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Detroit Lions hope secondary will be ready for Packers' Rodgers; Houston misses practice

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Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17), defended by Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (30), scores on a 14-yard reception during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (The Associated Press)

Although the Detroit Lions were pleased with their victory over Chicago last weekend, the game's last few minutes highlighted a potential trouble spot.

With cornerbacks Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis sidelined because of injuries, the Lions allowed two late touchdowns before holding on for a 40-32 win. Now the secondary has another challenge on the horizon — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers this weekend.

"Aaron Rodgers is a whole 'nother animal on the field," Detroit cornerback Darius Slay said. "Smart, very, very, very accurate. It's our goal to slow him down."

The Lions (3-1) intercepted three of Jay Cutler's passes Sunday, but Mathis was shaken up early and didn't return, and Houston injured his hamstring. Cutler threw for two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes — as well as two 2-point conversions — to add a bit of drama to the finish.

"We weren't in prevent mode," coach Jim Schwartz said. "There are a couple plays that we could have played better in there."

Schwartz said Mathis was held out as a precaution but passed a concussion test. He's been back at practice. Houston, however, did not practice Thursday.

Green Bay (1-2) has struggled to start the season. Rodgers threw two interceptions in a loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 22. Then the Packers had a weekend off.

Still, Green Bay's lone victory was a reminder of how dangerous its offense can be. In a 38-20 win over Washington in Week 2, Rodgers went 34 of 42 for 480 yards with four TDs and no interceptions.

"We know they're going to make plays with Aaron Rodgers. We're just trying to slow them down, create turnovers, sack them," Slay said. "We know he likes to get rid of the ball fast, so we're going to try to tighten up our coverages."

Slay is the man who could be on the spot this weekend. The rookie from Mississippi State has started two games this season, and if Houston is out, Slay figures to be his replacement.

"He has a tremendous amount of potential," safety Don Carey said. "One of the best athletes we have on the team — fast, reads real well."

The Lions can also turn to players like Bill Bentley and Jonte Green at cornerback. Mathis was signed in the offseason after 10 seasons with Jacksonville, and his participation in practice after his injury has been a positive sign.

"He can fill in both corner positions, the nickel and safety position," Schwartz said. "He's worked really hard with the other players. It's disappointing to lose him after the first quarter last week, but he was a big addition for us."

Detroit held off the Bears in part because Chicago went 1 of 13 on third down. The Lions have held opponents to a 21.3 percent conversion rate on third down — the best defensive mark in the league.

"Third down will go a big way to getting Green Bay's offense stopped," Schwartz said. "It's well documented, they've put yards up. If we get off the field on third down — that can either be a field goal attempt in the red zone, or it can be a punt — those are good situations for our defense."

NOTES: Star WR Calvin Johnson (knee) did not practice Thursday. "I'm all right," he said. "Can't talk about injuries though. That's our rule." Whatever his bumps and bruises, Johnson hasn't missed a game since 2010.