Sunday, October 10, 2010

Packers Practice Squad Falls to Redskins in Overtime

The Packers injury situation had already reached a startling level prior to this week’s game.  Now it’s just ridiculous.  Although today's loss to the Redskins was disappointing, particularly the fashion in which it happened, there is now clearly a bigger question at hand: is the Packers’ season in jeopardy given the injuries they have sustained?

To assess that risk, the editors at TriggPack, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have developed the Packers Injury Threat Level program.  This system is designed to help Packers fans assess the threat of all the various injuries and their potential impact on the Packers' season in a handy, color-coded, five-level format.

Here’s where we stand by position.


Position: Quarterback
Injury: Aaron Rodgers – concussion on his final play in overtime.
Analysis: A concussion isn’t (usually) season-ending, but passing the NFL’s ultra-sensitive battery of tests before returning to the field usually costs players at least a week.  See Jay Cutler.  Also see Kevin Kolb.  No insight into how severe Rodgers’ injury is yet, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict he will at least miss one week.  Thanks a lot, Malcolm Gladwell.
Threat Level: Orange.  The only thing keeping this from a Code Red is that we don’t know the severity or duration yet.  Rodgers could be back next week, or he could be out several weeks.  I like Matt Flynn, but he's not ready to carry this team yet.

Position: Running Back
Ryan Grant, RB – gone for season.
James Starks – on PUP.
Analysis: I’m on record multiple times saying the Packers needed to trade to get a quality RB.  Given injuries elsewhere, I’m now kinda glad we didn’t trade away a LB or TE to acquire a RB (although I still might have traded a future draft pick).  Brandon Jackson showed some signs of life today, busting out for over 100 yards for the first time this season and running with some punch.  But he only got 10 carries today.  Hard to get in a flow with 10 carries.  Still feel the lack of a running game is going to be our biggest liability going forward.
Threat Level: Orange.  This will rapidly advance to a full-blazing Code Red if Jackson goes down.

Position: Tight End
Jermichael Finley – left game with what is being described as a “hamstring ligament”, though nobody seems to know what the hell that is.  He will get more tests Monday.
Donald Lee – left game with “shoulder stinger”, another term no actual doctor has ever heard of, but could return next week.
Analysis: Nobody wants to say it, but we’re all worried about it: could Finley’s injury be season-ending?  I assumed it was a blown ACL when he went out.  Now, Finley's self-diagnosis is giving me some hope.  But he's not a doctor.  If he is done for the season, the Packers will have lost a potent weapon, and, with Lee potentially out as well, would literally have to adjust their offensive play-calling accordingly.  Andrew Quarless has shown flashes of potential, but also significant miscues, including a dropped touchdown pass today.  Of our other back-up at TE, Tom Crabtree, McCarthy commented, “I thought we cut that guy.”  Oh, no – that was Spencer Havner.
Threat Level: Orange.  If Finley is done and Lee can’t go, we’re going to be in trouble.

Position: Right Tackle
Injury: Mark Tauscher – didn’t go today due to a shoulder injury.
Analysis: Rookie Bryan Bulaga held up pretty well in Tauscher’s place, particularly considering he was on the right side of the line rather than his more customary left side.  Bulaga is getting more confident the more snaps he gets, and it’s only a matter of time before he beats out someone and becomes a starter.  Tauscher should be back soon anyway.
Threat Level: Blue.  If Tauscher doesn't clean up the pre-snap penalties, I'll be tempted to go Green on this one.


Position: Safety
Morgan Burnett – gone for season with torn ACL last weekend.
Derrick Martin – sprained knee today.
Atari Bigby – hopes to return from PUP.
Analysis: Really feel bad for Burnett as he was just starting to come into his own as a rookie.  But think we can weather this loss.  For the most part, Charlie Peprah held up in Burnett’s place, although he did give up the long TD pass that got the Redskins back in the game.  Hopefully, Peprah can stay healthy a few more weeks (he was already suffering from a quadriceps injury) because our other back-up safety, Derrick Martin, sprained a knee Sunday.  Nick Collins also got up gimpy, appearing to have tweaked his already-injured knee.  If Atari Bigby can get healthy and back from the PUP after week 6, we should be OK.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Could recede to Blue if Bigby returns and Collins stays healthy.

Position: Cornerback
Sam Shields – missed today with a calf injury, not clear when he’ll return.
Al Harris – still on PUP from last year’s torn ACL.
Analysis: Continues to feel like we’re stop-gapping things in our nickel and dime packages, with the underwhelming trio of Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, and Jarrett Bush.  Given Harris’s age and the severity of the injury he’s returning from, it’s a complete unknown what impact he’ll make if he’s able to return after week 6, but my fingers are crossed.  At least Tramon Williams has held up relatively well in Harris’s absence.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Could recede to Blue if Harris returns and can either start or play the nickel back.

Position: Inside Linebacker
Nick Barnett, LB – likely gone for season with a wrist injury.
Brandon Chillar, LB – missed his second game today with a shoulder injury, but hopeful he will get back.
Analysis: Inside linebacker suddenly went from one of our deepest areas to one of our weakest.  I've never been a huge Barnett fan, but he's reliable and makes few blatant mistakes.  Chillar's pass-coverage ability against tight ends (Pettigrew last week and Cooley this week) has been missed.  The good news is Desmond Bishop played quite well in place of these guys – logging 6 tackles, 7 assists and a sack today.  My guess is that Barnett will be done for the season, so a lot will hinge on whether Chillar can get healthy.  In the meantime, A.J. Hawk needs to step up.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Advances to Orange if Barnett and Chillar are both done for season.

Position: Outside Linebacker
Clay Matthews – left the game with a “slight pull” to his hamstring.
Frank Zombo – had physicians look at his knee during the game.
Analysis: The Packers were a different defense without Matthews on the field.  This is the same injury to the same leg that caused Matthews to miss most of the pre-season.  Best guess would be he is out at least one, possibly as many as 3-4 games – and could be less effective when he returns.  No visibility on Zombo’s injury, but this is a banged up group, with Brad Jones also struggling with injuries.  At least Brady Poppinga had a decent day with 3 tackles and a sack.
Threat Level: Orange.  This may be a premature Orange, but Matthews is just such an impact player that his absence will force Capers to change his schemes and the defense to be less effective as a result.

Position: Defensive Line
Ryan Pickett – left game today with an ankle injury, appears to be a sprain (x-rays for a break were negative) but could miss some time.
Cullen Jenkins – has been playing with a cast on his injured hand.
Justin Harrell – on IR.
Analysis: Mike Neal is another Packer back-up who stepped up when a starter went down today.  He had another solid performance, logging a sack on top of the forced fumble he had last week.  Unclear how long Pickett will be out, but even if Neal is a capable back-up the Packers are still really thin on the defensive line.
Threat Level: Yellow.  Could rise to Orange if it turns out Pickett will miss extended time.

Right now, it’s looking like the Packers could go into next week’s game against the Dolphins with 4 of their 11 offensive starters at the beginning of the season out, including their starting QB, RB and TE, and 5 of 11 season starters out on defense, as well as their starting nickel back.  Ugh… That really will be a test of whether our practice squad can beat another NFL team.  This rash of injuries is probably the biggest threat this generation of players will have to overcome.  We’ll see if they can do it.  Overall threat level: Orange.

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