Front Seven's Biggest Challenge

Coach Mike McCarthy announced another serious injury on defense Wednesday — not the kind of information the already-depleted Packers needed to hear when preparing for one of the best offensive lines and running games in the league.

Just when it seems like it cannot get any worse or any tougher for the Green Bay Packers' front seven on defense, Wednesday brought another dose of bad news.

Coach Mike McCarthy said starting outside linebacker Brad Jones has a "significant" shoulder injury that is going to require surgery. Hours after he made that statement, the team placed Jones on injured reserve.

"It's the same shoulder that Brad injured in training camp," said McCarthy. "He's been fighting through it."

Jones apparently aggravated the injury on Sunday night against the Vikings. He joins an injured reserve list that includes linebackers Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga and defensive ends Justin Harrell and Mike Neal. Throw in linebackers Clay Matthews and Brandon Chillar, who returned from injuries last week, and defensive ends Cullen Jenkins (calf) and Ryan Pickett (ankle), who may not play Sunday, and the Packers could be even more short-handed this Sunday against the Jets than they were against the Vikings.

"We're going to show up and play," said McCarthy. "I don't know exactly who's going to be out there yet, but we'll be ready to go. I can promise you that."

The Packers put together a gutty effort last week against a potent Vikings offense. After Jenkins injured his calf in pregame warm-ups, they were left with just three healthy defensive linemen. Thus, they played their base 3-4 defense with second-year end Jarius Wynn, rookie end C.J. Wilson and 337-pound nose tackle B.J. Raji, who played all but three of 66 snaps. On the Vikings' final drive, a 16-play grinder that ended without a score to preserve a 28-24 win, defensive coordinator Dom Capers scrambled to keep his guys fresh by mixing in his Psycho package (one lineman, five linebackers) with his base and nickel defenses. For the final four plays, he rushed only three players. using outside linebacker Frank Zombo at defensive end.

The same could be in store for this week if Jenkins (limited at Wednesday's practice) and Pickett (did not participate) cannot go. The Packers have added four players this week — linebackers Diyral Briggs, Matt Wilhelm and Erik Walden, and nose tackle Howard Green — to help. The only other defensive lineman on the active roster, Michael Montgomery, who was re-signed by the team on Oct. 15, is almost certain to suit up Sunday. His only action this season came on special teams two weeks ago against Miami.

The Vikings' Adrian Peterson gained 131 yards on 28 carries against the Packers, but his long run was only 17. For most of the game, he was held to minimal gains when it was clear the Vikings' intent was to attack the Packers on the ground.

The Jets, second in the league at 159.2 rushing yards per game, figure to test the Packers as much if not more in a matchup they would appear to have a big advantage in based on personnel.

"They're probably the best run team that we'll face so far this year," said McCarthy. "That's the opinion of our coaches. Just the combination of how they're playing, their (offensive line) coach Bill Callahan does an excellent job with that group, their scheme, and their personnel, and the efficiency they're playing with, and I think both backs, they complement each other very well."

Wilson, who played 40 snaps last week and recorded nine tackles and a quarterback hit that forced an interception, figures to see plenty of action again this week. He will take the same message from last week to try to stop the Jets' attack.

"Even with all the injuries, from Day 1, it's always been about gap schemes," he said. "If everyone stays and does their job, that's what (defensive line coach Mike Trgovac) was preaching about last Sunday night. If everybody does their job, whether you're a first-year player or a veteran, do your job and do it more. Give it all you got because we need everybody."

Jets coach Rex Ryan spoke highly on Monday about Matthews, especially in the Packers' pass rush game, saying he fully expects Matthews to line up much of the game over right tackle Damien Woody.

Left tackle Ferguson anchors the line.
Al Bello/Getty Images
"He's not going to go up against ‘Brick' (left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson) I don't think," said Ryan. "We already know the outcome of that one because he does it each week. (The Colts' Dwight) Freeney. (The Vikings') Jared Allen. Whoever. Just put him over there. That's fine with us. I think he's going to try to challenge Damien Woody. We'll see. Damien Woody is a great football player, so let's see those two go at it."

The Packers have moved Matthews around this season, including playing him behind the line of scrimmage for a few snaps last week. By all accounts, he is doing better with his hamstring injury. Even though he missed the Miami game two weeks ago, he leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks and was a major factor against the Vikings even without a quarterback takedown.

Even more telling, though, is that the Packers' pass rush has fallen flat without Matthews. In the time he has missed, the Packers have failed to record even one of their 22 sacks, a figure that ranks fourth in the league.

On the flip side, few teams in the league protect as well as the Jets. Anchored by Pro Bowlers Ferguson, center Nick Mangold and Woody, their offense has allowed just nine sacks, third best in the league.

Still, the Packers need to put the Jets in passing situations to have their best chance. Their defensive backfield, which might include the return of defensive backs Al Harris and Atari Bigby, might be the strength of their defense based on health alone.

So, shutting down LaDainian Tomlinson (490 yards, 5.3 per carry) and Shonn Greene (323, 4.5) will take an even "guttier" performance this week. It will be priority No. 1 for the defense.

"We really need to emphasize that this week," said Matthews. "Get (quarterback Mark) Sanchez back there throwing the ball and capitalize on his throws. But we can't do that unless we shut down the run. So, we need to stop that."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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