[img_r]http://i.packers.com/images/action/080912harris215.jpg[/img_r]In terms of size and physicality, the starting receivers for the Detroit Lions present one of the toughest matchups the Green Bay Packers will face all season.
Veteran Roy Williams, who's 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and second-year rising star Calvin Johnson, 6-5 and 235, have the kind of athleticism, reach and jump-ball ability not necessarily seen every week, particularly not in the NFC North.
But the Lions can be sure to see the same type of coverage from the Packers they've always seen, whether it be against them or on film against other teams. Veteran cornerbacks Al Harris (6-1, 190) and Charles Woodson (6-1, 202) are going to stick to their bump-and-run, in-your-face press coverage at the line of scrimmage that's a staple of defensive coordinator Bob Sanders' scheme, no matter how the matchup looks on paper.
Woodson is listed on the injury report as questionable with a fractured toe, and he didn't practice all week, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he'll give him all the way up until kickoff on Sunday to see if he can play. If Woodson is held out, McCarthy said Tramon Williams and Will Blackmon would see significant playing time.
But no matter who's on the field for the Packers, the defensive backs are going to play their game.
"We're going to do what we do," Harris said. "It doesn't change."
What has changed somewhat is Detroit's offense, from the wide-open pass-oriented attack of former offensive coordinator Mike Martz to a more conservative, run-first approach led by new coordinator Jim Colletto. But that doesn't mean the Lions are putting their pass-catching weapons on the back burner. Far from it.
Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna said it's been more of a "streamlining" process, with many of the complexities of Martz's passing system trimmed out. He says the new playbook is "less mentally taxing," particularly for him and his receivers, and he believes that will pay dividends for Williams and Johnson as they continue to make the transition together.
"I think what it's done has really tried to take those guys, find out what they do best, and let's use that over and over," Kitna said. "I think they feel comfortable with it, and they like that part of it, and that's a good thing. I like for my receivers to be doing things they feel comfortable with."
Johnson certainly seems to be growing more comfortable, and hence more dangerous, as an NFL receiver after being drafted fourth overall in 2007. Lingering back problems over the final three-fourths of his rookie year limited his production, but he still posted 48 catches for 756 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Now fully healthy, he was one of few bright spots for the Lions in their season-opening defeat in Atlanta last week, with seven grabs for 107 yards.
"He's been healthy, he's learning the offense well and he's a tremendous competitor," Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said. "He's getting better and better each week.
"We're still looking for different ways to get him the ball, as with Roy. It still starts up front in terms of running the football for us, and I think when that happens we'll really be able to utilize him."
Meanwhile Williams remains an elite receiver, catching 64 passes for 838 yards and five TDs last season despite missing the final four games with a knee injury. The year before, Williams made the Pro Bowl with a 1,300-yard season.
Ever since Williams lit up the Packers for seven catches and 138 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown, in the teams' first meeting in 2006, Harris has been matched up specifically against him on the vast majority of snaps and succeeded at containing him. The next two Packers-Lions games (Dec. 17, 2006 and Thanksgiving last year), Williams managed a combined four catches for 43 yards.
Williams and Harris have the utmost respect for one another, and they'll likely be one-on-one again on Sunday at Ford Field. Cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington doesn't know exactly why Harris has had so much success keeping Williams from being a factor in their recent meetings, but part of it comes from the stubbornness of sticking to a technique that can be exhausting for both the cornerback and receiver throughout a game.
"Certain receivers you go against, for some reason you match up better," Washington said. "I don't have an answer for why he does or why he doesn't. But certain guys you match up against, you have a better feel for. For some reason you understand that receiver better. And sometimes there are going to be receivers who give you problems. It works both ways.
"The challenging part of those guys going up every snap and (getting) in their face, is they don't back down when something good or bad happens. That's the most challenging part, because when it's going good, the guys are up there, and when it's going bad, they're up there, so the receivers don't know what to think at times. It's a challenge each week and we'll go out there and face it and see what happens."
One receiver who gave Harris problems was Plaxico Burress of the New York Giants in last season's NFC Championship Game. Burress, who's 6-5 and 232 pounds, caught several back-shoulder throws and other jump balls on his way to an 11-reception, 151-yard performance in the Giants' overtime victory.
Even though Williams and Johnson are of similar build, Harris said that won't factor into how he, Woodson and the other corners play on Sunday.
"It's not about how big a guy is as what they do," Harris said. "You adjust your game to what they do. It's not so much if a guy is 6-5 or a guy is 5-9, you don't switch up your technique at all. You just recognize what they do."
The Lions will certainly recognize what the Packers do. As McCarthy says, it's the way he likes his guys to play.
"The bigger physical receiver, you have to always try to get hand placement, and good foot movement at the line of scrimmage," Washington said. "That's something we do well, and if we can match up that way as far as getting our hands on and doing some things we like to do at the line of scrimmage, I think they'll do a good job against them."