World's Best Preview: Inflated Sack Total

The Packers are tied for the NFL lead in sacks but that total is a fraud. We have the startling data. Plus, stopping the run will be vital and a great look at turnovers. Those items and much, much more in our 20-point, 3,600-word preview package that is overflowing with information you won't find anywhere else.

The Green Bay Packers are tied for the NFL lead with 37 sacks.

"Hell yeah we are," Clay Matthews said on Tuesday.

They're also on pace to finish with 54 sacks, which would break the team record of 52 set in 2001.

If it doesn't seem like the Packers' pass rush has been some sort of dominant force, then your hunch is correct.

ProFootballFocus.com charts sacks, quarterback hits and hurries. With 186 total pressures, the Packers rank 25th in the league.

For another perspective, the Packers' coaches count quarterback hits. They have 78 through 11 games, which puts them on pace for 113.5. In 2012, the Packers had 47 sacks and 139 quarterback hits. Even when they had a pitiful 29 sacks in 2011, the coaches marked the defense down for 129 hits. When they won the Super Bowl in 2010, the Packers had 47 sacks and 125 hits. In defensive coordinator Dom Capers' first season in 2009, the Packers had 37 sacks and 140 quarterback hits.

After seven games of double-digits quarterback hits, the Packers have just one this season. Against Philadelphia, three of the four quarterback hits resulted in sacks. Against the Giants, all four quarterback hits were sacks. Against the Vikings, six of the seven quarterback hits were sacks.

The Packers will need a consistent pass rush against Matthew Stafford on Thursday. The Lions have been outstanding in pass protection -- see Noteworthy Numbers below – but Stafford's fundamentals are prone to breaking down under pressure.

"You know, you look at the guys we have in there, we're doing a good job," Matthews said. "Go back to the Giants game, we're doing a good job of getting the guy off the mark. We're trying to make the quarterback as uncomfortable as possible, and I think with me getting closer to being a healthy as I can, Mike Daniels playing real well, Mike Neal playing well, Datone (Jones) coming on and hopefully with the addition of Nick Perry coming back, we've got some guys up there who can rush the passer."

That all-or-nothing pass rush has meant a lot of sacks but perhaps fewer chances for the secondary to make plays. Green Bay is tied for last with four interceptions and tied for 29th with 39 passes defensed. (See chart below.)

"Green Bay did a really good job of stopping our run and also pressured our quarterback," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said in a conference call this week. "I think they had five sacks in the game and we couldn't get the run game started. We're going to need to do both of those things to come out with a win. Green Bay's No. 1 in the NFL in sacks. We can't let sacks or those negative plays – they haven't got a lot of turnovers this year; I think they only have four interceptions, which is a little bit unlike Green Bay. But they've created a lot of negative plays, mainly the sack and the tackles for loss. That can put you behind the chains and make it hard to sustain drives. If we can get an effective run game and we can keep the quarterback clean, it can go a long way toward being able to get the ball to guys like (Nate) Burleson and Calvin (Johnson)."

TeamSacksPressuresINTsPBU
Green Bay37186439
Baltimore37217965
Buffalo372251658
Kansas City372541275
New Orleans371981052
Cincinnati342281273
New England341961349
Carolina342211546
Miami332481460
Seattle332531656
St. Louis332011254
Denver322571384
N.Y. Jets32185635
Cleveland31192859
Arizona292141576
Indianapolis29193851
San Diego29176645
Oakland29216731
San Francisco272131261
Houston27203444
Washington271841040
Dallas262031255
Tennessee26200953
Philadelphia242331372
Tampa Bay242031552
Minnesota24218846
Pittsburgh23181746
Atlanta22158639
Detroit202271161
Chicago191391447
N.Y. Giants181951254
Jacksonville17153552

STOP THE RUN FIRST, THEN SACK THE QB

Stafford is setting NFL passing records.

Johnson is setting receiving records.

The key for the Packers' defense, however, will be stopping the Lions' running game.

The Lions don't field a prolific rushing attack; they rank 22nd with 103.7 yards per game and 19th with 4.0 yards per rushing attempt.

But if Capers' defense is going to have any prayer of limiting Stafford, Johnson and the other targets, his unit is going to have to do what it's failed to do in three of the past four games: stop the run.

In the first six games, the Packers yielded 474 rushing yards – or 79.0 per game. In the seventh game, the Packers allowed 111 rushing yards against the Vikings, though they would have fallen short of 100 if not for some garbage-time yardage. In the last four games, however, Green Bay has allowed 171 to Chicago, 204 to Philadelphia, 78 to the Giants and 232 to Minnesota. That's a four-game total of 685 rushing yards, or 171.3 per game.

The problem confronting Capers is he can't sell out to stop the run, like he did – unsuccessfully – against Minnesota.

"You have to deal with their big-play ability," Capers said. "And the way they spread you out, they're going to be looking for matchups at any point in time. If you're putting too much attention on the outside people, they can run the ball now. They have two good running backs with Reggie Bush and I think (Joique) Bell is an underrated guy. He's a physical runner, very good in the screen game. He's hard to tackle. You can't arm tackle him. So, those are the challenges." When the Lions average more than 4.0 yards per rush, they're 4-2. The two losses came in the last two weeks, when Detroit killed itself with eight turnovers. They're 2-3 when they rush for less than 4.0 per carry.

The Lions gained just 64 yards on 19 rushes when the teams met at Lambeau Field on Oct. 6. Plenty has changed since then. The Lions didn't have Johnson and Burleson for that game, while Green Bay's defense was in lock-down mode. On Thursday, the Lions will be at full strength on offense and the Packers have added "dam repairman" to Capers' job title due to missed tackles and lack of gap discipline.

"Listen, this has been one of those deals where you plug one hole and another one opens up over here," Capers said. "The last few weeks, I've been talking about getting off the field at the end of the game. End of the half, end of the game. The last couple weeks we've done an excellent job of that. (But) we had two series where it looked like we didn't know how to play run defense. Unfortunately, those were critical series for us. Those two series, we just have to eliminate them. That's where the consistency comes in. I still feel like we can get this thing all pulled together."

The time is now, considering the Packers are clinging to their playoff aspirations.

"We've just got to get back to playing how we're playing before against the run," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "So what better week starting than this week?"

TALE OF THE TURNOVERS

Turnovers have been major stories for both teams. Green Bay ranks 24th at minus-5 this season while Detroit is tied for 26th at minus-7.

For Green Bay, it's been a season-long inability to force turnovers. It has forced just five in the past eight games after forcing four in Week 3 at Cincinnati.

For Detroit, it was plus-5 in the first seven games. It hadn't lost the turnover battle in any of those seven games, a key to a 5-2 start. The Lions are a shocking minus-12 the past four weeks. While they beat Dallas while finishing minus-4, they enter this game on a two-game skid after going minus-3 at Pittsburgh and minus-5 at home against Tampa Bay. Stafford threw four interceptions against the Buccaneers after tossing just eight in the first 10 games.

"We've let the last two go," Johnson said during a conference call. "We were right there. Too many turnovers, though. That's really been the thing for us. If we can eliminate those, we can easily turn those losses into W's."

Stafford is 0-6 for his career against Green Bay. He threw nine interceptions in first four losses, and his only game without an interception was the Oct. 6 matchup at Lambeau Field – a 22-9 loss in which Stafford was without Johnson and Burleson.

"He has a gunslinger mentality," Capers said. "He'll try to throw the ball in there and he'll make some big plays doing that. It ended up costing them this last week because when you look at the Tampa Bay game, they kind of had, in my opinion, the formula it takes. The game was pretty one-sided when you look at the statistics. Detroit has their normal 390-something yards and Tampa had 220-something but Tampa had five takeaways. One of those for a touchdown, they had a couple red zone takeaways. That's kind of the formula that it takes. Our history against these guys is getting three or four takeaways that influence the game."

That's true. In 2012, the Packers had games of four and two takeaways to sweep the Lions. In 2011, the Packers had games of three and four takeaways in another sweep. In 2010, the Packers had three takeaways in the win and two in the loss. In 2009, the Packers had games of three and five takeaways to sweep the series.

"I think turnovers are traditionally the No. 1 indicator of winning and losing, and that's both sides of the ball," Schwartz said. "In losing these last two games, we've been poor in both of those areas. We haven't got any takeaways, we've dropped some interceptions, and we didn't have as many opportunities. Offensively, we've negated a lot of scoring opportunities with turnovers. We've still been able to move the ball, we've still put ourselves in position but, particularly the red-zone turnovers, the plus-50 turnovers, that's been something we definitely have to change if we're going to come out on the winning side."

THE OTHER SIDELINE

-- The Packers caught a huge break when Johnson was inactive for the teams' Week 5 matchup.

Even while missing that game, Johnson leads the NFL with 1,198 receiving yards, is tied for the league lead with 11 touchdown catches and is third with his 18.2 yards per reception.

"He's obviously one of the very best in the league," Capers said. "So, you take the best in the league at that certain position off the field, it impacts any team. They count on him three, four times a game taking that ball and getting big chunks of yardage. He normally does. So, it influences the way the offense plays. When you take him out of there, somebody else has to rise up and give you those plays that he's not giving you."

Johnson is the most productive receiver in NFL history with a career mark of 88.6 receiving yards per game. He boosted that number with his stunning 329-yard game against Dallas in Week 8. That was the most by a receiver in a regulation game and trails only the Los Angeles Rams' Flipper Anderson (336 yards vs. New Orleans in an overtime game in 1989).

Johnson has five 100-yard receiving games in his six seasons. That's already tied for the NFL record held by Lance Alworth. Johnson has 9,034 receiving yards, leaving him 141 yards away from passing Herman Moore (9,174) for the franchise record.

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt called Johnson "the best" receiver in the league. It's not just his freakish combination of size and speed but how he's worked to maximize those physical gifts.

"Early on, you knew where he was going to be and he only ran four routes," Whitt said. "Now he runs the whole route tree and he runs it well. He's really gifted, so it's difficult. It's hard to just match one guy on him because he's going to be in the slot, so the nickel is going to have to be on him. … The past couple years, he's just been killing everybody."

And talk about dominance. Since the start of the 2011 season, Johnson leads the league with 4,843 receiving yards and 32 receiving touchdowns. That's almost 1,200 yards more than second-ranked Brandon Marshall's total of 3,667. Jimmy Graham is second with 31 receiving touchdowns.

"You look at the Cincinnati game, they had four guys on him in the end zone and he went up there and caught it," Whitt said. "The Dallas game, they had perfect coverage on him and he goes up there and catches it. When he is on, there's not much you can do and the quarterback can make throws. That quarterback, I'm more impressed with him this year than probably before. He's made some Aaron Rodgers-type throws."

-- The Lions' size on the perimeter is a major cause of concern, considering the Packers had no answers for the Bears' towering trio of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett.

The 6-foot-5 Johnson starts alongside 6-foot Burleson at receiver. In Burleson's absence, Kris Durham (6-6) became a viable option in the passing game with 32 catches. And at tight end, 6-foot-5 Brandon Pettigrew (37 catches) is one of the more complete players in the league at his position and 6-foot-7 rookie Joseph Fauria has been a touchdown machine inside the 10, with six of his 11 grabs going for touchdowns.

"It starts with Calvin Johnson," Capers said. "Obviously, you have to be aware of him because any time he touches the ball you know he has a chance to go the distance. He's a rare guy with his size and speed, his wingspan. They have a number of big, tall receivers. When they get down to the red zone, they kind of play tall ball on you. You see Fauria has 11 catches, six of them for touchdowns. Johnson, I think, has 11 touchdown catches."

-- The Lions have done a good job of surrounding Johnson with other playmakers in the passing game. Since entering the NFL in 2006, Bush leads all running backs with 412 career receptions, including 40 this season. Led by Bush and Bell, the Lions' backfield ranks second with 1,834 total yards and 742 receiving yards. Plus, Pettigrew has 280 career catches, third-best for a tight end in franchise history, and Fauria almost incredibly went undrafted.

"Bush is an explosive guy," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "This Bell is a really good runner. They have a lot of weapons on the outside so you can't always stack the box against them. You play against guys like these, you have to pick your spots. If they pop a little run on you, you can't freak out. Guys have to stay disciplined. They have a good play-action game off their running game. It's a difficult challenge for us. The thing about Bush is I was in Carolina (as defensive coordinator) when he was at New Orleans for all those years, he can pop a move on you and make you miss. You just have to make sure. He's quick, explosive. He presents problems in everything, passing game and running game. That was a good pickup for them. This Bell kid they got, he's a tough runner."

-- The Lions and Broncos are the only teams in the league with a passer, runner and receiver ranking in the top 10. For Detroit, Johnson has a league-high 1,198 receiving yards, Stafford is third with 3,495 passing yards and Bush is 10th with 737 rushing yards.

NOTEWORTHY NUMBERS

-- It's been quite a century for the Packers. As in the century mark. The Packers and Raiders lead the league with five 100-yard rushing performances. The Packers also have 10 100-yard receiving performances. That's one more than New Orleans and one off the team record set in 1995.

-- Lions center Dominic Raiola, who got into a spat with the University of Wisconsin Marching Band when the teams met at Lambeau Field last month, will become the third player in Lions history to play in 200 career games.

He's a staple on one of the league's more underrated offensive lines. With first-year starters Riley Reiff (first round, 2012) at left tackle and LaAdrian Waddle (undrafted, 2013) at right tackle and rookie Larry Warford (third round, 2013) at right guard, the Lions lead the NFL with 14 sacks allowed and a sack rate of 2.9 percent. Plus, they're tied for second in negative offensive plays (combined sacks, lost-yardage running plays and penalties) at 7.2 percent.

-- Who leads the NFL in interceptions? That category is generally for defensive backs but the honors go to Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, with five. The last time a non-defensive back led the league in interceptions? Don Shinnick in 1959.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Ndamukong Suh ranks third among defensive tackles with 10.5 tackles for losses (4.5 sacks and 6.0 tackles for losses on running plays). Since entering the league in 2010, he leads all defensive tackles with 49 tackles for losses (26.5 sacks, 22.5 TFLs on running plays), far ahead of Geno Atkins' second-ranked total of 41.5.

-- Stafford, who set NFL records with 1,239 completions and 14,331 passing yards in his first 50 games, boasts a career record of 10-1 when he has a passer rating of 105.0. He's also been clutch. He's already got 12 victories when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter or overtime, including five game-winning drives capped by touchdown passes in the final minute of the fourth quarter. He's led three-game winning drives this season, including against Dallas on Oct. 27, when he capped an 80-yard touchdown drive with a 1-yard sneak with 12 seconds remaining.

HISTORY LESSONS

-- The Lions are 33-38-2 on Thanksgiving but 11-8-1 against the Packers. This will be the teams' sixth Thanksgiving matchup since 2001. Green Bay won 29-27 in 2001, Detroit won 22-14 in 2003, and Green Bay won 37-26 in 2007, 34-12 in 2009 and 27-15 in 2011. The highest-scoring Thanksgiving games have involved the Packers: A 44-40 Green Bay victory in 1986 and a 52-35 Detroit victory in 1951.

-- The Lions have lost nine in a row on Thanksgiving, with their last victory being the 2003 game against the Packers.

-- Among the Thanksgiving records against the Lions: Brett Favre's 31 completions in 2007, Billy Howton's three touchdown catches in 1952, Walter Stanley's three total touchdowns in 1986, Stanley's 83-yard punt return touchdown in 1986 and Tobin Rote's 82-yard touchdown pass to Max McGee in 1954.

-- Since McCarthy took over as coach, the Packers are 19-7 in dome games (including playoffs). That's the second-best in the league among teams that have played at least 10 road/neutral dome games since 2006. The Packers have scored at least 30 points in 16 of those games, including 44 at Minnesota last month.

FOUR-POINT STANCE

-- The Lions haven't allowed a rushing touchdown since Chicago's Matt Forte scored in Week 4. That streak of 30-plus quarters is the Lions' longest since 1950. Moreover, Detroit hasn't allowed more than 62 rushing yards in its past five games, with three consecutive games of less than 40 rushing yards. Detroit allowed just 22 yards on 24 carries against Tampa Bay last week. It is allowing a fourth-ranked 88.0 rushing yards per game but is No. 1 with 43.8 per game since Week 7.

Of course, the Lions will be tested by powerhouse rookie Eddie Lacy. He's rushed for a league-high 755 yards over the last seven weeks. After being slowed for a combined 100 yards by the Eagles and Giants, Lacy ran wild for 110 yards against a Vikings defense that had a bull's-eye on Lacy's No. 27 jersey.

"Maybe not his best. He had a heck of a game against the Bears, too," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said of Lacy's performance against stacked boxes. "But he had some clutch runs, clutch pickup fourth-and-1 there and there was some stuff he did extremely well, (including) the checkdowns late in the game. His pass protection has been outstanding for the last month. I thought he played probably as good of a game as he has."

-- Tackling will be at a premium in the secondary for both teams. Detroit ranks fourth in the league with 1,604 yards after the catch while Green Bay is fifth with 1,540 YAC. Much of the Lions' YAC comes from its running backs – in terms of YAC per reception, Bush ranks second and Bell ranks fourth in the NFL -- while the Packers have relied on their receivers. Green Bay finished fourth in YAC last season, third in 2011, fifth in 2010 and sixth in 2009.

-- The Lions' defense has not played well this season, with No. 22 rankings in yards (364.8 per game) and scoring (25.2 points allowed per game). But the Lions have played excellent situational football. They're No. 3 on third down (31.3 percent conversions) and No. 4 in the red zone (40.0 percent touchdown rate). They're also third in goal-to-go defense (50.0 percent touchdowns).

-- The Packers played five quarters on Sunday. Should they limit Thursday's game to just one? The Lions are 3-0 when leading after the first quarter but 0-4 when trailing after the first. Or, maybe the teams should play two quarters. Green Bay is 5-1 when leading at halftime and 0-2-1 when trailing at intermission.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

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

Matthews, on the defense: "I think this whole team is overdue to get a win in general but, obviously, with the injuries on this team and where we're at, it's time for the defense to step up. We've shown flashes but we need to string together a full game, and this Thursday is a great opportunity with big-play players across their whole team. It'll be a great matchup, and we're looking forward to it. As we continue to say, everything is in front of us right now. We need to get this win, or else it's looking bleak."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


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.


Packer Report Top Stories