The Green Bay Packers' injury problems have been well-documented.
But compared to what the New Orleans Saints have had to battle through, the Packers have been a picture of health.
The Saints have 13 players on injured reserve — 13! — compared to five for the Packers. Among the Saints' sidelined wounded are kicker Martin Gramatica, starting cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike McKenzie, starting defensive linemen Charles Grant and Brian Young and do-everything tight end Mark Campbell.
For sake of comparison, only one Packers starter, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, is on injured reserve, and only rookie running back Kregg Lumpkin and rookie long snapper J.J. Jansen figured to make an impact this year among the others.
Almost as importantly as the season-ending injuries, the Saints' high-flying offense has been without three Pro Bowl talents — running back Reggie Bush, tight end Jeremy Shockey and receiver Marques Colston — for significant stretches.
All three figure to play Monday night against Green Bay, though, as will quarterback Drew Brees, who has been the one stable force for the NFL's top-ranked offense and is the big reason why the Saints have survived all of those injuries well enough to stay in the playoff chase.
"We've put in a lot of time and effort into building that timing and building that confidence with one another," Brees said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. "I feel like we've been able to plug guys into a lot of different areas and they've played very well. Certainly, it comes down to coaching and putting guys in the best position to succeed according to their strengths. I feel like we've done with that. We've probably made some guys household names that nobody had ever heard of prior to the season."
One of those guys would be Lance Moore, a third-year pro out of Toledo. Moore is drawing comparisons to New England's Wes Welker because of his size (he's 5-foot-9) and ability to move the chains. Moore has team highs of 52 caches, 609 yards and five touchdowns.
Moore's emergence has been a godsend. Colston, who caught 98 passes and scored 11 touchdowns last season, has been limited to five games, three starts and 15 catches this year after injuring a thumb in the opener. In his first start since the injury, Week 10 at Atlanta, he caught seven passes for 140 yards.
"I think the key is development and training the guys behind them and making sure they understand the importance of them being able to step in and play at a high level," Saints coach Sean Payton said in a conference call, citing Moore in particular as a player who has "made the most" of his opportunities.
Shockey figures to play a key role on Monday since the Packers' cornerbacks seems to have an advantage over the Saints' receivers. Green Bay historically has been vulnerable to pass-catching tight ends, and few are better at that than Shockey.
Shockey, who missed three games after a sports hernia required surgery, has 30 catches, including six last week at Kansas City. His presence is made more important since Campbell, the Saints' best blocking-receiving tight end, was put on injured reserve this week with a knee injury.
The headliner on the sideline for the last three games, however, has been the electric Bush. Bush was a limited participant at practice on Thursday, and Payton said he was "optimistic" Bush would be ready for Monday after being unable to make his return last week at Kansas City.
Bush, the consensus top player in the 2006 draft who slipped into the Saints' laps with the second pick, has been something on an enigma. As a running back, he's an ineffective runner. He has 1,440 rushing yards and a 3.6-yard average in three seasons, including 294 yards and a 3.4 average in seven games this year. But as a receiving threat and punt returner, he's in a class of his own and certainly is the Saints' X-factor as a way to attack the Packers' superb pass defense.
"He adds a dimension not only in the running game but there's a handful of things he does," Payton said. "Just a simple checkdown to the back, (he) can turn a 5-yard gain into a 15-yard gain. So, we're certainly a better team with him offensively and we're a better team as a punt-return team. He gives you a speed factor, a speed threat and versatility not only as a runner but as a receiver."
"Certainly when you guy like Reggie back, it adds another element to the offense," Brees said.
With the Saints' primary playmakers back in action, Brees has his full complement of weapons. Not that a depleted supporting cast has meant much to Brees, who is the NFL's fourth-rated passer and is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record.
"He's throwing the ball well. He's been extremely accurate. He gets rid of it quick. He goes through his progressions very fast," Payton said in rattling off Brees' strengths. "He's worked extremely hard. You occasionally come across somebody that can improve or raise the level of those around him. He's one of those guys. He's been the one stable, consistent thing for us offensively."
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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