Injuries continue to plague Packers

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By Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

GREEN BAY--Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has 51 players on his roster, and when he leads his team against the Chicago Bears in what is essentially a playoff game to get into the playoffs, he may have one or two fewer.

For McCarthy, this is what par looks like on his course.

Heading into an NFC North winner-take-all showdown Sunday at Soldier Field, McCarthy will be happy just to have 46 players, the maximum any team can suit up on game day.

Aside from activating receiver Randall Cobb, who is on injured reserve/designated to return and a long shot to play this week, there’s no one the Packers could add who would make the team better Sunday. They are hanging on by a thread due to injuries and will fill their buses with those who are still standing.

“You need 46 to line up,” McCarthy said Monday after assessing the latest bit of damage to his roster. “That’s what I’m focused on right now, so normal Monday it takes pretty much the whole day to get through the bumps and bruises and some things that may have been minor that may be worse.

“Exactly, whatever we do down the stretch (with the roster), Ted (Thompson) and I talked about a bunch of different things today. Things might change by the end of the week.”

In other words, Thompson might sign a couple players off the practice squad or a player he wants to take a look at for next year, but it’s not something that’s going to help McCarthy win Sunday. He is spending yet another week sifting through the injured to see who he can base his gameplan around.

His best player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, hasn’t been available for seven weeks and might not be active this week either. His second-best player, linebacker Clay Matthews, suffered a repeat injury to the right thumb he broke in Week 5 and is probably finished for the season.

His offense’s MVP of late, running back Eddie Lacy, has injured his right ankle three straight weeks and is a big question mark. And rookie cornerback Micah Hyde, who has become a threat on kickoff returns and a solid slot defender, is nursing a shoulder injury.

Were any of them to miss the Bears game, it would just add to the incredible numbers of games the Packers have lost to injury this year and two of the three before that. The 2013 team is approaching the mind-blowing injury numbers of 2010 and 2012, when starters and backups alike fell with regularity.

So far this year, 30 players have missed at least one game due to injury and at a minimum will have accounted for 166 missed games at the end of the regular season. That compares to 29 starters who missed 175 games in 2012 and 31 players who missed 180 games in 2010.

A total of 73 games have been missed by 12 starters—defined as players who held one of the 22 spots on offense and defense strictly for performance reasons and not as an injury fill-in (For example, Lacy is not considered a starter because he filled in for DuJuan Harris, who was the clear-cut starter when he was put on injured reserve during training camp).

In 2012, 13 starters missed 93 games and in 2010, 12 starters missed 86 games. The 2013 figure will be at least 78 games and could reach into the 80s.

Where this season tops the others is in the number of players who are on injured reserve. There are 16 this year compared to 10 in 2012 and 15 in 2010.

And, of course, what makes this season different from the others, especially the Super Bowl-winning 2010 team, are the seven games Rodgers has missed. Packers starting quarterbacks hadn’t missed consecutive games since 1992 and hadn’t suffered as serious an injury as Rodgers’ broken left collarbone since Don Majkowski suffered a torn rotator cuff in 1990.

Add in the 10 games tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) and Cobb (leg) have missed and the four Matthews missed and it’s not surprising the Packers are 7-7-1 and in the midst of their worst season since 2008 (6-10). However, the way Thompson neglected the backup quarterback position has to be considered a factor, as well, because the Packers have cultivated enough young talent to be in the playoff hunt in a dismal division.

Lacy, with 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing, has a shot to be offensive rookie of the year. Rookie David Bakhtiari, who replaced left tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), could be the starter there for the next decade.

Rookie defensive end Josh Boyd has flashed real talent filling in for Johnny Jolly (groin, neck), Hyde has emerged as a competent slot corner and kickoff returner while filling the spot of Casey Hayward (hamstring) and third-year linebacker Jamari Lattimore has offered some punch in the middle filling in for Brad Jones (hamstring, ankle).

McCarthy and his staff have plugged in players where they can, sometimes effectively replacing starters and sometimes not. Had they been better at identifying and grooming a young quarterback they might already have the division wrapped up, but that is the one position where they got caught short.

Heading into a game against a Bears team that has had its share of injuries as well, the Packers will try to win a game of attrition. It’s something McCarthy has become accustomed to over the years.

“It’s part of it,” he said. “It’s part of the journey. Every path is different. It comes at you so many ways. Frankly, I was excited the last couple weeks because I felt like we were able to practice a couple weeks in a row and felt like we were getting better in some spots.

“We were still up and down, which was evident in the Pittsburgh game—we had a lot of penalties in that game—and then we lose a couple more guys. But it’s an opportunity, particularly for our younger players, and we’re counting on those guys to step up.”

He has no choice. There’s no one else left.

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