay's rushers to a season-low total of 47 combined yards. Yes, Lacy sat out that game with a groin injury but it's unlikely he would've done any better than James Starks considering his struggles beforehand. Over the next two games, the Lions also held the Oakland Raiders to a season-low in rushing yards while the Philadelphia Eagles posted their worst rushing total since Week 2.
Even with Lacy's strong numbers over his past two games, the run game may not be the answer on Thursday.
Instead, the Packers must look to Rodgers to get the offense going despite the fact the quarterback is coming off one of his worst starts of his career on Thanksgiving.
If anything, Lacy seems to be on board.
"I think stats or yards do better the more you get the ball," Lacy said recently, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. He continued:
But we have one of the best quarterbacks, and I'm pretty much his sidekick. Whenever I'm needed, I go out and do exactly what I have to do, and I try to make the most of those opportunities. I'm not a guy that’s going to be like, 'We should do this,' or, 'I should do that.' That’s not my role. That’s not the type of person I am, and I’ll never do or request such a thing.
The numbers certainly don't favor a Rodgers-led attack over the rushing approach, but for Green Bay it's the best bet to bounce out of their offensive funk.
Defensive Game Plan
Detroit's offense may be one of the more predictable units in the league—a characteristic that should benefit Green Bay's secondary on Thursday.
The Lions run game is tied for dead last in the NFL, averaging just 74.5 rushing yards per game, while a Matthew Stafford-led passing attack has averaged the seventh-most pass yards per contest at 270. In fact, the offense has thrown the ball almost twice as much as it's run it—1.89 more times to be exact.
With a gunslinger such as Stafford and one of the sport's most athletic and talented receivers in Calvin Johnson, it's certainly hard to argue otherwise.
Against Philadelphia in Week 12, Stafford dominated through the air to the tune of 337 yards and five touchdowns. His 137.8 passer rating was also his highest of the season. Meanwhile, Johnson caught three of those touchdowns as Stafford's clear go-to receiver.
It's easy to assume the offense won't replicate that performance. However, the numbers suggest Stafford and co. are trending up after a slow start to the season.
From Week 6—when the Lions got their first victory of the year—to now, Stafford has compiled a 104.0 passer rating compared to his 74.8 mark in Weeks 1 through 5. He's looked like a completely different quarterback after being benched in the third quarter of a Week 5 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, including limiting his turnovers.
In Weeks 6 through 12, Stafford's 14:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio is miles better than his 6:8 mark over the first five weeks.
Furthermore, Johnson has provided more of a target for Stafford during this latter part of the season. He's caught at least five passes and gained 80 receiving yards in every game since Week 5.
So the stats are screaming to opposing secondaries that a Stafford-Johnson connection must be stopped.
Green Bay tried to do just that back in Week 10, yet Johnson still finished with six receptions for 81 yards. He was held scoreless, but in an 18-16 game, touchdowns weren't the issue.
The threat of Golden Tate—Detroit's second-best receiver—beating defenses deep or tight end Eric Ebron catching passes up the middle forces Green Bay to, at times, play Johnson one-on-one. They did so in Week 10 and, of course, backup tight end Brandon Pettigrew and wideout Lance Moore both caught touchdowns.
For the Packers, that's the best they can hope for. Stopping Johnson is the first battle—and rightfully so—but Stafford has stepped his game up recently to find value in pass-catchers all over the field.
Player and Matchup to Watch
WR Davante Adams
Davante Adams received a lot of criticism after his three-drop game against the Bears on Thanksgiving—and rightfully so. Aaron Rodgers targeted the second-year receiver a team-high 11 times, yet Adams caught just two passes for 14 yards.
The drops got the most attention, though. Adams failed to reel in a Rodgers throw that would've certainly been a 47-yard touchdown reception and then unsuccessfully got his hands on a pass intended for Randall Cobb in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
The poor performance may discourage Rodgers from going back to Adams in the future, yet opposing secondaries may dictate otherwise. With defensive backs keyed in on stopping James Jones and Cobb, it's Adams who's usually left on the lower-tier cornerbacks in single coverage—hence the large number of targets.
In fact, Rodgers has thrown Adams' way more often than not lately. He's targeted the young receiver 46 times over the past four weeks—more than Cobb (38) and almost twice as much as Jones (24). In the Packers' Week 10 loss to Detroit, Adams was targeted a whopping 21 times and finished with 10 receptions.
Rodgers isn't the type of quarterback who shies away from targeting struggling receivers.
"It’s about trust," Rodgers said after the Chicago game, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN. "If you see the guy do it in practice, then making plays on Sunday for you, you go back to him. You have to have confidence in the guys you’ve got out there. Based on the coverages, he was getting a lot of opportunities."
Expect Adams to get plenty of looks on Thursday. Rodgers and the offense will need Adams' big-play potential down the stretch this season if they want to regain the lead in the NFC North.
The Packers O-Line vs. Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah
With four of Green Bay's offensive linemen listed as questionable for Thursday—including right tackle Bryan Bulaga—it's still up in the air who will be tasked with stopping the Lions' pass rush.
Unfortunately, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah presents a big enough challenge to any tackle on the outside trying to keep his quarterback clean.
Bulaga, who left the game against Chicago with an ankle injury, would have his hands full, yet he hasn't been able to practice at all this week and is a legit question mark for the game against Detroit.
If he's a no-go, either Don Barclay or David Bakhtiari will be forced to fill in on the right side. Still, the Packers may have to double-team Ansah, whose 11.5 sacks lead the NFC.
We could see a lot of scrambles and quick releases from Rodgers as well to combat the pressure he's sure to experience. At least Ansah will mostly line up on his throwing side, so any poor blocking will be known right away.
Week in and week out, we expect to see Rodgers and the offense return to form. The production Green Bay fans are used to has largely been absent during the Packers' current five-game stretch that includes four losses—one of which came against the Lions.
With back-to-back 100-yard rushing days, Eddie Lacy has done his part, but the passing game has still struggled to get going.
Don't expect a career-high 61 pass attempts—as Rodgers did against Detroit in Week 10—but a dedication to the pass may be the only way the Packers can keep pace with the Lions' high-flying attack. Matthew Stafford and his offense have been on fire as of late and they likely won't slow down against the struggling Green Bay secondary.
Although the Packers would love to stick to the ground with a hot Lacy, opposing defenses will soon get the message and stack the box to stop any rusher from having a big game.
This is where Rodgers can get back to an MVP level of play despite throwing to a mediocre receiving corps.
Final Prediction: Packers 20, Lions 17