Will He Start? Stafford's Status A Mystery

Matthew Stafford hasn't practiced all week, but that doesn't mean he won't play on Thursday. The same applies to WR Calvin Johnson. More inside, including Thursday's game plan and more ...

The biggest question is whether QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson will play. Neither participated Tuesday in the Lions' only real practice of the week, but neither really needs to practice. Stafford said his shoulder was improving but he probably couldn't play unless the pain improved.

Johnson also will be a game-time decision, according to coach Jim Schwartz.

Stafford laughed when reporters said they were giving him the eyeball test as he took off his jersey in the locker room. He pulled it over his head normally. Asked if the shoulder felt good enough to play, Stafford said: "Today, probably not. It's moving in the right direction."

If the Lions must turn to Daunte Culpepper again without Johnson, that obviously puts more pressure on Detroit's running game and defense to somehow keep the game under control. Culpepper played without Johnson the last time the Lions faced the Packers, Oct. 18 at Lambeau Field, and it was ugly. Culpepper went 6-for-14 for 48 yards, took two sacks and threw an interception before leaving with a hamstring injury in a 26-0 loss.

"We need to help him offensively and defensively," Schwartz said. "I think that was a game Calvin didn't play, so we didn't do a good job of helping our quarterback in that game. And there's some other things that Daunte can do better. He knows that. But third-down conversions are going to be big. We need to keep drives alive. We can't go three-and-out and keep putting the pressure on the defense. We've got to take care of the football, and we've got to get rid of the ball.

"We can't take sacks."

GAME PLAN: The Lions cannot keep up with the Packers' passing attack, especially if they don't have quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, their top offensive weapons. They must try to control the clock as much as possible with runs and high-percentage passes to keep the Packers offense off the field.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who ranks near the top of the NFL in most passing categories, vs. Lions pass defense, which ranks at or near the bottom in most pass defense categories. Rodgers is completing 64.8 percent of his passes and has posted a 102.6 rating. The Lions are allowing opponents to complete 70.4 percent of their passes and post a 110.3 rating, worst in the NFL. Rodgers has a lot of weapons, and the Lions' secondary does not match up, especially now that it has been depleted by injuries.

Lions RB Kevin Smith, who has been more of a threat as a receiver than a runner lately, vs. Packers defense, which ranks third overall, fourth against the run and seventh against the pass. The Lions will need to rely on Smith if QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson cannot play because of injuries. Smith does not have breakaway speed and has not rushed all that well, but he has shown ability as a receiver.

INJURY IMPACT: If QB Matthew Stafford plays, he shouldn't be limited too much. His injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, and he has been playing on little practice lately anyway because of a right knee injury. If WR Calvin Johnson plays, he could be slowed a bit, however. Both of his knees are gimpy, and he has some sort of hand issue. Coach Jim Schwartz made a point to say Johnson was closer to full speed Sunday when he caught a career-high 161 yards, and now Johnson is banged up again.


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