Packers prepare for Patterson
It's going to be cold Sunday.
And when it gets cold at Lambeau Field, the ball gets hard, and kicks tend to travel shorter.
As the Green Bay Packers prepare to host the Minnesota Vikings, they are going to need an effective plan against kick returner Cordarelle Patterson because there is no way they'll kick every ball out of the end zone.
Patterson had an NFL-record 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Packers at the Metrodome Oct. 27 and leads the NFL with a 34.4-yard average. He has returned two kicks for touchdowns and anytime he gets his hands on the ball he will take it out of the end zone.
“If you go way back, he's like Tamerick Vanover, strong, chewed up the grass when he ran,” special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “His cleats were digging in the grass. I see Cordarelle being a little bit like that.
“One of the returns against Seattle last week, he caught the ball and turned a curve and he was gaining speed on his turn. It was impressive.”
After Patterson returned the opening kick for a touchdown against the Packers, Slocum switched from punter Tim Masthay to kicker Mason Crosby and had Crosby kick to the corners of the end zone, where Patterson would have to chase the ball.
The strategy worked because Crosby was extremely accurate with his kicks. But that was inside the Metrodome. At Lambeau Field it's expected to be 20 degrees at kickoff. Nevertheless, Slocum thinks it will work out.
“A lot of times the ball doesn't fly as well in cold weather so the ball isn't going to make it to the goal line,” he said. “So he's going to return it. Your average (kick) might not be good, but your starting point might be pretty good.
“When the depth of a ball changes, the spacing on blocking schemes change. A lot of times the coverage team has an advantage in that area.”
The Packers rank last in the NFL in opponents' average drive start at 25.1.
Slocum said he didn't consider that statistic to be wholly relevant because teams that play indoors have a distinct advantage because there is no wind or slippery conditions. He said he judged the Packers' performance on a game-by-game basis.
Coach Mike McCarthy only had four healthy cornerbacks to get him through practice.
Rookie Micah Hyde (groin) was the latest to fall to the injury bug. He sat out practice but said he fully expected to return Friday.
Sam Shields (hamstring), Casey Hayward (hamstring) and James Nixon (knee) all sat out. McCarthy did not rule out the possibility that Shields would practice Friday and be available Sunday.
Practice squad cornerback Jumal Rolle said he received a lot of reps in practice and would be ready if called upon, but he did not know if the Packers had any plans to bring him up to the 53-man roster.
All the players who sat out Wednesday also missed Thursday.
Among them were: tackle Don Barclay (knee), LB Nick Perry (foot/ankle), quarterback AaronRodgers (collarbone) and end Johnny Jolly (groin).
Tank not empty
At this point last season, the most carries a Packers back had was 87.
Through 10 games this season, rookie Eddie Lacy already has 172.
Nearly each week, coaches say they'd like to lessen the workload and get James Starks and Johnathan Franklin involved. But Lacy continues to shoulder the lion's share of the carries.
Since Rodgers went out, defenses have been bringing extra defenders up to play the run and the going is getting tougher for Lacy.
Running backs coach Alex Van Pelt isn't worried about Lacy's health or the back potentially hitting the dreaded rookie wall.
“It happens more mentally than physically, I think, just the beatings and you start to drag a little bit,” Van Pelt said. “We always address it; we talk about it. We're in Week 14 of games played, including the preseason, so his season's over in college.
“I don't see that he's hitting the wall at all.”
Linebacker Clay Matthews told ESPN.com that the $15,000 fine he received for hitting San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick out of bounds in the season opener had been cut in half upon appeal.
He also said that a $15,750 fine he received for roughing the passer in the Philadelphia game was withdrawn.
Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.