Gameday Notebook: Johnson-Williams Mismatch?

Calvin Johnson dominated Tramon Williams in last year's finale, but that hasn't been the norm when these two stars have squared off. Plus, replacing Clay Matthews, Green Bay's improved defense, its advantage on special teams and 17 more nuggets in the biggest and best preview in the world.

Last time Tramon Williams and Calvin Johnson squared off, Johnson won the battle but Williams and the Green Bay Packers won the war.

While the Lions lost 45-41 in last year's finale, Johnson dismantled the beleaguered Packers secondary with 11 catches for 244 yards and one touchdown. According to ProFootballFocus.com, eight of the catches and 172 of the yards came against Williams.

That, however, has not been the norm. Johnson is arguably the most talented receiver in NFL history. He's big, he's strong, he's fast and he's tough. Williams, however, isn't one to back down from a challenge.

"Everyone around the league knows Calvin is one of the best in the game," Williams said. "If that don't get you up to want to play against a guy like that, then I don't know what will. I'm always up to challenge anybody, but the best in the game it brings that much more out of you."

When the Lions and Packers squared off at Ford Field in November of last season, Johnson caught 1-of-3 passes for 5 yards against Williams, with Williams breaking up the two incompletions. In 2010 – albeit against Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton rather than Matthew Stafford – Johnson was targeted six times when covered by Williams. None of those passes were completed.

"It's been a give and take. Calvin's gotten him and he's gotten Calvin," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said on Friday. "They've both had success against each other. Last year's game here, it wasn't all against Tramon. When we try to match Tramon on people, he's not going to be on him every play. Just like against Arizona, Tramon matched Fitzgerald and Tramon didn't give up any catches personally but Fitzgerald still had catches and touchdowns. Those two guys are very competitive. I'm excited to see when they are matched up what happens. He's done well against him in the past."

How? At 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds, Johnson's got Williams by 6 inches and 45 pounds. Both players can jump through the roof. In a straight-line race, Johnson probably has the edge there, too.

"You have to study your film, study tendencies, to know things are going to happen before they happen. That's the way you stay ahead of the game," Williams said. "It's a tough game by itself and, obviously, Calvin's a freak of nature. It would be tough to stop him if you just show up on the field and someone says, ‘OK, Tramon, you've got to go against this guy,' and I've never met him and I don't know who he is. If he's 6-5, 240, runs a 4.3 and I haven't seen any film, it's going to be a tough day. I get the option to watch the film and see what type of things he does and the way he moves. That's what keeps me ahead of the game a little bit."

Johnson, who is coming off the third 200-yard game of his career, is the first player since Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith in 1999-2000 to have more than 1,500 receiving yards (1,534) in a 12-game span. No other player has even 1,200 yards over the last 12 games. This season, he is tied for seventh with 60 receptions, leads the league with 974 receiving yards and is tied for second with 11 catches of 25-plus yards. Since the start of 2008, Johnson leads the NFL with 6,090 receiving yards, 47 receiving touchdowns and 60 catches of 45-plus yards.

Williams, however, is back to where he was in 2010, when Whitt thought Williams was the best cornerback in the league – ahead of even Darrelle Revis.

"We do a lot of film study and Tramon is smart. He's very gifted," Whitt said. "But this guy here (Johnson) is rare. There's only one Calvin Johnson in the league. There's only one guy that's that big, that fast and has that kind of catch radius. If the quarterback gets it close, he's going to make some catches that other guys just can't make. We just have to be in position, and when the quarterback throws it in a place where we can get it, we have to make our opportunity to either catch it or knock the ball down. He's a difficult guy to cover but we have to do it twice a year, every year, so we're used to it."

Picking up the slack

It's not just the outside linebackers who have to pick up the sack slack left by an injured Clay Matthews.

The Packers will need to get some pressure on Stafford from their defensive line to help combat the Lions' passing game.

"We've got a bunch of good pass rushers on the team," rookie defensive lineman and Michigan native Jerel Worthy said. "Other than Clay being the guy that's the leader up front as far as the sack total, the sacks are pretty evenly spread out. We've got a number of guys that can get home. It's all about everybody taking advantage of the opportunities when given."

The Packers got six sacks from their defensive line all of last season. With 2.5 from C.J. Wilson and two apiece from Mike Neal, Worthy and fellow rookie Mike Daniels, Green Bay's got 8.5 sacks from its front wall in the first nine games.

When healthy, Neal and Worthy have been staples of the nickel package. Even while missing a game-and-a-half with a concussion, Worthy has the most pass-rushing snaps among the defensive linemen. The Packers need more than his two sacks and three quarterback hits.

"I think like any rookie, he's an energetic kid out there," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said during the bye. "He's got a ton of energy. He loves football. Sometimes he's just a wild guy running out there where he doesn't really have a plan. We put together a plan for him, and just like any young rookie, sometimes they get out there and he wants to please so much and play too hard that sometimes he's running out there without thinking too much. I'd rather have it that way than the other way, where you're going, ‘C'mon, you've got to bust your ass.' You don't need to do that with him. He plays hard, he loved the game, it's just he has to take his game to the next level."

Worthy said he's been trying to tame himself — but not too much — this week.

"He just wants me to be a little more precise with my moves," Worthy said. "Sometimes, he thinks that I'm going 100 mph, which the game's 100 mph, but I've got to make sure I'm a little bit more calm in how I do my pass-rush moves, really take my time and develop myself and my pass-rush moves. He's working on me with that through the week and I think I had a good day of practice today learning how to slow things down and put a bigger emphasis on the details."

It's a different defense

When the Packers and Lions last squared off, Stafford threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns. The Packers won the game 45-41, but it cemented Green Bay's standing as the worst pass defense in NFL history at nearly 300 yards per game.

It's a different story this year, though. Looking beyond points allowed and the typical league rankings, Cold Hard Football Facts as its Defensive Hog Index. In that, Green Bay is 10th in yards allowed per rush, ninth in negative pass play percentage (sacks and interceptions per pass attempt) and seventh on third down. Put it together, and Green Bay's defense is tied for fifth in the NFL.

"They got a young infusion of talent, particularly in the draft," Schwartz said. "They drafted some players that have been contributors for them. I know Nick Perry's hurt now but Casey Hayward's leading them in interceptions; that's helped them. Obviously, their schemes have pretty much stayed the same. They're making a lot of big plays. They're top 10 in third downs, they're second in sacks and they're in the top 10 in interceptions. Those are drive stoppers. Those are times that you get off the field and keep the offense from scoring. That translates to them being a top-10 scoring defense. I think they already have more sacks than they had last year – I mean, the whole year (tied, actually). That's translating to where they are on defense. They've gone from one of the bottom defenses in the league to top 10 in a lot of categories."

Special teams could be difference

All season, Green Bay has been helped by a special teams that has produced advantages in field position. That gives the Packers a potential edge against the Lions, who have given up two touchdowns on kickoff returns and two more on punt returns.

On kickoff returns, Green Bay's average starting point is the 23.2-yard line, good for ninth in the league. Detroit's average start is the 20.4, which ranks 26th. On the other side, Green Bay's defense has set up shop at its 21.9-yard line following kickoffs, good for 16th, while Detroit's defense has taken the field at the 25.5, good for 31st.

That's a 2.8-yard average on kickoff returns and 3.6 yards on kickoffs, or a whopping 6.4-yard advantage.

Behind Tim Masthay, the Packers are 18th in net punting with a 39.8-yard average while the Lions are last with a net of 35.5. With Randall Cobb giving a slight edge over Stefan Logan, the Packers win opponent net punting 39.5 to 39.4.

That translates to a 4.4-yard edge on every exchange of punts.

The other sideline

— While the Packers have to be concerned about Mason Crosby, who's made just two-thirds of his field goals, the Lions have no concerns with ageless kicker Jason Hanson. The sixth player in NFL history to top 2,000 points, the 21-year pro is 18-of-20 on field goals, including 11-of-13 from 40 to 49 yards and 1-for-1 from 50-plus. That 53-yarder gave him 51 from 50-plus yards, easily a league record. John Kasay is second with 42.

"Jason Hanson has been around for a long time, not just because he's talented but he's been very consistent," Schwartz said. "You see across the league there are kickers that'll have one great year and then all of a sudden fall off the next. That's not Jason Hanson. Jason Hanson's been very consistent since the time he's been in the league. He's very mature. He's levelheaded, understands the business of the NFL, understands the challenges that arise every week and he embraces all of that. He's a great teammate. He's a special-teams captain for us. I don't think there's anybody we'd rather have on the field when there's a big kick to be made in the game than Jason Hanson."

— Evan Dietrich-Smith didn't want to discuss Ndamukong Suh's infamous stomp.

Stopping Suh is challenge enough. Since entering the league in 2010, Suh has 18.5 sacks, one more than Geno Atkins for first among defensive tackles, and he leads the way with a combined 32 sacks and tackles for losses on running plays. He's got 4.5 sacks and five TFLs this season.

Behind Suh, the Lions' defensive line has contributed 18 sacks and 19.5 tackles for losses on running plays. The total of 37.5 negative plays trails only Chicago's league-leading total of 38.

— The Lions face a major challenge to get to the playoffs. Playing the next three games at home will help, but those games are against Green Bay (winners of four straight), Houston (NFL-best 8-1 and winners of three straight) and Indianapolis (winners of four straight). Then, it's off to Green Bay. The Lions have lost 21 consecutive games played in Wisconsin.

— Detroit is No. 2 in offense, with their 406.1 yards per game putting him on pace to finish with their first 400-yard average in franchise history. The Lions also are No. 10 in defense. Only Dallas and Denver rank in the top 10 in both categories. Showing what nonsense the official rankings are, only the first-place Broncos (6-3) have a winning record.

History lessons

— The Packers own a 91-65-7 edge in a series that started in 1930. From 1930 through 1934, the Lions were known as the Portsmouth Spartans. On its way to a second consecutive championship, Green Bay won that first matchup 47-13 and earned a 6-6 tie in the second. Green Bay is 7-3 at Ford Field and McCarthy is 11-1 against Detroit.

— The bye has been important for the Packers. They're 5-1 immediately after the one-week getaway under McCarthy. Over the last three seasons, his teams have won 75.0 percent of their games after the bye — a glittering 21-7 mark.

— Stafford and Rodgers are two of the most prolific quarterbacks the league has ever seen. Stafford was the second-fastest quarterback to 10,000 yards. He did it this season in career game No. 37 against Jacksonville. Kurt Warner did it in 36 games. Rodgers needs 251 yards to reach 20,000 for his career. He would do it in his 79th game. Dan Marino (74), Warner (76) and Peyton Manning (78) are the only players to get there faster.

— In 38 games, Stafford has completed 927 passes. Marc Bulger held the league's 40 game record with 908. Rodgers is the NFL's career leader in passer rating (104.6) and points per start (28.1).

Key numbers

— Detroit ranks eighth in red-zone offense, with touchdowns on 61.8 percent of its possessions. The Lions have scored touchdowns on 11 of their last 12 treks inside the 20. Green Bay's defense is tied for 23rd, having allowed touchdowns 59.1 percent of the time.

— On the other hand, it's strength vs. strength, with Green Bay's red-zone offense ranking third with 67.9 percent touchdowns and Detroit's defense tied for second with 38.1 percent touchdowns allowed.

— Green Bay is up to seventh in third-down defense, with opponents moving the chains 34.9 percent of the time. Detroit's offense is surprisingly just 14th at 40.9 percent. After going 20-for-28 in wins over Seattle and Jacksonville, the Lions went 1-of-9 against Minnesota.

— The Packers are 25-0 when Rodgers has a passer rating of at least 115. The Lions are 10-0 when Stafford has a passer rating of at least 105.

Four-point stance

— Green Bay's defense is tied for second with 28 sacks and Detroit's offense is ninth with 17 sacks allowed. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. The Packers' defense is sixth in sack percentage (7.4 percent of dropbacks) while Detroit's offense is sixth in sack percentage allowed (4.1 percent).

— Both teams are prolific in the fourth quarter. Detroit leads the way with 118 points and 15 touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Green Bay is fifth with 81 points and tied for fourth with 10 touchdowns. Incredibly, Detroit's 1,200 yards of passing offense in the fourth quarter is 404 yards more than second-place Oakland and more than double Green Bay's third-ranked 572 passing yards.

— With Stafford, the game seemingly is never out of reach. He's led nine game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, and five times has rallied the team from deficits of at least 17 points. Three of those game-winning drives came this season, including touchdowns to Calvin Johnson with 10 seconds to go to beat St. Louis and Titus Young with 20 seconds to go to beat against Seattle.

— Through five games, the Packers were guilty of the fourth-most penalties in the league with 40. During their four-game winning streak, however, they've been penalized a league-low 13 times. That leaves them eighth with 53. The Lions, as you might expect, are among the most-penalized teams in the league. Only five teams have been guilty of more penalties than Detroit's 63.

Quote of the week

Or, the best thing that was said that we couldn't work into a story ...

Rodgers, on the Packers' eight-game division winning streak: "Mike (McCarthy) likes to put up these posters on the doors that say different things in reference to whatever opponent it is. You'll have to ask him about those. I don't know how comfortable he is sharing what's on those posters. I can tell you that there's got to be a poster store around the area that's making a lot of money off of Mike and his slogans."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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