Green Bay Packers: Nate Burleson

Things seemed focused completely on football this week -- at least for a day.

Then Packers offensive lineman Josh Sitton changed all of that Tuesday evening when he went on WSSP Radio in Milwaukee and gave his opinion of the Detroit defense, particularly the defensive line.

It wasn't a pretty assessment.

“They go after quarterbacks. Their entire defense takes cheap shots all the time. That's what they do. That's who they are,” Sitton said. “They're a bunch of a dirtbags or scumbags. That's how they play, and that's how they're coached. It starts with their frickin' coach. It starts with the head coach, [Jim] Schwartz. He's a d---, too. I wouldn't want to play for him. It starts with him, and their D-coordinator and their D-line coach. They're all just scumbags and so are the D-line.”

Well then.

In a game with the feel of an elimination contest, Sitton added another layer of fun and intrigue -- at least in the pregame. Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down the Thanksgiving Day matchup.

Rothstein: There is a long history with these two teams -- even on Thanksgiving going back to the Ndamukong Suh stomp of Evan Dietrich-Smith -- so were you surprised at all that Sitton decided to rip into the Detroit defense and Lions coach Jim Schwartz?

Demovsky: If anyone on the Packers was going to pop off, Sitton would be the first guess followed by his offensive linemate T.J. Lang. They’re the two most outspoken guys on the team. Let’s face it: Sitton probably said what a lot of people around the league have been thinking about the Lions. That said, it probably wasn’t the smartest move to make before a game that you’re going into with your backup quarterback. It was already going to be an uphill battle. As entertaining and refreshing as it was, I don’t see how this helped the Packers’ cause.

Rothstein: I see your point there, but I also wonder how much it really matters. I've never been a believer that this type of talk -- especially on the professional level -- really matters a whole bunch in an actual game. It's fun for fans and gives us something to chat about, for sure, but when you're dealing with grown men, I just don't know how much it really changes a game.

Moving on, Rob, what happens at the quarterback position this week with Green Bay? Does Matt Flynn's history with Detroit play a role here?

Demovsky: When Mike McCarthy said Aaron Rodgers' chances of playing on Thursday were “slim to none,” it seemed obvious that Flynn would be the starter even though McCarthy wouldn't commit to anything. He was much more effective than Scott Tolzien because he can do more in the offense. He's much better versed in running the Packers' version of the no-huddle, which has become a staple of their offense in recent years. Flynn actually has played two games against Detroit. Everyone remembers that 2011 game -- the one that made him about $15 million with his 480-yard, six-touchdown performance -- but don't forget he also struggled in relief of Rodgers in the 2010 game at Ford Field after Rodgers left with a concussion.

How are the Lions approaching the Packers' quarterback situation?

Rothstein: Seemingly by preparing as if Rodgers was going to play. Detroit doesn't see much of a change in the offense from Rodgers to Flynn, so they are going to prepare for the same offense the Packers usually run. Of course, the Lions could be in better shape if Green Bay chooses to run the ball more since the Lions haven't given up a rushing touchdown since Week 4. So if the Packers roll with a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy, that could be a benefit for the Lions.

This obviously leads into the next question: How does Green Bay's offense change with Flynn in the lineup, or is Detroit accurate in how it says it is going to prepare? And how much different is this offense from what the Lions saw in October?

Demovsky: Of all the backup quarterbacks the Packers have played this season, Flynn is probably most like Rodgers, although none has the arm strength Rodgers possesses. But in terms of knowing the system, being able to read defenses and having the freedom to make checks at the line of scrimmage, Flynn is probably the next best option. Still, without Rodgers, there are major differences. Flynn doesn't throw the deep ball as well, and he doesn't have the touch. That was evident on the third-and-goal play in overtime when Flynn badly overthrew Jordy Nelson on a fade.

Speaking of different offenses, the Packers got a break by not having to face Calvin Johnson in the first meeting. Now, the Lions not only have Johnson but also have Nate Burleson back. What's the dynamic with those two?

Rothstein: The dynamic is pretty good and should give the Lions another playmaker the rest of the season. The biggest issue for Detroit's offense Sunday was Matthew Stafford's inaccuracy, but when he was on, the offense was able to move well with Burleson, Johnson and Reggie Bush out there. If teams focus on those three guys, Brandon Pettigrew and Kris Durham have shown, in spurts, to be effective. That's the entire plan with this offense.

Of course, it still only resulted in 21 points last Sunday, but that is at least Detroit's plan.

Both of these teams remain in the playoff picture despite fairly average seasons thus far. What do you think this says about the Packers -- and the NFC North?

Demovsky: It's amazing that the Packers haven't won since Rodgers got hurt yet they're only a half-game out of first place. Certainly, Rodgers gave them a nice cushion with a 5-2 record, but the Lions and Bears certainly missed opportunities to bury Green Bay over the last month. There's probably only two or three elite teams in the NFC, and none of them resides in the North. Can you see any of these teams going on the road in the playoffs and beating a team like the Saints or Seahawks? I can't.

The Packers might not admit it, but I think this is an elimination game for them. Do you think it would have the same consequences for the Lions if they lose?

Rothstein: Tough to say for the Lions, but it would certainly put them in a bad position having lost three straight games. I think it all depends on what Chicago does. If the Bears were to lose, then it's still a race. Otherwise, the Lions would be chasing two teams and that won't bode well for a team that hasn't won a division title this century. If Detroit loses, it becomes a very difficult path to the playoffs. It would still be possible, but there would certainly be a lot of doubt for a franchise that just doesn't make the playoffs all too often.

The last 22 times the Detroit Lions have ventured into Wisconsin to play the Green Bay Packers, they have come up empty.

This week, Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. more or less predicted an end to that streak.

“I hate going up there, but when we win this week,” Ford said, “it’s going to make it feel a heck of a lot better.”

The Lions (3-1) roll into the game riding a high after beating the Chicago Bears on Sunday, while the Packers (1-2) are coming off their bye week.

ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the matchup here:

Rob Demovsky: Michael, you’ve spent time examining the Lions’ 22-game losing streak in the state of Wisconsin, and it’s certainly a source of pride in these parts, but how much do you think the Lions really care about it?

Michael Rothstein: Publicly? No. But when I look at all these streaks, I go back to what injured wide receiver Nate Burleson said after the Lions beat Washington two weeks ago. He said, and I'm paraphrasing here, part of being with the Lions is understanding there are streaks to break and a lot of years of not-so-good teams to overcome. This is only my first year covering the team, but there is definitely a sense of being able to win games around these guys. They are legitimately talented on both sides of the ball. I think snapping the streak is a big deal for Detroit, but mostly because if they do, the Lions will have no worse than a split against every team in the division. That could be huge come playoff time.

Looking at Green Bay, how much different does a Packers team with Eddie Lacy look offensively versus one without him?

Demovsky: If you would've asked me three weeks ago, I would've said the Packers would be in trouble without Lacy. But their running game has been surprisingly fine -- better than fine, actually -- without Lacy. James Starks’ 132-yard performance after Lacy’s concussion against the Redskins was impressive. Starks ran with power and elusiveness. His biggest issue always has been staying healthy, and sure enough, he dropped out the next week with a knee injury. Then, rookie Johnathan Franklin came in and ran for 103 yards in the second half against the Bengals. That was a huge surprise considering how ineffective Franklin looked in the preseason. So my point is this: For the first time in a long time, it looks like the Packers have some options in the running game. That said, they drafted Lacy to be their guy, so I’d look for him to have a significant role again Sunday.

Sticking with the running game, Reggie Bush sure looked impressive, especially running between the tackles, where ESPN Stats & Information said he had 121 of his yards against the Bears. How is the Lions’ offense different with him in the lineup?

Rothstein: It’s completely different. I've written this a lot over the first month of the season, but this is the best Reggie Bush has looked since he was a college student at USC. Detroit is using him exactly how he should be used in this offense: on short, dump-off passes, screens, and running both outside and up the middle. That last thing, which is what you asked about, might be the most impressive part of all. Bush is running hard between the tackles, and a lot of that has to do with his offensive line. He has huge holes to run through right now, and once he gets to the linebackers and into the secondary, he becomes the special player he was drafted to be way back in 2006. He forces teams to either pick doubling Calvin Johnson with Cover 2 over the top, or play up to stop Bush. So far, teams are still choosing to take Johnson away and the Lions are 3-1.

Flipping to how Green Bay will defend Detroit, do the Packers have the front seven that can neutralize Bush?

Demovsky: This might be the Packers’ best-run defense since 2009 when they led the league in fewest rushing yards per game. The common thread is defensive tackle Johnny Jolly. He was a key component to that '09 run defense, and now that he’s back after serving a three-year suspension, he’s picked up where he left off against the run. I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers end up with a top-10 run defense this season. As much as people talk about defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ zone blitzes, it really starts with the run. That’s where everything starts with Capers.

Speaking of defensive fronts, I can’t believe we've gone this long without talking about Ndamukong Suh. From what I've seen, it looks like he’s playing at a high level. But I think what people around here, who still haven’t forgotten about “the stomp,” are more curious about is whether he’s behaved himself this season?

Rothstein: Yeah, that might be a record here. As far as Suh’s behavior, it depends on whom you ask. He picked up a $100,000 fine after Week 1 for blocking Vikings center John Sullivan low, so there are probably some around Minnesota who might question his behavior. Otherwise, he’s played mostly clean, mostly dominant. His stats do not show how disruptive of a player he has been this season. He has been the direct reason for both of linebacker DeAndre Levy’s interceptions, and he commanded double-teams on seemingly every play against Chicago last week. Simply, he is the reason Detroit’s defense has been the best in the league on third downs this season. He changes a game.

That leads to my next question. The Packers have done a decent job keeping Aaron Rodgers upright against Detroit since Suh’s arrival, as he’s only been sacked 12 times in five games. But Rodgers has been sacked 10 times in three games this season. Can the Packers’ offensive line handle what has been a pressure-filled Lions front?

Demovsky: That seems to be a question every week, especially given the fact that the Packers are starting a rookie fourth-round pick (David Bakhtiari) at left tackle and a second-year former undrafted free agent (Don Barclay) at right tackle. But the line has actually done a decent job so far this season, especially considering they've played some pretty solid defensive fronts already, especially in San Francisco and Cincinnati. But Suh might be the most disruptive interior lineman they have faced this season, so the onus will be on guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, plus center Evan Dietrich-Smith, the victim of the stomp, to keep him off Rodgers.

The whole winless in Wisconsin thing aside, what would this win mean to the Lions in terms of the NFC North at this point? I would think back-to-back wins over the Bears and Packers could pay dividends later in the season.

Rothstein: Though the players and coaches may not make a massive deal about it publicly -- for instance, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford said earlier this week he likes playing at Lambeau Field -- there is little doubt how big this win would be for the Lions. A win Sunday gives them an edge to a potential NFC North title, especially since they'll still have Green Bay coming back to Detroit and would have wins over every team in the division. Bigger than that, it’d be a big confidence boost. If Detroit can finally win in Green Bay, the team will believe it can win at any stadium the rest of the way.

I know we discussed the streak a bit earlier, but is it something the Packers care about at all? Or have they been so good at home under Mike McCarthy it really doesn't matter?

Demovsky: Rodgers talked a little bit about it this week on his radio show. All he said is he doesn’t want the streak to end on his watch. I think what has his attention -- the entire team’s attention, really -- more than anything else this week is the fact that this is the Packers’ first division game of the season, and the beginning of a stretch of three division games in five weeks. And right now, the Lions and the Bears have jumped out to fast starts and are ahead of them in the NFC North standing.

You saw an NFC North matchup last week when the Lions beat the Bears, and I’m sure you've studied the Packers some this week. You mentioned what a win would mean for the Lions in terms of the division. How do you see the NFC North shaping up so far?

Rothstein: It’s a tough division, without question. Three of the four teams -- sorry, Minnesota -- look like legitimate playoff contenders come December and January. That should make for some really good games coming down the stretch. The positive for Detroit is it doesn't have to go to Chicago or Green Bay in December, where it can be frigid and change game plans. But I think it’s going to be a division and wild-card race that could come down to the last two weeks of the year.