Five things to watch for in the Week 13 Thanksgiving matchup between the Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) and Detroit Lions (6-5) at Ford Field:
1. A different Lions offense this time around with Calvin Johnson
Less than two hours before the Packers and Lions kicked off in Week 5 of the NFL season, superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson was surprisingly ruled out due to injury. What followed for Detroit was an offense unable to muster much of anything, scoring nine points and having the longest play of the game be for only 25 yards.
In case it isn't obvious to anyone who's ever seen Johnson play, the Lions will be a much different team with him available for this rematch. In the past five games, Johnson has gone over 100 receiving yards in four of them, including a game with 329 receiving yards -- no, that's not a typo. He also has seven touchdowns in that span. Green Bay is expecting to get back Sam Shields after the team's top cornerback missed the past two games.
Johnson is in the ‘Best Receiver Ever' conversation already, but it's possible that no wide receiver has ever been as critical to his team's offensive success than he is.
"Calvin, he's the best receiver," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said, "and I've coached against a lot of these good receivers in the league and I'm not trying to talk down on anybody else because I think the guy down in Dallas (Dez Bryant) is really talented and good, and Fitz (Larry Fitzgerald) is really good, and 89 from Carolina (Steve Smith) is outstanding. This guy (Calvin Johnson) has a God-given gift that other guys just don't have and he's a polished receiver. He's just really special."
Detroit will also benefit from having on the field its No. 2 receiver, Nate Burleson, who also wasn't available in the first meeting.
2. Matt Flynn adds to his history against Detroit
Matt Flynn has only had significant playing time in five NFL games during his six-year NFL career. Two of those five games have come in a Packers uniform against the Lions, and the results were incredibly mixed. When he stepped in at Detroit in 2010 after Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion, Flynn was only able to lead the offense to a total of three points, resulting in a 7-3 loss. A year later, with Rodgers resting before the postseason, Flynn destroyed the Lions at Lambeau Field and set multiple franchise records in the process.
This week, Flynn described his good performance against Detroit as a day he'll never forget, but he also remembers well how much he struggled the first time.
"I always look back to that game; I learned a heck of a lot in that game," Flynn said. "I think I got in there and I was a little too excited or nervous or whatever I was, but for some reason my mechanics just went out the window. We made some plays, moved the ball a little bit, but a lot of mistakes were made, obviously.
"I'm thankful for that Detroit game, because it taught me a lot about what not to do internally."
Assuming Flynn starts -- which coach Mike McCarthy strangely refused to officially confirm earlier this week, he'll be Green Bay's fourth starting quarterback in the past five weeks. He certainly missed some throws when he came in for Scott Tolzien on Sunday, but after Flynn helped bring the Packers back from a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the Vikings, it's his chance -- like Seneca Wallace and Tolzien before him -- to show improvement after taking the starter's reps in practice.
3. Any signs of Eddie Lacy wearing down?
It has to be coming, right? Eddie Lacy again ran so hard and so often in the Minnesota game that it seems improbable for a running back to continue at this Rookie of the Year-like rate all year.
Lacy couldn't get anything going in the first two full games without Rodgers at quarterback (100 yards combined), and that made sense given that Philadelphia and the New York Giants both stacked the box with extra defenders. But the Vikings couldn't contain Lacy nearly well enough, even while employing that same basic strategy.
Lacy had 204 carries last season at Alabama. He's currently at 197 carries this season with five regular-season games left on the schedule. Lacy has been so important to Green Bay's offense that he can't stop being used a lot now. And, aside from his early-season concussion and his asthma flaring up late in Sunday's game, Lacy's stayed healthy.
"If he showed up on the injury report every week with something, then I'd be concerned," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. "He hasn't. Maybe it's youth, I don't know, but (he's a) big boy and I know he runs hard. I have no concern."
4. Packers run defense desperately needs a good game
Through seven games this season, the Packers were on pace to give up fewer rushing yards than any year in franchise history. Then everything went downhill, and fast. Since that strong start, Green Bay has given up 171 rushing yards to Chicago, 204 rushing yards to Philadelphia and 232 yards to Minnesota.
Though the Packers contained Lions running back Reggie Bush in the first matchup between the two teams this season that was when Green Bay was performing well defensively. The Packers also benefitted in that particular game from being able to focus on Bush due to Johnson and Burleson being out.
"Obviously, run defense was not very good from a leverage standpoint, run fits, gap control," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said about his group after the Vikings game.
Having fallen to No. 19 in the NFL in stopping the run -- that's a 16-spot drop in one month -- Green Bay needs to turn it around fast in this area.
5. Interception opportunities vs. Matthew Stafford
No, this isn't simply a copy/paste situation from previous weeks, it's just that the Packers have not been able to force nearly enough interceptions this season. Through 11 games now, Green Bay has four interceptions as a team, which is the lowest number in the NFL. There are three individual players in the league this season that have more interceptions than what the Packers have altogether.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions in his last game alone. Green Bay has faced plenty of quarterbacks this season who have given the defense a chance to pounce, but it's rarely happened. Yet, here comes Stafford, who is certainly not risk-averse and will throw it up for grabs at times. Stafford has thrown 12 interceptions this season, which is the sixth-most in the NFL.
Davon House let one bounce right off his hands for what should have been a pick-six against Minnesota. Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett collided downfield on one against Philadelphia that resulted in an easy Eagles touchdown. Time after time, something has gone wrong for the Packers' secondary when an opportunity has come about for an interception. That has to change soon for Green Bay in order to put together some wins and earn a playoff spot.