While some fans and pundits are beginning to sour on the 6 – 0 Green Bay Packers, the truth may very well be that they are only trending upwards. Barely getting past the San Diego Chargers at home this past week was, for some, a worrying omen of a team not built to make a deep run in the playoffs. The run defense was bad. MVP Aaron Rodgers has been pedestrian. Something is up with Eddie Lacy. Even the explosive pass rush of the defense was slowed against San Diego.
While each of these complaints is justified, it’s important to remember that the Packers were fielding a battered and bruised team Sunday afternoon. In fact, according to ESPN the Packers have been the most injured team in the league thus far this season, based upon total missed starts by a “starter or integral special-teams player”. The Packers have 78 such missed starts. To put that in perspective, that is 2 more than the second place Washington Redskins, and a whopping 13 more than the third place Pittsburgh Steelers.
When one considers what Rodgers has had to play with, it is no surprise that the offense has been struggling. Not only has Rodgers been without his most trusted target in Jordy Nelson, but he’s been without Davante Adams for much of the year, as well. After Ty Montgomery went done against San Diego, the Packers were forced to throw the young and very raw Jeff Janis into the mix. On top of that, trusted tight end Andrew Quarless has been out, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed 3 games, leading to back-up Don Barclay giving up more than his fair share of sacks and QB disruptions. And, it certainly appears that running back Eddie Lacy’s ankle is not fully healed, as he’s not been showing his usual strength and quickness through the hole.
While it’s hard to place every recent fault of the Packers’ offense on injuries, it’s certainly been a major factor. Getting back a healthy Davante Adams, in particular, will add a facet to the Packers’ offense that has basically been missing for the past four weeks (back when, you know, the Packers’ offense was looking better). The offense had utilized Ty Montgomery very successfully in the backfield on a number of drives earlier in the season, but that formation has been phased out, likely due to the need for Montgomery to line up wide with Adams out.
On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of BJ Raji and Nick Perry in particular seem to be under-appreciated. Raji’s absence against the Chargers was noticeable. Missing Perry meant more snaps for a still-learning Jayrone Elliott and an aging Julius Peppers. Sean Richardson is out for the year and Morgan Burnett has missed all but one start this season. The Packers have played with second year player Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and flex defensive back Micah Hyde at the safety position for much of the season thus far. When Hyde went down with an injury this past Sunday, the Packers were forced to roll with Chris Banjo at safety, a great special teams player, but someone whom the Packers probably had hoped would never actually play much or at all on defense. It’s unclear how much better the run defense would be if Sam Barrington were available on 1st and 2nd downs.
To say that the Packers have been unlucky in the injury department is an understatement. But the good news is that the majority of these players will be back, and sooner rather than later. In fact, there’s good reason to believe that most, if not all, of the players listed above (sans Nelson, Quarless, Richardson, and Barrington) will be back after the bye.
This means that the true make-up of the team is still a bit of a mystery. How much better will this team look when reasonably healthy? If it will look better than a team which is already 6 – 0, then the current prognostication about the Packers being a fairly mediocre undefeated team seems unjustified. If, however, the team continues to fight the injury bug for the rest of the season, there’s little reason to doubt the success of the “next man up” motto that has become synonymous with the team in recent years. They’ve been getting it done for the past six weeks.
Unlike in 2011, the last time that the Packers found themselves at 6 – 0, this team is finding ways to persevere through close games and injuries. While the 2011 Packers cruised to whopping victories, there’s a sense that the 2015 squad is becoming battle tested, forging itself into a unit that might be more formidable come December and January.
Much remains to be seen. In some ways, much will be revealed in two weeks, as the Packers come out of the bye well rested, facing perhaps their toughest opponent yet as they travel to Denver. But if 6 – 0 is the struggling version of the 2015 Green Bay Packers, I know that I’m excited to see the team that emerges after the bye. There are two unarguable truths in the Thompson-McCarthy-Rodgers Era: 1) The Packers have the depth to win with injuries that would sink many other teams, and 2) when Aaron Rodgers is down, he doesn’t stay down for long.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.