Packers-Lions matchup pits best vs best
November, 23, 2011
By Ross Kelly | ESPN.com
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson will be targeted both by Aaron Rodgers and the Lions defense on Thursday.
Let's take a closer look.
The Rodgers-Nelson connection
Rodgers has the highest Total QBR in the league for a Packers offense that is averaging 35.5 points per game.
Green Bay is on pace to finish as the second-highest scoring team of all-time, behind only the 2007 New England Patriots.
Much of the Packers’ offensive success is because of the emergence of Jordy Nelson, who has nine receiving touchdowns this season, after posting six in his first three years combined.
Nelson has become the Packers’ big-play threat with four of his scores going for at least 40 yards (most in the NFL).
The Rodgers-Nelson tandem has been the best in the league -- Rodgers has completed 77 percent of his throws to Nelson, the highest percentage for any quarterback-wide receiver combo in the NFL. In fact, Rodgers hasn’t been intercepted on any of the 52 times he’s targeted Nelson.
In turn, Nelson has rewarded his quarterback by averaging nearly eight yards-after-catch per reception, which leads all receivers with at least 40 targets in 2011.
The Lions defense can thwart the big play
The Lions counter with a defense that prevents the big play as well as any team. The Lions have allowed only seven pass plays of 30-or-more yards, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for second-fewest in the NFL (the Steelers lead with four).
Rodgers excels not necessarily on those throws, but with the midrange pass, completing 55.7 percent of his throws 15 yards-or-more downfield this season, with 11 touchdowns and just one interception.
The Lions drop seven defenders into coverage more than 80 percent of the time (third-most in the league) thanks to their dominant front four.
Detroit’s defensive line has accounted for 23 sacks, which is more than the total number of sacks for 14 teams. Rodgers has been sacked 25 times this season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL.
Rodgers has been sacked in each of his last 22 games (including playoffs). Only Joe Flacco has a longer active streak of games with at least 1 sack taken (25 games).
The Lions have improved considerably in terms of tackling. After allowing positive yards after catch on 77 percent of receptions in 2010, this year’s defense has allowed positive yards just 68 percent of the time.
That’s helped the Lions rank fifth in the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed per game.
Thanksgiving Stats of the Day
If beating the undefeated and division-rival Packers wasn’t enough motivation, the Lions are looking to win a Thanksgiving Day game for the first time since 2003. Each of their seven straight Thanksgiving losses has been by double digits.
Another loss will tie them with the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals for the longest winless streak on Thanksgiving Day. The Cardinals have either lost or tied their past eight games on Thanksgiving dating back to 1950.
The Lions will be in an unusual position Thursday. At 7-3, they're off to their best ten-game start since 1993. The past three seasons, the Lions were a combined 4-26 entering Week 12.
The Packers are trying to become the 11th team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 11-0. Of the previous 10, eight reached the Super Bowl and five won it.
A win over the Lions would make the Packers the second defending Super Bowl champions to open a season 11-0. The only other was the 1998 Broncos.
Mackenzie Kraemer also contributed to this post