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Like Green Bay's, Detroit's WRs A Formidable Group

Much like the Packers try to test a secondary’s depth with their multiple-receiver sets, the Lions will try to do the same to Green Bay on Thursday at Ford Field. - More | Audio | Video Notebook: Turnovers Fill Lions’ Games Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Nov. 20


The Green Bay Packers have made some waves this year with their empty-backfield, five-receiver offensive formations, which have been modestly successful.

Their opponent on Thanksgiving, the Detroit Lions, don't necessarily go five-wide very often, but they do try to spread defenses out with their four wide receivers, all of whom have been steadily productive in 2007.

Detroit's pass-catching quartet of Roy Williams, Shaun McDonald, Mike Furrey and promising rookie Calvin Johnson have presented match-up problems for many defenses, and much like the Packers try to test a secondary's depth with their multiple-receiver sets, the Lions will try to do the same to Green Bay on Thursday at Ford Field.

"It's going to be a track meet out there," Packers nickelback Jarrett Bush said.

The Packers are ranked second in the league in passing offense (290.3 yards per game) while the Lions are seventh (256.6), and the production from each team's top four pass-catchers is remarkably similar.

While Green Bay's Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and tight end Donald Lee have combined for 160 receptions, 2,227 yards and 15 touchdowns, Detroit's Williams, McDonald, Furrey and Johnson have combined for 169 catches, 2,218 yards and 13 scores.

Lions veteran quarterback Jon Kitna is having his best season in terms of passing efficiency, posting a 90.2 rating through 10 games, eighth-best in the league. In his second year in offensive coordinator Mike Martz's wide-open system, he seems to have found a rhythm and comfort level with his talented wideouts.

"The four of them together is a pretty formidable group in terms of four guys," Kitna said. "I don't know that we have one superstar in the group. Roy is the best of them. Calvin is going to be a handful for people to handle throughout his career, barring any kind of injury. Then Shaun and Mike, they're two guys that know every position and seem to make things happen when they get the ball in their hands.

"So as the four of them together, I'd take them against any four wide receivers in the league, and I love playing with them."

Kitna said he's seen teams employ all sorts of different defenses against Detroit's four-wide alignment - base personnel, nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs).

The Packers could try to defend it with their nickel, with Bush as the third cornerback and one of the safeties matched up on the fourth receiver. Or they could go to a dime, which they've rarely used the past couple of seasons. That would bring in either Tramon Williams or Frank Walker as a fourth cornerback to go with the two safeties, for six defensive backs total.

The one certainty is that Green Bay's corners, particularly starters Al Harris and Charles Woodson, will stick to their trademark in-your-face, bump-and-run press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Harris most likely will be matched against Williams after holding him to one catch for 11 yards in the teams' second meeting last season.

"As a quarterback you know you're going to have your work cut out for you playing against these guys," Kitna said, referring specifically to Harris and Woodson. "I equate these guys to like Barry Bonds, home run hitters. You can try to stay away from them and all this stuff, but when you do go their way, it better be right, because if you make a mistake, they hit it out of the park.

"Just like Barry, ... he wouldn't get a pitch, wouldn't get a pitch, wouldn't get a pitch, and all of a sudden the pitcher would make a mistake and it would be gone. That's how these guys are. This is the toughest group to throw against."

{sportsad300}To turn Kitna's analogy around, though, it's really the Lions, with Martz calling the shots, who are likely to look for the home run. Their four receivers have combined for at least a dozen catches of longer than 25 yards this season, with Williams the biggest of the big-play threats with a 91-yard score among his team-high five TDs.

One of the drawbacks to Martz's system is with many longer-developing routes, the quarterback must hold tight in the pocket a little longer and is exposed to pressure. The Lions have allowed a league-high 43 times this season and Kitna could be vulnerable to the Packers' sack leaders in Aaron Kampman, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Corey Williams, who have a combined 23 1/2 sacks this year.

"But he doesn't see it that way," Gbaja-Biamila said of Martz. "He sees the big plays. If those things connect, that can wear out a defense. They won a Super Bowl when he was with the St. Louis Rams. That just wore a lot of people out.

"It was fun (to oppose them) because you knew you'd get to rush the quarterback, but at the same time you knew you were in for a long game and you were going to be on the field (a lot)."

Kitna said the Lions try to determine early in a game how teams are choosing to defend their four-receiver spread, whether it's with extra defensive backs, specific blitz packages, or a combination.

Despite losses in the last two weeks that have dropped the Lions three games behind the Packers in the NFC North, Detroit's passing game is still humming along. Kitna has thrown for 673 yards in the past two games, but he also has thrown five interceptions, or nearly half of his season total of 11.

"I understand in this system it's a high-risk system," Kitna said. "But it's a high-reward system."

And something the Packers plan to be ready for.

"There's going to be a lot of running downfield and a lot of deep balls," Bush said. "They're going to try to expose us."

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