Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

It will be unstoppable force vs. immoveable object when the Packers' offense squares off against the Lions' defense on third down during Thursday's showdown. Plus, 20 more tasty morsels in the best game preview you'll find anywhere. Not a subscriber? Try our one-week free trial.

DETROIT -- Third down is always critical, and the battle between the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions' defense will be the game inside the game for Thursday's Thanksgiving showdown at Ford Field.

Thanks to Rodgers, Green Bay converts a second-ranked 51.2 percent of its third downs. Rodgers leads the NFL with a passer rating of 122.0 on third down, with 71.1 percent accuracy, six touchdowns and one interception. That's right about on par with the past couple seasons. Since the start of 2009, Rodgers leads the league with a 117.3 rating and 9.47 yards per attempt and is second with 31 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Lions' third-down defense has been dominant, thanks to a line that can rush the passer and stuff the run when the mood strikes it. Opponents are moving the chains just 28.6 percent of the time. Moreover, the Lions also lead on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, with opponents converting just 33.3 percent.

In the two matchups last year, the Packers converted just 5-of-19 third downs against Detroit. One of those was on John Kuhn's 8-yard run on third-and-7 that clinched Green Bay's 28-26 victory at Lambeau Field.

"Third-down conversion is definitely a situation that should be an emphasis or highlight of this game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Their defense is No. 1 in the league on third down. Some people call the NFL a third-down league, rightfully so. Third down is a bigger challenge, especially playing on the road in the noise, and it will be no different for us on defense. It's a critical down. Something you practice, you spend a lot of time in the offseason on making sure you have the concepts that are readily available throughout the season, and it will be no different."

Of course, a big key to third-down success is what happens on first and second down. It will be vital to keep those third-down situations a manageable distance. Rodgers, for instance, leads the NFL in converting third-and-medium (3 yards to 7 yards) but is tied for eighth on third-and-long (8-plus yards) at 35.3 percent.

"They've got as good a front four as you're going to see and they rotate some guys in who can play as well, so it's going to be important for us to control them when they're just rushing four," Rodgers said. "They've been getting after the passer really well with (Kyle) Vanden Bosch and (Cliff) Avril, and they've got a good rush rush up the middle. So, it's going to be important for the up the middle guys to be stout and our guys on the edge to be able to handle the one-on-one matchups."

It's sort of the opposite story on the other side of the ball. Defensively, Green Bay is allowing its opponents to convert 42.9 percent of the time, which is tied for 26th. Meanwhile, Detroit's offense is converting a 31st-ranked 29.9 percent of the time. While Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford owns the NFL's No. 8 passer rating (93.4), he's a pitiful 62.1 on third down, with 47.7 percent accuracy with six touchdowns and six of his 10 interceptions.

Red zone is key, too

It's strength vs. strength when the Packers' offense penetrates the Lions' 20-yard line. Green Bay scores touchdowns 64.3 percent of the time, which ranks second in the NFL. Detroit allows touchdowns 41.7 percent of the time, which ranks seventh.

For the season, Rodgers has thrown 19 touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone. For his career, it's a remarkable 74 touchdowns and one interception.

"I think the situational game will be most important," Rodgers said. "Converting on those third downs, giving us more downs and keeping their offense off the field. And in the red zone, we're doing a good job scoring touchdowns. They're doing a good job of keeping you out of the end zone. We need to win those situational games; the third downs and also in the red zone get seven (points).

Turkey season

When Jim Schwartz became coach of the Lions back in 2009, one of the first things he talked about was protecting the tradition of the Thanksgiving game in Detroit. He said he wanted to put up barbed wire around that custom.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," he said.

With every ugly, nationally televised performance on Thanksgiving, the Lions feed into the increasingly noisy argument that the NFL should take the game away from the Lions and spread it around to other franchises.

"We want to make sure the players understand the tradition of this game, its importance to the city and its place in the history of the National Football League," Schwartz said. "Those things are very important, and we want our players to recognize that and play accordingly."

The Lions haven't exactly made these Thanksgiving Day games compelling holiday viewing in recent years. They have lost six in a row by an average margin of 23.3 points. While beating the 10-0 Packers, improving Detroit's position in the NFC North and taking another step toward solidifying a playoff spot were atop the agenda, there isn't a player on the roster who doesn't know what else the Lions are fighting for Thursday.

"We know how important this game is, not just to us and our playoff hopes, but to this city," Vanden Bosch said. "It's not something we take lightly. We understand the steps this organization has taken the last couple of years, and winning this game would definitely be the biggest step."

Air Rodgers

-- Since becoming the Packers' starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers has completed 1,241 passes (second in NFL) for 15,562 yards (third in NFL) with 117 touchdowns (second in NFL) for a 104.5 passer rating (first in NFL).

With at least nine completions against Detroit, he will reach 1,250 completions, 15,000 passing yards and 100 passing touchdowns in 58 career starts, tied with Tony Romo and Kurt Warner for the fewest starts to reach all three marks among quarterbacks who began their careers in the Super Bowl era. It took Peyton Manning and Dan Marino 59 starts.

-- Rodgers is the first quarterback to tally 3,100-plus passing yards and 30 touchdowns in the first 10 games of a season. He's the fifth quarterback in NFL history to throw two-plus touchdown passes in each of his team's first 10 games, joining Johnny Unitas, Marino, Manning and Tom Brady.

-- With a record 10 consecutive games with a passer rating of at least 110, Rodgers is one game from tying the full-season record set by Steve Young in 1994.

-- Rodgers has dominated in domes. In 15 career indoor starts (including playoffs), he has 12 games with a passer rating of at least 110. Since Rodgers took over as the starter in 2008, he leads the NFL with a 112.0 passer rating, 9.06 yards per attempt and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5.50-to-1. His 68.6 percent trails Josh Freeman (69.7) and Drew Brees (69.2). Even though he missed most of the last year's game at Detroit, Rodgers is averaging 297.9 yards per start.

Half the story

Three times this season, the Lions have rallied from at least 17 points down. They've been a dominant team in the second half, ranking first in the league in points scored with 191, third with 74 points allowed and first with a point differential of plus-117.

On the other hand, Green Bay leads the league with 94 points in the first quarter and 189 points in the first half.

In all, the Packers have scored 355 points through 10 games. The team record is 461 points in 2009, meaning it's just 106 points from equaling that mark. The Packers lead the NFL by scoring on 50 percent of their possessions (39 touchdowns, 16 field goals in 110 possessions) and are the only team in the league to have scored 24 points in every game this season.

History lesson

-- Green Bay and Detroit have the league's longest-running rivalry, having met at least once every year since the Packers and Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans began their yearly series in 1932. Green Bay leads 89-65-7. That includes 18 of the last 21 games and nine of 10 since McCarthy took over as Packers coach in 2006.

-- The Packers are the first undefeated team to play on Thanksgiving since Vince Lombardi's 1962 squad. Those Packers, like these Packers, were 10-0. They infamously lost that game 26-14 as Bart Starr was sacked 12 times.

-- Not only have the Packers won a franchise-record 16 in a row, they're also on the best regular-season run in team history with 12 consecutive wins. Moreover, their eight-game road winning streak is their best since the Super Bowl teams of 1966 and 1967 were road warriors a record nine straight times. This year, the Packers are 5-0 on the road; no Packers team has won its first six road games in a season.

-- This will be Detroit's 72nd Thanksgiving game, with the Lions going 33-36¬-2 on Turkey Day. A total of nine players have had three-touchdown games, including Green Bay's Billy Howton in 1952 and Walter Stanley in 1986. One of Stanley's touchdowns was an 83-yard punt return with 41 seconds to go that gave Green Bay a 44-40 victory.

Lions blitz

-- Why are the Packers the best team in the NFL and the Lions among the top contenders? It always comes down to quarterbacks – and stopping them. The Packers lead the league with plus-46 in passer rating (127.4 on offense and 79.4 on defense). The Lions are fourth with a plus-24.4 (93.5 on offense and 69.1 on defense).

-- While Rodgers is challenging the modern-era record of yards per passing attempt with 9.63, he'll face a huge challenge against the Lions. Thanks in large part to a pass rush that has contributed 27 sacks, Detroit is allowing 5.06 yards per passing play. That's just behind Pittsburgh's leading-leading 5.05.

-- The Packers' shoddy pass defense needs to cut down on the mental errors against Stafford. For his career, Detroit is 7-0 when his passer rating is at least 100.0. He's topped 100 six times in his 10 games this season. When he's been below 100.0 this season, the Lions are 1-3.

-- Towering Calvin Johnson leads the NFL with 40 receiving touchdowns since the start of the 2008 season. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald is next with 37, and Green Bay's Greg Jennings ranks third with 32. This season, Johnson has 11 touchdowns. Only Randy Moss had 11 touchdown receptions in the first eight games of a season since the 1970 merger.

Four-point stance

-- Johnson has the edge in touchdowns but Jennings leads the charge in completions of 25-plus yards since the start of the 2008 season. Jennings and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson are tied with a league-leading 48, with Johnson ranking fourth with 43.

-- While Johnson leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns, Jennings and Jordy Nelson lead the league with 16 touchdowns by a receiving tandem. Johnson and Nate Burleson (as well as Johnson and Titus Young) are next with 13. Jennings and Nelson have combined for 1,517 yards, trailing only Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown (1,548).

-- As Capers is quick to remind, there are two phases to pass defense. One is rushing the passer. The other is covering. The Giants lead the NFL with a combined 45 interceptions and sacks (14 and 31, respectively). The Packers are next with 43 (league-high 19 interceptions, plus 24 sacks). The Lions are third with 42 (15 interceptions, 27 sacks).

-- The Packers lead the league with 15 players scoring touchdowns. Chicago is next with 14 and the Jets have had 13 cross the goal line.

The last word …

… Goes to Rodgers, on what he learned from last year's 7-3 loss at Detroit: "Slide when you get the first down. I think it's important to remember my role on this team. If I'm not taking care of myself, I can hurt this team. If I got the first down, I'm probably not going to outrun anybody or make too many guys miss, so make sure I get down pretty quickly."

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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

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