At some point — perhaps this week — Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy will have an injury-related lineup decision on his hands.
If he’s fully recovered from the quadriceps injury that sidelined him against the Jets, does Brad Jones move right back into the starting lineup?
Or did Jamari Lattimore play well enough to merit the starting job?
“I thought Jamari did a nice job,” McCarthy said on Monday, a day after Lattimore played 59 of 71 snaps in a 31-24 victory over the Jets. “I just think he’s a good, tough, instinctive football player. He brings juice. I thought he got off to a good start and I thought for a first time this year being in a full-time role, he did an excellent job.”
Injuries forced Jones into the starting lineup in 2012 and he played well enough to earn a three-year, $11.75 million contract from the Packers. Injuries, however, sidetracked Jones last year. He missed four games and significant parts of two others with hamstring and ankle injuries.
Lattimore played well, for the most part, in Jones’ place last season. According to league data, opponents averaged 4.82 yards per carry with Jones in the game. Even while battling a season-long illness, that average plunged to 3.72 when Lattimore was in the game. That’s a difference of 1.10 yards.
Incredibly confident now that he’s healthy and more experienced, Lattimore was expected to challenge for a starting job this summer. Instead, Jones was the no-doubt-about-it starter from Day 1 of camp, a standing solidified by a strong preseason.
Now, there’s plenty of doubt. Who knows how much of a role the injury played in Jones’ poor performance at Seattle — he played every snap in that game and finished with six tackles but three missed tackles — but the door was cracked open for Lattimore. He responded with nine tackles (one missed tackle).
“For me, I had some mistakes, I had some plays,” Lattimore said after the game. “Wasn’t the best game I had but it was a team thing. It’s not about me. It’s about helping the team.”
Working in Jones’ favor is his experience, intelligence and length to help affect passing lanes. When healthy, he’s been a three-down player.
“Effort guy, been able to be productive in all three phases. He’s been a good run player, blitzer and a cover guy,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said last week.
Working in Lattimore’s favor is his athleticism and hitting ability. While the Jets averaged 3.9 yards per carry, their lone big play was the 39-yard option pitch from Geno Smith to Jeremy Kerley. The Packers were in their dime personnel, meaning Lattimore was on the bench. When on the field, the Jets averaged 2.71 yards per carry.
“He made some athletic plays. I thought it was a good start,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
As he did last week, Lattimore downplayed the personal part of the equation. The former undrafted free agent who played defensive end at Middle Tennessee State, Lattimore has worked diligently to put himself in this position.
“It’s not a big opportunity for me because I’ve been doing it for four years now,” said Lattimore, who was voted a playoff captain following the 2012 season. “I just step in and do my job when my number’s called. That’s it.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.