WHAT: 64th Annual Thanksgiving Day game
WHO: Green Bay Packers (6-5) at Detroit Lions (3-8) 12:30
WHERE: 12:30 PM EST Ford Field, Detroit, MI
LAST MEETING: Green Bay won 31-6 at Lambeau Field. Ahman Green took the second play from scrimmage 65 yards for a touchdown and Brett Favre added two touchdown passes. Joey Harrington threw two interceptions including one that was returned for a touchdown.
ALL TIME: Detroit is 32-29-2 all time on Thanksgiving Day and Green Bay leads the all time series with Detroit 74-60-6. Green Bay was won six straight games over Detroit
INJURY REPORT: GREEN BAY PACKERS
QUESTIONABLE: LB Nick Barnett (ankle); DT Kenny Peterson (knee); S Darren Sharper (chest); T-G Marcus Spriggs (hamstring) PROBABLE: C Rob Davis (back); QB Brett Favre (thumb)
DOUBTFUL: DE Jared DeVries (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE: WR Eddie Drummond (ankle/knee) PROBABLE: CB Dre' Bly (leg)
(ALLEN PARK) - This game is often derisively referred to as the "Detroit
Lions Super Bowl" because lately it's been the only time the national spotlight
has been focused on Detroit.
The Lions have been so awful for so long that the NFL even attempted to rotate the annual Thanksgiving Day game out of Detroit, a move that drew the ire of the Ford family, and the Big Three automakers of which Lions vice-chairman Bill Ford, Jr. is a big part.
Still, this game means something to the community and to the great Lions fans that turn out in droves wearing Lions jerseys, sweat shirts and hats of one of the worst teams in football.
It's special, this classic in downtown Detroit that will draw national recording stars Jason Mraz and Mary J. Blige to perform prior to the game and at half time, respectively.
That was not lost on Lions head coach Steve Mariucci and quarterback Joey Harrington.
"It feels great. It is coming up fast," said Mariucci. "It's a great game
traditionally for America to be home eating turkey with the family with the
football game on. It has been going on for a lot of years and I'm just happy and
proud to be a part of that tradition."
"It's exciting," said Harrington. "It's always exciting knowing that the whole country is going to be watching you. Growing up, I would wake up on Thanksgiving morning and watch the Lions in the morning and the Cowboys in the afternoon and eat turkey after that. That's Thanksgiving and the whole country pretty much follows a similar schedule."
If Detroit wants to do more than just enjoy the atmosphere, if they actually want to win this one, they'll need to stop running back Ahman Green. Green, the NFC's leading rusher (1,326 rushing, 2nd in the NFL) is on pace to total over 1,900 yards rushing and threaten the all-time mark set by Eric Dickerson. Green has topped the 100 yard rushing mark in the last four games including an incredible 192 yards rushing against a good Philadelphia Eagle defense.
How does Detroit plan to deal with Green? While not specifically mentioning Green, Mariucci understands how the running game can propel a West Coast offensive team.
"We just watched that last game this morning against the 49ers. They are powerful up front. Their offensive line is playing very well. I think their running backs are physical and hard to tackle. Of course they are running the ball more often now I think than they normally would because of Brett's thumb. They are pretty good in the run game and a lot of his (Favre's) passes are off the play-action. That is how they like to control the game and control the clock and keep themselves on the field and chew up time of possession and make for a quick game."
Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman says the Packers are unselfish and take pride in moving the ball on the ground. "It's a very cohesive, very unselfish group. Our receivers are not catching the ball at the same rates, we're not throwing the ball at the same rate of frequency that we have in the past, but they're unselfish. They're good at mixing it up, and going in there and blocking and just trying to help us win. It's a fairly unselfish group."
"Our running back (committee) is led by Ahman Green, but Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher are big contributors as well. They allow Green to be rested and ready to go. We all work well together. We spend a lot of time on the running game and they've responded well to it. Detroit has a very formidable defensive front. I think this is a great challenge for us. They have some big guys inside, probably the biggest defensive line that we've faced, and I think they've got speed at the linebackers. It will be a formidable challenge for them."
Mariucci believes that the key to slowing that offense is to keep them off the field.
"We are going to have to play as well as we can on offense and keep Brett
Favre and company on the sideline as much as we can. We got to have some help
from our crowd and keep it difficult for them to audible-ize and whatever they
have in mind with their offense. Keep our team playing very high emotionally and
upbeat and flying around. I thought we were able to do that last week in
Minnesota in the dome where we handled the crowd noise very well until the very
end. I have good reason to believe that we will do the same and feed on the
energy in that stadium."
On the other hand, Lions quarterback Joey Harrington is on the spot after a four interception performance that for all intents and purposes killed any chance the Lions had to avoid breaking the road losing mark of 22 (Detroit currently has 21 with two more road games, at Kansas City and at Carolina). Harrington is saddled with the NFL's worst rushing game. The Lions average just 79.5 yards on the ground and Harrington notes that team's very seldom worry about Detroit hurting them with the run.
"Teams don't treat our running game as a threat right now. I found out last week, teams don't treat any of us running the ball as a possible threat. There were a couple of times in the game last week where you could tell they were playing pass and we caught them off guard a little bit. It allows teams to jam and be more physical with our wide receivers and allows teams to sit back in zone more often. You have a completely different game plan coming into play a team that's struggling to run the ball."
But Mariucci believes that the passing game needs to improve to take the pressure off the run game. "I've said all along that the passing game and running game go hand and hand. To improve the run game, to be more efficient in the passing in the passing game is certainly going to help because then you are going to get more double coverage, more deep zone coverage and take a safety out of the box. Until we can be more efficient in the passing game, we are still going to be running up against an eight-man box quite often I suppose. The two go hand and hand and they always will."
Detroit receiving corps has taken a beating. Without a real game breaker like Charles Rogers (out with a broken collarbone) able to stretch the field, defenses are squatting on Detroit's underneath routes making it easier to defend and break up even the short passes. That is forcing Harrington to check down further and further to the point where his backs out of the backfield are his number one target.
Interestingly, Harrington is now looking to run more himself.
"I'll look to run when I have the chance. It's something that we've trying to
work on a little bit. I can't get too over zealous – I need to pick my spots. I
need to pick my spots with everything. I need to pick my spots going down the
field. I need to pick my spots checking it down. I need to pick my spots running
the football. It's something that I need to add to be an effective quarterback."
With Green Bay running the ball so well, Detroit's front seven will be under extreme pressure to slow or stop the run. Happily, Detroit's front seven is playing their best football of the season. Tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson are dominating inside and linebacker Barrett Green is coming off an 11 tackle, 1 sack performance. Detroit even saw Robert Porcher come to life with two sacks.
If Detroit can accomplish this, it will put the game on the shoulders of an injured Brett Favre. Normally that would be considered foolhardy, but with Favre nursing a broken thumb he has failed to throw for 200 yards passing his last four games including a season low 92 yards passing against Tampa Bay and three interceptions against San Francisco, both, ironically wins for Green Bay.
On the other side, Harrington must regain the trust of his wide receivers. Detroit needs Bill Schroeder and Az-Zahir Hakim (7 catches, 61 yards vs. Minnesota) to complete routes, fight for the football and above all, make plays. It would also help if Mikhael Ricks (5 catches for 46 yards vs. Minnesota) to show up in the red zone and make some catches. While Detroit is never going to be a juggernaut on the ground with Shawn Bryson and Olandis Gary as their primary backs, if they can at least get over the 100-yard mark that would help alleviate some of the pressure on Harrington.
PICK: Detroit's fans will show why they are the best in the NFL by absolutely taking the roof off Ford Field. That is the "x" factor in this one and one that will have to be accounted for.
"We do have a winning record at home," said Mariucci. I know our fans are going to be cranked up. I suppose Green Bay will have a few fans sneak into the stadium somehow. They are going to have some fans here so it is going to be that kind of game. It is going to be emotional for both teams and the crowd. It's going to be a great day."
The unthinkable happens when Detroit slows Green, forces Favre into bad decisions and capitalizes on the presence of Eddie Drummond back returning kicks.
Detroit 23 - Green Bay 17