Gameday Notebook: Defense's Big Challenge

How can the defense stop 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson? Plus, Jermichael Finley turns into a major weapon, Frank Zombo is living the dream, James Jones looks to rebound and much more as we clean out our jammed notebook in time for Sunday's game.

The Green Bay Packers have one big challenge on their hands for Sunday's game against Detroit.

That would be the Lions' 6-foot-5 wide receiver, Calvin Johnson.

Johnson's six touchdowns in five games against the Packers are equal to his six touchdowns in 13 games against Minnesota and Chicago. Not only is Johnson tall, but he's fast and can jump. The Packers have seen all of those facets. In 2008, Johnson topped 100 yards and two touchdowns in both games.

How on earth do you stop that combination?

"Just go out and play," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "There's no magic formula. You've got to go play and compete. We've got good players, he's a good player and we just go prepare for him and go compete. We know what he does and we know what he can do. Now, we've just got to go prepare and get it done."

The defense does have a few options at its disposal. For starters, if the cornerbacks can get physical with Johnson at the line of scrimmage, it will disrupt his route and his timing with quarterback Shaun Hill. Secondly, a strong pass rush — the Packers lead the NFL with 13 sacks — will make it difficult for Hill to get the ball to Johnson. And, if all else fails, there's always Charles Woodson.

"I don't really like to talk about how we're going to do it," Whitt said. "We have a plan and we'll see if it works on Sunday. It worked last year against him."

It did. Johnson managed two catches for 10 yards and a touchdown against the Packers on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Johnson sat out last year's game at Lambeau because of injury.

If the Lions use a traditional offensive package with two receivers, the Packers probably would stick Woodson on Johnson. If the Lions go with three receivers, then defensive coordinator Dom Capers typically likes to use Woodson against the slot receiver. Johnson doesn't line up in the slot, which would create matchups against Tramon Williams and, presumably, Jarrett Bush, with rookie Sam Shields doubtful with a calf injury.

The way Williams is playing, the Packers probably would be happy taking their chances with that matchup, even though he'd be giving away 6 inches to Johnson.

"Up until this point, he's playing exactly what I thought he could do," Whitt said. "He's playing the best of anybody back there. He hasn't given up any (significant) completions. He led the team in tackles last week — a lot of them were run tackles. He's being physical. He covered well but we wanted to make sure he could improve his tackling, which was poor last year. He's a physical tackler this year. He's covering outstanding up the field. He gave up one completion for 3 yards and was a third-down stop in this past game. He's playing like I think he can play. Tramon is a high-level player."

It's Finley's world

Jermichael Finley
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
After a quiet start, Jermichael Finley has been the dominant force that many insiders expected. He is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, including nine catches for 115 yards at Chicago. For the season, his 271 receiving yards leads all NFL tight ends and ranks eighth among all pass-catchers. His seven receptions of 20-plus yards is tied with Denver receiver Brandon Lloyd for tops in the NFL.

"A lot of times you get that receiver that's just the ball-control receiver that's averaging 6 yards a reception, 8 yards a reception and he's sort of the chain mover. That's really not Finley," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "Finley's … I don't know what it is. It's wide receiver-esque, his yards per catch. They're getting him the ball down the field quite a bit. They're using him more like a wide receiver and trying to work him that way."

Finley joins Paul Coffman as the only tight ends in franchise history with consecutive 100-yard games, with Coffman doing it on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 in 1979. The nine catches — on nine passes — tied the Packers' tight ends record.

"I don't think he's any different than (Visanthe) Shiancoe over at Minnesota," Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "The division is full of good tight ends. He's exceptional. He's a great receiver, runs good routes, he's got great height on him. I've seen some plays recently where they just let him go. He's wide open with nobody near him. But he's a good football player and he runs patterns probably as well as a wide receiver. It's hard to tell sometimes when they're spread out where he is."

Zombo faces former favorite team

Frank Zombo grew up in Sterling Heights, Mich., and played collegiately at Central Michigan. Not surprisingly, he grew up cheering for the Lions.

"I did. I'm not going to lie, I did," Zombo said. "Until I became a Packer, now I'm transformed. Cheesehead for life."

As a high school player, Zombo was a wide receiver who wore jersey No. 84 in honor of Lions great Herman Moore. He was recruited to Central Michigan to play tight end and was moved to defensive end during his freshman season. Now, he'll be making his second consecutive start at outside linebacker against the team he grew up watching.

"Who would have thought? Definitely I wouldn't have thought," Zombo said. "And it is, it's a great opportunity. Everyone at home's going to be loving it, watching. It's good to represent. I've got a lot of people back home that are proud of me and a backbone of support."

Zombo has two sacks in three games, including one last week when he made his first career start at Chicago. If Zombo keeps producing, Brad Jones might not get his job back once he's healthy.

"He's got a heart. He's got a heart," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. "He's got drive and desire and he's got passion. He has all the intangibles you look for in a kid to come play in the NFL. He considers it honor to be a Green Bay Packer. He knows how special this opportunity is and he's taken advantage of it."

Jones looks to rebound

James Jones
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
James Jones has been one of Rodgers' top targets this season, with 15 passes thrown his way (with 10 catches) in three games.

Jones' last reception, however, was a disaster, with his fumble costing the Packers a chance to win Monday's game at Chicago.

"I felt bad. I felt like I let my teammates down," Jones said. "I felt like I wanted to cry. But you go through ups and downs in your career, and you just have to go out there this weekend and make the most of your chances. You never know how many you're going to get, like I say every week. I have to make the most of my chances."

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said Jones' fumble was a "Football 101" blunder, with Jones carrying the ball in the wrong hand while at the sideline. He put himself at the front of the line during the daily ball-security drills this week to try to make amends.

"He's been OK," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "I'm sure he's disappointed, but he seems to be putting it behind him. I don't see him walking around with a frown on his face or (saying), ‘I wish I hadn't fumbled.' I think he's put it behind him. I tried to talk to him a lot after the game about, ‘Hey, what's done is done, let's learn from it. Take it constructively and let's make sure it doesn't happen again.'"

Road warriors?

The Lions are road kill.

Detroit hasn't won a road game since October 2007, a streak of 22 consecutive games. Moreover, the Packers have a 19-game Wisconsin winning streak against the Lions, a stretch that began with a 38-10 win in Milwaukee in 1992 and includes the 1994 playoff win. The 18-game regular-season winning streak is tied for the longest in the NFL with Washington's home dominance against Detroit. Schwartz is the eighth coach on the losing end of that ledger.

"You look at the way that Detroit has played, I don't think their record reflects the improvements they've made on both sides of the ball," Rodgers said. "This is an important game for us to be bounce back, but I don't think you can look at the Lions as a winless team and not be definitely impressed with the improvements they've made and realize this is going to be a tough game."

Seven points

— This weekend, the Colts' Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday will pass Buffalo's Jim Kelly and Kent Hull to set the record for most games started by a quarterback-center duo since the 1970 merger with 158. Brett Favre and Frank Winters rank third on that list with 123.

— Rodgers has been brilliant against Detroit. Who was catching those passes? In his last five games against Detroit, Driver has 37 receptions for 559 yards and three touchdowns, and his career totals of 91 catches, 1,233 yards and eight touchdowns are tops in all categories against a single team. Jennings has 21 catches for 385 yards in his last four vs. Detroit, including a career-high 167 yards against Lions on Dec. 28, 2008. Three of Jones' eight career touchdowns have come against Detroit.

— Maybe this is the week Brandon Jackson gets on track. He had a career-high 113 yards against Detroit on Dec. 30, 2007. His fourth-biggest yardage game was 61 yards on seven carries at Detroit in 2008.

— Woodson loves the Lions, with five interceptions — including two returned for touchdowns — in his last four against Detroit.

— While the Packers and Bears have played more times than any other pair of rivals, the Packers and Lions have the longest yearly rivalry, with at least one matchup in every year since 1932. Green Bay is 88-64-7 vs. Detroit, not including a 2-0 mark in the playoffs. Detroit won 11 in a row from 1949 through 1954 while the Packers are on a current nine-game streak. Coach Mike McCarthy is 8-0 vs. Detroit.

— The joy of sacks? Green Bay leads the NFL with 13 sacks, with Detroit tied for second with Philadelphia with 11. Cullen Jenkins has a sack in all three games this season, which is the longest streak of his career.

— Both offenses have been dangerous in the red zone, with Green Bay ranking second with a touchdown percentage of 77.8 and Detroit tied for fifth at 66.7 percent. Conversely, neither defense has been stout. Green Bay is tied for 17th by allowing touchdowns 50.0 percent of the time with Detroit slightly better at 15th at 44.0 percent.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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