Well, the bye week has come and gone for the Packers, the earliest it’s come for them since the injury-plagued season of 2013, which now means we have at least 13 more straight weeks of Packer football without interruption! Before we get too deep into my thoughts from the bye week, let’s take a moment to celebrate 13 more straight weeks of Green Bay Packers football (at least) with this fantastic gif of Aaron Rodgers circa 2008 doing some sort of happy dance.
That was great. Now onto business.
While great for the fans, many GMs, coaches, and players around the league consider a bye week this early in the season to be disadvantageous. Sure, it gives the team an extra week to recover from injuries that have already occurred in just three weeks of football. But it is just too early, especially for the offensive guys that were just starting to get into their rhythm and for young players just receiving their first taste of what it’s like to play in this league. 13 straight weeks of Packer football is fantastic for fans, but could be potentially damaging towards the health of this football team.
That being said, even though the Packers had off all week, they still had themselves a pretty busy bye week. From injury updates on key players to the 13-game stretch upcoming, we’ve got plenty to talk about in our inaugural weekly piece, Thoughts from a Cheesehead.
1) Injuries – Returning and Lasting
It seems the injury bug has come to visit Green Bay every fall for the past few years, and this year has been no different. The Packers dearly missed defensive inactives in Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, Datone Jones, Letroy Guion and Sam Shields in Week 3 after the Lions mounted an impressive – yet, ultimately unsuccessful – second half comeback.
The good news is Matthews, Burnett, Jones and Guion will all be back after having the bye week to rest and recover. Of course, that leaves the bad news. While speaking to the media on Thursday morning, Mike McCarthy said Sam Shields would be out for the second game in a row after sustaining a concussion in their Week 2 loss to Minnesota. It’s a big blow to a young Packers secondary that hasn’t exactly had the best year so far, and will have to cover a dangerous trio of receivers this weekend in Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr.
Expect the Packers to come out in plenty of nickel packages, with Damarious Randall and Ladarius Gunter to the outside and Quentin Rollins playing in the slot.
On the offensive side of the ball, newly signed Packers tight end Jared Cook was injured early in the second quarter and did not return to the game. While initial reports seemed optimistic, it was later reported that Cook suffered a high ankle sprain – an injury known to take a while to recover from in the NFL. Per Rob Demovsky, the Packers are hoping for a full recovery in four weeks, but realistically, only time will tell when Cook will make his return. We’ll discuss the impact this will have at the tight end position a little further down.
Some good news offensively is that playoff hero, and fan-favorite, Jeff Janis finally shed the club he had been wearing since he broke his hand in training camp on August 10th. While technically Janis has been playing thus far this season (he’s played 38 snaps on special teams), he has only been in three snaps on the offensive side of the ball for obvious reasons.
As for the impact he’ll have on Sunday night, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot. Janis is still a work in progress, and needs to improve the precision of his route running rather than simply relying on pure athleticism to get open. Still, Janis’s return adds even more depth to an already-talented receiving core, so it will be interesting to see how the Packers actually use these receivers to their advantage.
2) Tight End Situation
With Jared Cook out for at least a couple weeks and just two other tight ends on the active roster, many Packer fans – myself included – wondered if the Packers would go back out into free agency and find a temporary tight end to fill his role. Well they didn’t, but it was reported that they did work out several veteran tight ends, including former Chicago Bear Rob Housler and former first-round pick Kellen Winslow Jr. Though Winslow Jr. hasn’t played a down in the NFL in three seasons, his heart is still in the game. He even released a video pleading his case and directly saying that he wants to be a Packer.
Despite the workouts the Packers didn’t sign a replacement, leaving Hail Mary hero Richard Rodgers and the sure-handed Justin Perillo to fill in for Cook, and quite honestly, they will probably be just fine.
We already know that Richard Rodgers can catch the ball and does a solid job run blocking for Lacy and Starks. His concerns lie in actual athleticism – speed, quickness, and agility. Well, per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Rodgers has dropped weight since last season, coming in at just under 260 pounds when he played much of last season in the 270-275 pound range. As for Perillo, he always seems to catch the ball no matter how high or low it’s thrown. Having been on the team in some way, shape or form since 2014, the Packers obviously like what he brings to the table, so don’t be surprised if you see him get out in the open and make a few plays while Cook remains out.
3) Run Defense
Who is this run defense and what have they done with the Packers that I know?! Through three weeks, the Packers have the number one run defense in the NFL. I know…I couldn’t believe it either.
The Packers defense in 2016 has taken Mike Daniels’ leadership to heart, and really become a mean, nasty group. They’ve put offensive linemen on their backs up until this point and there’s really no reason they shouldn’t continue to do the same going forward. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has a great rotation system in place, which helps to prevent players from tiring out during the course of the game. In fact, of the fifteen players on the Packers active roster that play in the front seven (defensive linemen and linebackers), only three have played less than 20% of the Packers total defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference. That statistic is highly indicative of a defensive coordinator who not only wants to keep his players fresh, but also wants to get each player in that unit involved in stopping the run. It’s working so far.
4) What’s Going on with Jared Abbrederis?
This isn’t a question that’s meant to imply Jared Abbrederis is doing something wrong. Merely, where the hell and what the hell is going on with him? After by far the healthiest offseason he’s ever had, and also one in which he received countless amounts of praise from both McCarthy and Rodgers, I wouldn’t have expected Abbrederis to have played only 20 snaps through three games. For reference, Davante Adams has played 138 while Trevor Davis and Ty Montgomery have played 17 and 15, respectively.
Perhaps I’m allowing my combined love for both the Badgers and Packers to blind me from seeing Abbrederis’s true talent level, but I don’t think so, and I know that from the amount of praise he received from the likes of McCarthy and Rodgers in the offseason, that they see a great amount of talent in him as well. Again, perhaps this is another case of “we’ll wait and see”, as this weekend will only be the Packers’ fourth game this season. Nonetheless, I believe, along with many others, that Abbrederis deserves more playing time than he is seeing so far. Time will tell.
5) Looking Ahead
Typically with each week’s Thoughts from a Cheesehead, I’d like to keep my takeaways strictly on the previous week or game and not preview the week ahead. However in this case, I’d be remiss if I didn’t preview what’s to come after the bye week, as that is what each and every team does after their bye weeks are over.
So looking ahead, the Packers actually do have a pretty favorable schedule coming up in the next couple of weeks. Four out of their next five games are at home, including three straight in the next three weeks. In addition, only two of their next five opponents currently have winning records – the Cowboys, whom they play on the October 16th, and the Falcons whom they play on the road on Halloween.
After these next five games, the Packers play on the road in three straight games against the Titans, Redskins, and Eagles, respectively, and end the season with a tough five game stretch in which they play the Texans, Seahawks, Bears, Vikings and Lions. Coming into the season, the Packers had the easiest strength of schedule based on 2015 records in the entire league. The oddity and parity of the 2016 NFL season so far has shown exactly why these preseason SOS rankings really don’t mean much, however.