Gameday Notebook: Law of Averages for Lions?

Packer Report publisher Bill Huber empties his tape recorder and notebook in time for today's game at Lambeau Field. Are the Lions due to win a game in Green Bay? How extreme has the makeover been in Detroit? We have that and much, much more.

In their last 18 treks to Wisconsin to play the Packers, the Lions have limped back to Detroit with a loss. The Packers' streak of 17 consecutive regular-season home victories over Detroit is the second-longest streak in the NFL, behind the Lions' 18-game skid at Washington.

That streak has to end sometime. Right?

"That don't worry me at all," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We're going to try to make it 19. That don't worry us. I'm not a big stat guy, anyway."

Neither Pickett nor coach Mike McCarthy wanted to hear about the "law of averages" swinging to Detroit's side.

"Not when it comes to winning. When it comes to them winning in Lambeau, no," Pickett said.

The Packers have won those games by an average of 13.2 points, but the series has been relatively close of late, even while the Lions have been mostly horrible. Last year, the Packers capped Detroit's 0-16 season with a 31-21 win. In 2007, the Packers wrapped up their 13-3 campaign with a 34-13 romp. But the victories in 2006 (17-9), 2005 (16-13) and 2004 (16-13) were much more hotly contested, even though Detroit was 14-34 in those seasons.

"I don't think we start fast enough there," said Lions center Dominic Raiola, who has lost in eight trips to Green Bay. "I think we play from behind. I don't remember being up there and we were ahead. I know we had a few close games there, but I think it's just learning how to win, period, around here. We're striving to do that. I don't think it's just one specific area or one specific place, like Lambeau."

Even with Green Bay a hefty 14-point favorite and coming off of a bye week, McCarthy is under no pretense that the Packers "should win" this game. Even at home against a team that hasn't reached the playoffs in a decade and hasn't won in Wisconsin since Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford was 4.

"This is the National Football League," he said. "You need to line up and prepare week in and week out. You don't just 'should win' any game. That's a terrible attitude to take into a game. That's not the attitude that we'll ever take into a football game. We're preparing to win, and we're preparing to improve as a football team. That's really all our focus is." 

Pickett echoed those sentiments. The Packers haven't played well enough to look past anyone.

"Our coach has been so hard on us about the improvements that we need to make, you can't look at them and be like, ‘This is an easy win,'" Pickett said. "We have so much improvement that we have to make to be the team we want to be, because 2-2 is not cutting it. We're definitely not looking past Detroit."

New-look Lions

The Lions dove head-first into rebuilding. Between the draft and free agency, they turned over more than half of their 53-man roster. A whopping 13 starters were not with the team last year. That includes the top five players in their secondary (cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon, William James and Anthony Henry and safeties Louis Delmas and Marquand Manuel), three-fourths of their starting defensive line (tackles Grady Jackson and Sammie Lee Hill and end Jason Hunter) and two-thirds of their starting linebackers (Larry Foote and Julian Peterson).

Detroit left no stone unturned. The hard-hitting Delmas (second round) and Hill (fourth round out of Division II Stillman) are rookies. Henry was acquired from Dallas in the Jon Kitna trade while Peterson, a five-time Pro Bowler, was acquired from Seattle for Cory Redding and a fifth-round pick. Hunter was acquired after being released by the Packers. Foote, Buchanon, Peterson and Manuel have played in Super Bowls.

The key was pickup was Foote, who — without a gun pointed at his head — elected to go from Pittsburgh, where he won two Super Bowls, to Detroit.

"He's from Detroit, which was also – I don't say important, because it has nothing to do with the way he plays on the field – but I think the fact that he wanted to come here, he wanted to be part of this turnaround," first-year coach Jim Schwartz said.


Lions LB Larry Foote
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
"He was a starter on a Super Bowl team last year. I think that speaks well for what we're doing. Larry is a really, really good leader. He's emotional, he loves the game of football, he loves to practice, he prepares well, all that. More importantly, he's a good football player. Larry's not the biggest guy, he's not the strongest guy, he's not the fastest guy, but he is a really smart, good football player. He's productive. All those other things are important, but the most important thing is he's a good football player on Sunday."

Not surprisingly, Foote is someone the other players have been drawn to. 

"Yeah, I think so," Raiola said. "I think, it's not only that he's won, because I think a lot of people look up to that, but also that he's from Detroit, and he wants to come back here and turn this thing around. It's his hometown, it's his backyard, so I think that will get contagious."

New-look backfield

With DeShawn Wynn and Korey Hall out with injuries, the Packers will turn to third-year pro Brandon Jackson as the No. 2 halfback and fifth-round draft pick Quinn Johnson will make his debut at fullback.

Johnson is an intriguing prospect. He struggled through most of training camp but came on strong during the final two preseason games. When he gets things figured out, he could provide a lead-blocking hammer.

"Sometimes, we all go through that in the beginning as far as from a fundamental standpoint," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "When you look at from a size-wise, there were so many things he was able to do in college. It's different on this level, from a talent standpoint. That's when your fundamentals and your technique make you even better. When he came in, it was kind of going back and getting used to that, getting accustomed to that, as far as why it's so important to take the proper footwork, why it's so important to play with consistent pad level and things of that nature. The kid has tremendous work ethic. He stays late. He's one of the last guys to leave the practice field. I'm excited for him for this opportunity."

Offensive line shuffle

While the Packers will be back to their preferred offensive line with Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre, there have been a few changes.

(Editor's note: The Packers announced this morning that Spitz will not play and Wells will tart.)

The Packers re-signed Mark Tauscher, though he will not be activated for the game. Rookie T.J. Lang has supplanted Colledge as the backup left tackle after performing relatively well when Colledge went down at Minnesota.

"Just the environment, being in the dome up there, it was loud," Lang said. "We went silent count a lot. It speeds the game up so much more. Just looking at the positives that came out of that game, I did think I did some good things. I'm just going to continue to build on those. If my name gets called to go in, I'm going to feel 100 percent prepared and confident that I can go in there and get the job done."

Meanwhile, with Spitz and Wells missing time this week with injuries, undrafted rookie Evan Dietrich-Smith took a lot of reps as the No. 1 center. Wells will start, with Dietrich-Smith the backup and likely to see special-teams duty.

"He's impressive," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He's a good fundamental player. Sometimes the things you worry about, a guy coming from a smaller school and me having coached at those type of schools, indicting myself here, you worry about, ‘Does a guy have enough fundamental base and technique, etc., etc. Has he been exposed enough?' Really, he's a pretty good technician for a young player. I think he has a pretty good set of fundamentals."

Stafford-to-Johnson on sideline?


Calvin Johnson scored four TDs last year vs. Green Bay.
Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images
The Lions hope that rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford and third-year receiver Calvin Johnson will develop into one of the NFL's elite combinations. Both are doubtful to play, however, with knee injuries. Johnson didn't practice this week; Stafford was limited on Wednesday but sat out the rest of the week.

"I think that when you look back on some of the great quarterback-wide receiver combinations, they could be there," Schwartz said. "Both of them are young players. Let's not rank them up there with Unitas and Berry or Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison or any of the great combinations that have come over the years. But they have the potential to be able to do that. Matt's got the arm to be able to get the ball to him. Calvin's freakishly big and freakishly fast and can jump. Let's let them get some skins on the wall, so to speak, before we put them in that kind of category."

Johnson already is in the that category. Will Stafford become an elite quarterback? He was the No. 1 overall pick, ahead of quarterback Mark Sanchez, who went No. 6 overall to the Jets. Stafford has a 65.5 passer rating, with 56.8 percent accuracy and three touchdowns against six interceptions. Sanchez has better numbers (74.1 rating, 56.0 accuracy, five touchdowns, five interceptions) but a better supporting cast.

"We had choices," Schwartz said of the draft. "It wasn't a situation where you're throwing up your arms and saying, ‘There's nobody to pick.' There were good options there. We felt very strongly about him. To give a shout to Green Bay, it didn't take Vince Lombardi to see that the guy could throw the football. The guy's got a rocket for an arm, he's got a quick release. He can put the ball just about anywhere that he wants. More important than that was his intelligence, his demeanor, his ability to shrug things off, to put things behind him. His willingness to push the ball down the field, there's a little bit of a fearless nature to him. All of those things, we felt strongly about. He's done nothing but exceed expectations from the time he's got here."

3-4 training

The Lions won't be too surprised by what the Packers throw at them on Sunday. Detroit faced Pittsburgh last week, and the Steelers' and Packers' schemes are mostly the same.

The Lions lost 28-20, with 335 total yards. However, backup quarterback Daunte Culpepper was sacked seven times and halfback Kevin Smith averaged 2.7 yards on 20 carries.

""Yeah, there's a little bit of carryover, for sure," Schwartz said. "There's a lot of different styles, but these two are similar. Different personnel. Pittsburgh's been doing it for a long time, but definitely some carryover from last week. And hopefully in a little different way. We didn't handle our protection very well. We got our quarterback sacked six, seven times last week."  

Starting slooooowwwww

Through four games, the Packers have scored just three points on their first possession of a game or second half. They've been outscored 31-3 in those situations, including 21-0 in their losses. Minnesota scored a touchdown to open the game and second half.

"We work on every situation of our game-planning, and that's one of them," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We'll have a plan to start the game. Sometimes it goes the way you think it's going to go, sometimes it doesn't. We'll continue to plan and perform. Those things have all been addressed."

Four-point stance (streak edition)

The Packers have won seven straight over Detroit. Among the highlights:

Donald Driver's 71-yard touchdown in the season finale against Detroit last year gave him seven touchdowns against the Lions, tops on his personal ledger. His single-game career-high for catches is 11, against Detroit in 2002.

— In six games against Detroit, Greg Jennings has scored three touchdowns and posted three 100-yard games.

Charles Woodson, who played collegiately at Michigan, had three interceptions in two games against Detroit last year.

— In two starts against the Lions last year, Aaron Rodgers threw for 636 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 123.8.


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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