A Football Feast

Thanksgiving offers NFL fans the opportunity to sit on the couch and not move for 12 hours, with Packers-Lions, Raiders-Cowboys and Steelers-Ravens all on the docket. Who has the edge in each matchup? Here's a complete breakdown

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·
In last season's two games against the Packers, Calvin Johnson had 15 catches for 264 yards and one touchdown ... but the Lions lost both. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)
In last season’s two games against the Packers, Calvin Johnson had 15 catches for 264 yards and one touchdown … but the Lions lost both. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Going past the obvious storylines and taking a deeper dive into all three Thanksgiving games in Week 13. (All times Eastern.)

Packers (5-5-1) at Lions (6-5), 12:30 p.m., FOX

Packers offense vs. Lions defense

The Hollywood narrative would suggest Matt Flynn is primed for an Earth-moving performance. The former-Packer-turned-journeyman-turned-Packer is on the Thanksgiving stage and facing a Lions team that he torched for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a meaningless Week 17 contest two years ago. That performance helped bring Flynn a not-so-meaningless eight-figure contract in free agency, but it has also turned out to be the former seventh-round pick’s last taste of NFL success.

Since that game, Flynn has endured a tacit but public rejection from his former offensive coordinator (and current Dolphins head coach) Joe Philbin; lost quarterback competitions in Seattle and Oakland (after opening both as the heavy favorite); been released after short stays in Oakland and Buffalo; and, most recently, been written off as damaged goods by a litany of NFL clubs.

Now Flynn is starting again—presumably with, as the narrative goes, “a chip on his shoulder.” Too bad Aaron Rodgers can’t start with a chip on his shoulder. In real life, quarterbacks can’t ride motivation to victory. Motivation doesn’t amplify arm strength. Or size. Or mobility. Or sense of passing lane anticipation. All are significant attributes Flynn lacks.

A quarterback’s physical limitations are most exposed when he’s under pressure. We saw several examples of this late in overtime last Sunday, when Minnesota’s front four took it to Green Bay’s offensive line. On multiple dropbacks, Flynn couldn’t come close to getting the ball downfield.

Like Minnesota, Detroit’s defense is built around a dynamic front four. When the Packers and Lions met in Week 5, the Packers frequently kept in extra blockers to help unpolished offensive tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay. Though both young linemen have since flickered signs of improvement, they remain ill-equipped to combat the explosive Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, or the just-plain-fast Willie Young and Ziggy Ansah. (Ditto for Marshall Newhouse, who will make a third straight start at right tackle Thursday if Barclay remains sidelined with a bum knee.)

The Lions essentially refrained from all blitzing in the Week 5 meeting, which is not atypical of a Jim Schwartz team. They did, however, diversify their coverages, straying from their usual two-deep zones to incorporate more man-to-man. We probably won’t see that this time around. For one, teams playing on a shorter week are more likely to stick with what’s familiar. For Detroit, that means Cover 2 and Cover 3 zones. For two, with Flynn unlikely to conjure big plays on his own, and with Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley out of action, Schwartz should have confidence that his defense can simply line up and out-execute Green Bay.

Lions offense vs. Packers defense

The Packers last faced Calvin Johnson in 2012. They defended him with Tramon Williams’ man coverage and, usually, a safety over the top. Johnson finished with 143 yards on five catches in the first meeting. In the second, he faced more one-on-one scenarios and caught 10 balls, but for only 118 yards.

This season, Sam Shields has emerged as Green Bay’s best cover man, though lately he’s been dealing with a bad hamstring. If Shields, who did a spectacular job against A.J. Green in Week 3, can’t handle Johnson, Williams will once again get the nod.

Regardless of who stalks Johnson, Detroit’s offense won’t click until Matthew Stafford recalibrates. He threw four interceptions against Tampa Bay—two on inaccurate throws underneath and two on forced balls to a double-teamed Megatron. The prior week, Stafford missed several open targets in a loss at Pittsburgh.

Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must recommit to the quick-strike passing that worked early in the season. That will force Stafford to play with more discipline. Plus, for this matchup, it’s a good way to nullify the corner blitzes that Green Bay loves to bring.

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11 comments
seamillguesthouse
seamillguesthouse

Funny...I'm not hearing much about Tomlins defensive move late in the game.He should get credit for a tackle..

mountaineer20
mountaineer20

Why do people in the comments address their comments to Peter King, regardless of who wrote the article?

Mpmnpa
Mpmnpa

Keep underestimating Matt McGloin, Peter. All he has done again and again is prove the "experts" wrong. Just ask Kirk Herbstreit. Speaking of skills, you point out lack of arm strength and footwork. You fail to mention that he makes his read and releases the ball in 2.5 seconds. That's a full .5 second faster than Eli Manning as an example. Talk about being a friend to his OL! No wonder they love this guy.

Kevin11
Kevin11

What a crap slate of games. Packers-Lions might turn out watchable, but Raiders-Cowgirls? Meh....and Steelers-Ravens sounds like a yawner.

Canuck
Canuck

@Kevin11  

I'm OK with Steelers-Ravens.  Flacco shot his mouth off this week about being substituted-out for Baltimore's read option package last Sunday, even though the Ravens won the game (with little help from him).  OK, Flacco... you got your big contract, you've played lousy ever since, and now you're running your mouth.  So let's see you actually get it done against the Steelers on prime time national television Thanksgiving night.


DanCarravallah
DanCarravallah

@Kevin11 You don't sound like much of a football fan. How about you watch the parade instead?

fabio.fantone
fabio.fantone

@DanCarravallah @Kevin11 LOL. Agreed. The early games are so-so but still watchable. The Steeler-Ravens game should be great. They are both fighting for a playoff spot and the loser of this game is probably going to be home in January. Thanksgiving day football. Love it.

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