Packers Injuries Continue to Mount
By Guest Writer Martin Mihaly:
The Green Bay Packers have suffered a multitude of injuries this season. They have been without Tackle Bryan Bulaga all season as he suffered a torn ACL during the offseason. Defensive Back Casey Hayward has yet to see the field this season due to a hamstring injury. Running Back James Starks is expected to miss several weeks with a knee injury. Tight End Ryan Taylor is out for a few weeks following surgery on his knee. Clay Matthews broke his thumb in a win against the Detroit Lions in Week Five. Linebacker Brad Jones is also out indefinitely with a hamstring injury. Following Sunday’s game in Baltimore, the Packers can add several players to that list.
Linebacker Mike Neal is questionable to play for Green Bay this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns in Lambeau Field. Neal missed practice and is expected to be out tomorrow with a bad shoulder. A key indication to his status for Sunday’s contest will be how he feels on Friday. Neal, who was originally a defensive end for the Packers, was converted this season to the outside linebacker position. Neal is big and athletic, and his play has helped in both the Packers run stopping ability and creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Second year Linebacker Nick Perry is expected to miss at least two weeks after fracturing his foot. The former USC standout has had a rough going in his first two seasons. He suffered a wrist injury last season that sidelined him for the final 10 games of the regular season and the entire playoffs. Perry has been inconsistent this season, but had three sacks in the last two games.
Replacing Perry and Neal, if he is to sit out Sunday, will be Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer. Mulumba is an undrafted rookie from Eastern Michigan. Palmer is a rookie sixth round pick out of Illinois State. Mulumba played 31 defensive snaps prior to the Ravens game. After Perry left the game, Mulumba played 39 defensive snaps. Palmer saw his first real action last Sunday, having played seven snaps. The two rookies figure to be on the field together much more on Sunday, even if Neal does play, simply to give Neal his needed rest throughout the game.
With Matthews, Perry, Jones, and possibly Neal all sitting out versus the Browns, the Packers linebacker corps figures to be severely depleted. The lone regular starter amongst the linebackers in the Green Bay 3-4 defense is expected to be A.J. Hawk. With the team missing some of its’ usual pass rushers, Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers may decide to use Hawk in more rush-the-passer situations. Hawk is a smart, veteran linebacker, and had three sacks for the team last week.
As for the offensive side of the ball, Quarterback Aaron Rodgers lost two of his top receivers in Sunday’s victory.
The injury to Receiver James Jones appears to not be too serious. Jones has been diagnosed with a sprained PCL, but may be able to play this week. The seventh-year receiver is one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets, and has 20 catches thus far in the season, along with two touchdowns.
The most devastating injury news for Green Bay, was that of which Receiver Randall Cobb suffered. Cobb suffered a broken fibula. The team decided to place Cobb on the injured reserve/designated to return list. The earliest Cobb could be available might be Week 15. Cobb is a huge contributor to the Green Bay offense. He exits as the teams’ leader in receptions with 29 and second on the team in receiving yards. Cobb has also been used in the backfield as a running back, and on special teams as a punt returner.
There are several players that should gain major spikes in their playing time. Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements are anticipated to rollout two tight end formations, with Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, and the rookie out of Newberry, Brandon Bostick, all seeing ample playing time.
If James Jones does not play versus Cleveland, Jarrett Boykin will be the team’s number two receiver next to Jordy Nelson. Boykin has seen limited action in his first two seasons in the NFL, but he did have a 43 yard reception last week against the Ravens.
With the injuries to their receivers, Green Bay called up Myles White from their practice squad. White is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisiana Tech. If Jones sits, he will be listed as the third receiver on the team.
McCarthy and Clements will probably also use Finley in a lot of slot receiver formations with Quarless and Bostick spending most of the time at the tight end positions. This is really nothing new, as Finley has seen plenty of time in the slot during his career with Green Bay. He is an athletic tight end that can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Despite having one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, the Packers may have never been better suited to deal with injuries to their receivers. In year’s past, Rodgers and the passing game were still relied on to make most of the plays on the offensive side of the ball, no matter how depleted the receiving corps may have been. This year, however, things appear to be slightly different.
Green Bay currently boasts the fifth best rushing attack in the NFL. The Packers have had four straight weeks of a player reaching 99 yards rushing or more. Rookie Eddie Lacy is coming off two straight big games. He ran for 99 yards against the Detroit Lions, and 120 yards against Baltimore. The offensive line, which consists of Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, Don Barclay, and Rookie David Bahktiari, is creating holes and running lanes for their backs to get through.
With the Packers receiving group missing one of its stars for the foreseeable future, expect Green Bay to keep pounding away offensively with Lacy.