Green Bay Packers (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger
SERIES: 150th regular-season meeting in NFL's longest uninterrupted series, which dates to 1932 when the Lions were based in Portsmouth, Ohio, and known as the Spartans. Packers lead the series 79-63-7. They are 2-0 against Detroit in the postseason. Packers have won eight of past nine meetings and three of past four on the road, including a 2-1 mark at Ford Field since its opening in 2002.
*2004 rankings: Packers: offense 3rd (10th rush, 3rd pass); defense 25th (14th rush, 25th pass). Lions: offense 24th (19th rush, 23rd pass); defense 22nd (15th rush, 20th pass)
PREDICTION: Lions 27, Packers 13
KEYS TO THE GAME: Poor offensive line play was a source of concern for both teams during the preseason. The Packers are trying to replace two veteran guards, and RB Ahman Green struggled to 2.3 yards per carry with three fumbles. To take advantage of the Lions' inexperienced outside linebackers and open up the deep pass for QB Brett Favre, Green must improve on those numbers. The Lions need similar production from RB Kevin Jones. QB Joey Harrington had virtually no time to throw during the preseason, and threw no touchdown passes. He has a very deep and talented receiving corps going against a very suspect Packers secondary, but Jones needs to help buy Harrington time to find them.
FAST FACTS: Packers: Favre needs 266 passing yards to become the third quarterback in NFL history with 50,000 for his career. ... Coach Mike Sherman is 6-1 against Steve Mariucci-coached teams since 2000. Lions: No rookies are expected to start in a season opener since 2000. ... Averaged 13.7 points in the past 10 games at Lambeau Field and haven't scored more than 14 in their past five there.
- LB Na'il Diggs didn't practice again Thursday and said afterward he won't
risk playing Sunday on a left knee that isn't 100 percent. The team still
lists him as questionable on the injury report for the game, however.
Diggs has been out since suffering a torn MCL Aug. 8 in practice.
"Man, I'm so close to being mentally and physically right that I think if (the game) was three more days away, maybe on (the following) Wednesday, no doubt I'd play. It's just not game-ready right now," he said.
Paris Lenon will start in Diggs' place at strongside linebacker Sunday. Diggs expects to be ready for the home opener Sept. 18 against Cleveland.
No decision has been made on the weakside starter, with undrafted rookie Roy Manning and recently acquired veteran Robert Thomas taking turns with the first-string defense since the start of the week.
- CBs Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas, who have been splitting practice reps
with the No. 1 defense, still are awaiting a decision by the coaches on who
will get the start on the left side Sunday.
"You better ask the people that make decisions. I don't know anything," Thomas said after practice Thursday.
- DTs Corey Williams and Cullen Jenkins also continued to alternate as the starter alongside NT Grady Jackson as the Packers try to identify a replacement for castoff Cletidus Hunt.
- TE Bubba Franks returned to practice after missing Wednesday's workout with a sore right knee. Franks said Thursday the soreness subsided and he will be fine to play Sunday. He is probable on the injury report.
- QBs Craig Nall and rookie Aaron Rodgers have shared the reps running the scout-team offense this week. Nall said after practice Thursday he hasn't been told who will be Brett Favre's backup Sunday.
- WR Terrence Murphy practiced without incident for the second straight day
and is progressing faster than expected with his recovery from a torn MCL in
his right knee, sustained three weeks ago.
"I'm not myself, shakin' and bakin' right now, but I'm making plays, and it feels good to be catching the ball again," said Murphy, a second-round draft choice this year.
Murphy, listed as probable on the injury report, has primarily been used as a receiver on the scout team the past two days, an indication he probably won't be activated as the team's fifth receiver Sunday. Murphy contended the knee isn't close to 100 percent healed.
- SS Kenoy Kennedy, expected to play the enforcer role in the Lions'
defensive secondary, has gotten more practice time as the week progressed.
It appears he will play Sunday against Green Bay despite the ankle injury he suffered more than a week ago.
- PR/KR Eddie Drummond, who was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team as the return specialist last year, will go into the regular season Sunday against Green Bay with only one preseason punt return for 8 yards. He is recovering from a broken shoulder blade and was held out for most of the preseason.
- OLB Boss Bailey, who is coming off knee surgery that kept him out the entire 2004 season, gave the Lions a brief scare in Thursday's practice. He left the field near the end of practice and did not come back, but said later it was a minor neck injury.
- RB Artose Pinner is the No. 3 RB behind Kevin Jones and Shawn Bryson, but Lions coach Steve Mariucci indicated he will get occasional running plays as part of a limited three-back rotation. Pinner was the leading rusher in the preseason with 111 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries.
- QB Jeff Garcia was back on the practice field Thursday, with a cast protecting his broken left fibula. Mostly Garcia watched practice but he also put down his crutches on a couple of occasions and threw passes to a teammate on the side.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
It shapes up to be perhaps the mismatch of the first Sunday of the NFL regular season: Detroit's terrific trio of first-round receivers against Green Bay's sieve-like secondary, with only one sure cover corner in Al Harris.
Down to just three days until kickoff at Ford Field, a decision has yet to be rendered about whether Ahmad Carroll or Joey Thomas will start at the other cornerback spot.
Yet, tight-lipped Packers head coach Mike Sherman doesn't seem to be as concerned with the football-catching prowess of Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams as he is with the ball-carrying explosiveness of Kevin Jones. At least in the presence of the media, Sherman suggests the No. 1 priority for his beleaguered defense is to stop Jones.
"I think they're going to run the football," Sherman said. "I would assume that they want to pound the football. We're a seven-man front with a two-man shell (both safeties playing back). So their philosophy, I'm sure, is to hammer the runs and then hope that we bring a safety down, which isn't our nature necessarily."
Indeed, the two-deep system implemented by first-year coordinator Jim Bates isn't designed to give the defensive linemen and linebackers extra support against the run. The front seven, though, might need all the help they can get because the Packers will be short-handed and a tad inexperienced inside the box.
They will have two new starters at linebacker Sunday. Paris Lenon will replace an injured Na'il Diggs on the strong side. The weakside spot will be manned by either undrafted rookie Roy Manning or Robert Thomas, who has practiced only three days after being acquired in a trade with St. Louis.
As much as the linebackers will be counted on to bring Jones down, how effective the Packers are in keeping the second-year standout from running wild as he did against them late last season hinges on the guys in the trenches.
The jury is out whether nose tackle Grady Jackson's knees will hold up after he missed all but the final week of the preseason. Also, the coaches haven't settled on Corey Williams or Cullen Jenkins as the replacement at the other tackle spot for longtime starter Cletidus Hunt, who was cut last weekend.
With Jackson and Hunt on the field for a short time in the preseason finale at Tennessee, the Packers had a dickens of a time with the cutback runs of Chris Brown.
They can expect to get a heavier dose of those from Jones, whose demonstrative finish to his rookie season included a 33-carry, 156-yard afternoon in a 16-13 loss to the Packers in Green Bay.
"The main thing we have to do is hit him and wrap up," Corey Williams said. "We're not going to be able to arm-tackle him. We all know that. Coach (Bates) has stressed that enough to us this week to know that we're going to have to come up and butt him up. It's going to have to be more than one person on the tackle. Two or three guys will have to make the tackle. The D-line, we're going to have to run to the ball and help get him down."
If all else fails - and with the Lions in recent years, anything is possible - wide receiver Kevin Johnson will be ready to play quarterback Sunday in the season opener against Green Bay. "Obviously, it's an emergency type situation," said Johnson. "If that's what you've got to do - in case a bomb goes off - you've got to do what you've got to do."
Johnson wasn't talking about an explosion. It was a figure of speech referring to a situation that might require him to move to the quarterback position if both starter Joey Harrington and rookie backup Dan Orlovsky were injured.
Jeff Garcia, who was signed by the Lions last spring and slated for backup duty, suffered a broken fibula and badly sprained ankle in the final preseason game. He is expected back in a minimum of six weeks so the Lions don't want to put him on injured reserve and don't want to sign another backup quarterback unless it's an absolute necessity.
That means Johnson is getting a quick education on the West Coast offense, just in case.
He got the emergency quarterback job because he has experience at the position, both in high school and for his first two years at Syracuse, before seeing the futility of the situation and moving to wide receiver.
Johnson, a seven-year veteran, is best known as a receiver with 367 receptions for 4,462 yards and 25 touchdowns during his first six seasons - most of them at Cleveland with a brief stop in Jacksonville and the 2004 season at Baltimore. But he also has a touchdown pass to his credit. In the Browns' season opener against Kansas City in 2002, he connected with Quincy Morgan on a 33-yard scoring pass.
Garcia, on crutches after having his injury checked out by Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C., was asked if he had any advice for Johnson, in the event he has to play.
"Remember the four points of pressure, secure the football, quarterback sweep a lot, quarterback trap, run the option," Garcia said, laughing. "I really haven't seen him throw. I believe if it really comes down to that, they're going to find ways to utilize his legs more than his arm."
Garcia, incidentally, said he hopes to be back sooner than the Lions medical staff has predicted.
"I'm being optimistic about it and saying five weeks," he said. "That's my own thought. I feel like I'm a fast healer. I feel like I'm a tough guy. I feel like I can respond from something like this and get back out onto the field.
"I'm going to live in the weight room and I'm going to live in the training room and I'm going to get myself as healthy as possible."