- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have not won on this day since 2003, nine long games and 10 long years -- indicative of so many other things within the organization.
While this season began as one of breaking streaks for the Lions -- ones against the Bears and Redskins are the most prominent -- the Lions have struggled of late.
They have lost two in a row. They took a divisional race that looked to be completely there for them to grasp easily and continue to make it interesting to the point where Thursday is an elimination game of sorts in the NFC North.
While a loss won’t completely knock Detroit out of contention for a divisional title and a playoff berth, it will give Green Bay the edge over the Lions, much like the Lions have the edge over the Bears.
And it will also knock Detroit from first place overall. With a month left in the season at that point and having to head to Philadelphia next week, the Lions would be in a precarious position.
“It’s definitely an important game,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “It’s a conference game. It gets us an opportunity to get them a little farther behind us, and [the] last four or five weeks of the season are going to be big for us.”
How does Detroit do this? Here are your four keys.
Get to Flynn: Yes, this is the same deal every week, but at this point, with the Detroit secondary being as inconsistent as it is and with Chris Houston likely not playing Thursday, the Lions need to pressure Matt Flynn. More than that, they need to hit him early and often to try and rattle him, and force him into bad decisions.
Yes, the Lions probably have some bad memories of Flynn -- after all, it was against the Lions that Flynn had the best game of his career -- but other than that game he has been completely inconsistent. Taking him out of his comfort area on a short week could lead to mistakes early.
Force a turnover or two: This has been one of the major issues for the Lions over the past month of the season. Detroit had started the season doing this successfully, and in five of their six wins have forced at least one turnover. In four of those games, they have forced at least two. And considering the current rate Detroit is turning the ball over -- three or more in three of the past four games -- the Lions would be wise to start finding ways to recreate what they were doing early in the season, when they forced 11 turnovers in the first month of the season.
Contain Nelson: Going back to the cornerback issue for the Lions, they need to find a way to deal with Jordy Nelson. The Lions have struggled with good receivers all season long, from A.J. Green to Dez Bryant to Antonio Brown. While Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley are on injured reserve and won’t play, the Lions will still have to match up with Nelson and James Jones. Rashean Mathis is likely to get the matchup on Jones, so it will be up to Slay or nickel cornerback Bill Bentley to handle Nelson, depending on if Nelson is out wide or in the slot. While Jones could be a problem, Nelson is the guy who could wreck the entire game for Detroit.
Don’t overly force to Calvin Johnson: This has been an issue for Matthew Stafford his entire career. Too often, if nothing else is available -- and sometimes when other options are -- he’ll still go to the best receiver in the game. In theory, there is nothing wrong with that, but Stafford threw two interceptions going to Johnson on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
It’s a tough line with Johnson, because he is so talented and can make plays so few others can, but teams are going to bracket him and try to force Stafford to force the ball to Johnson. That can cause turnovers. So get the ball to him, but be smart when you toss it over there.