Originally written November 23, 2011 on Fox Sports Detroit:
History and tradition are no further behind this years Lions team than every play on game day. They dont focus on the last game or the last season. Its a team that plays in the moment to fulfill its expectations. Thanksgiving Days special attraction is undeniable, for what it has meant to the Lions and the city of Detroit, and for what it has grown to represent on a grander scale since the Lions began it in their first season in Detroit in 1934. But tradition and history arent in the forefront of the Lions thoughts as they play the unbeaten Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on Thursday. Neither is the notion of any game or opponent being used as a measuring stick for where they stand in a building program that has elevated faster than most people expected to make them playoff contenders this season. Coach Jim Schwartz has bristled at the suggestion that playing the Packers or any other team is a yardstick game for the Lions. I dont think weve ever used anything as a yardstick or anything else, Schwartz said this week. Thats not our philosophy. Were going to do whatever we can to win the game. Where we are as a team, we shouldnt be worried about anything else. The defending Super Bowl champion Packers are the NFLs best team, with a 10-0 record and led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whos playing at a record-setting level. The Lions are 7-3 and in contention for their first winning season since 2000, when they were 9-7, and for their first playoff berth since making the postseason in 2000 at 8-8. Since the day he was hired in 2009, Schwartz has made history reference points for what it takes to win consistently and create a winning image. One was to end the search for Bobby Laynes replacement as a franchise-leading quarterback. That was accomplished when Matthew Stafford was drafted first overall in 2009. Another was to build a barbed wire fence around the Thanksgiving Day game to quash any attempts to have the Lions replaced as a host of the game it invented. Regardless of whether that was a legitimate possibility or talk-show fodder, a winning team with personality and emerging young stars has made the Lions more attractive on a national scale. All the trappings and holiday atmosphere connected with football in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day cannot and should not be ignored. Its what makes it a special day in Detroit for everyone from the youngest rookie on the team to the oldest veteran to the fan sitting in the last row of the end zone at Ford Field. You see it and feel it. When you wake up downtown and theyre setting up for the parade -- its not just a normal day, Schwartz said. Thanksgiving Day in Detroit is different than other cities, and we wanted to respect that tradition. Tradition will be suspended from the opening kickoff at 12:30 on Thursday until the final play. Its time for the Lions to make the holiday game that they created their day on the field. Theyll have to do it behind Staffords passing, and if the defense takes the gloves off a pass rush that has been dormant the last two games. Prediction: Thursday is a new chapter in Lions history: Lions 30, Packers 28. Here is the Fox Sports Detroit breakdown for the 72nd Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit, and the 20th against the Packers: Packers spotlight: QB Aaron Rodgers There really are enough words to describe how well Rodgers has played in the first 10 games. There just isnt enough room to use them all. Suffice to say, Rodgers has played at a level of efficiency that is unmatched in NFL history, with 31 touchdown passes, 4 interceptions and a passer rating of 128.8. The Patriots Tom Brady set the one-season record with a 121.1 rating in 2007. With 3,168 yards passing, Rodgers joins Peyton Manning in 2004 and Brady in 07 as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to hit the 3,000-yard mark in the first 10 games. The bad news for defenses is that coach Mike McCarthy doesnt consider what Rodgers going to be a hot streak. Its just the way he plays. The Packers have balance in their passing game. Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings lead the team with 53 catches and 7 TDs. Jordy Nelson has emerged as a big-time playmaker, with 40 catches and 9 TDs. And tight end Jermichael Finley, who missed most of last season with an injury, has 34 catches, a 14.0-yard average per catch and 5 TDs. Lions spotlight: 11 on defense The Lions had more interceptions (4) in last weeks win over Carolina than theyve had sacks (3) in the last two games combined. They cant count on getting four picks against Rodgers. Hes had only four all season. They have to get pressure on him, particularly up the middle from their tackles. The Lions had decent success against Rodgers in their two games against him last season. Rodgers threw 3 TD passes but had 2 interceptions in a 28-26 road loss in Game 4, and he was knocked out of the game with a concussion on a scramble late in the first half of a 7-3 loss. It was 0-0 when Rodgers left the game. He had one interception, but that was more of a misplay than a good defensive play. The ball bounces off a receivers hands to safety Amari Spievey, who was trailing in coverage. He has so many weapons, said Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Rodgers is a guy who understands the game. He understands coverage. You have to be mentally ready. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh played well against Carolina and seems primed for a big game on the national stage. The reason we beat them last year was because we pressured him, hitting him, Suh said. That one of the reasons he didnt finish the game. Speeding up the process and getting him off his spot is the biggest thing in not letting him get comfortable back there. Key matchup: Matthew Stafford vs. Charles Woodson Woodson is still effective in key moments in his 14th NFL season. He leads the Packers with 5 interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Staffords only Thanksgiving game was in 2009 against the Packers, and Woodson baited him into throwing an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Woodson reads formations and adjustments so fast that its almost like hes plugged into the opponents playbook and play-calling. He has a great understanding of how people try to attack him and try to attack their defense, Schwartz said. Hes always had really good ball skills, and ball awareness, and plays almost like a wide receiver. HistoryStats: On Thanksgiving Day, the Lions record is 33-36 with one tie on Thanksgiving Day, and theyve lost 7 straight and 9 of the last 10. The Packers are 11-7 with one tie on Thanksgiving. The Lions last win on Thanksgiving was 22-14 against the Packers in 2003. Packers stats: Offense 21 rushing, 3 passing 4 total. Defense 21 rushing, 31 passing, 30 total. Sacks 24, and 21st in sacks per play. Lions stats: Offense 22 rushing, 11 passing, 8 total. Defense 27 rushing, 5 passing, 9 total. Sacks 27 and 10th in sacks per play.
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