If Clifton is unable to recover from a sprained ankle sustained on the Packers' first snap of the third quarter, McCarthy on Monday said he is inclined to stick with the offensive line that finished the game. That means left guard Daryn Colledge replacing Clifton, with center Jason Spitz moving to left guard and Scott Wells jumping in at center.
Considering how conservative the Packers have been with running back Brandon Jackson and first-round defensive end B.J. Raji, both of whom have been spectators for the first two games because of sprained ankles, it's probably a pretty good bet that the offensive line that yielded four second-half sacks in Sunday's 31-24 loss to Cincinnati will be on the field against St. Louis.
The injury to Clifton represents almost the worst-case scenario for the Packers, who have yielded 10 sacks in the first two games and haven't gotten the running game going after an explosive preseason. Other than the quarterback, Clifton is arguably the most irreplacable starter on the roster. The only player with any ability to play the offensive line's hardest position is Colledge, and moving Colledge results in the musical chairs that McCarthy had hoped to avoid.
Without taking more than a handful of reps at left tackle all year, Colledge was to blame fully for two of Antwan Odom's four sacks. On a third, Odom got the sack when quarterback Carson Palmer stepped up in the pocket to avoid the other defensive end.
"He'll get more (reps in practice) in the event that Chad isn't able to go," offensive line coach James Campen said. "We have no idea about (Clifton's availability). We've got a lot of time between now and Sunday. Certainly, he'll get more reps at left tackle and he'll get more (pass blocking) sets in individual drills. We'll get those things taken care of for him."
While there's an outside chance that Clifton will be ready for Sunday, it's almost unimaginable that he'll be ready to practice on Wednesday. That means Colledge will have ample opportunity to prepare for his matchup with the Rams' Chris Long, who as the second overall pick of the 2008 draft finished with four sacks.
"I'll prepare more just because I didn't play well," Colledge said on Monday. "I've got a lot of fundamental work to do, a lot of film work to do. I've got a quality opponent coming up. So for me, I've got a lot of work to do this week.
"You have to completely forget about it. I have to go back to work. I know exactly what I did wrong, and I know what I have to get better at."
Just like last week, when the coaches said right tackle Allen Barbre wasn't the only one to blame for the pressure allowed against Chicago, Colledge wasn't the only one to allow pressure against the Bengals. For the second consecutive week, McCarthy is talking about fundamental breakdowns by experienced blockers. That's translated into quarterback Aaron Rodgers taking a beating despite most of the passing plays being called having six- or seven-man protections, with a running back(s) and/or tight end(s) staying in to help.
"We could have had nine-man protections on a couple of those where we flat-out just get beat," McCarthy said. "One individual gets beat fundamentally and it causes a sack and a quarterback hit that we didn't eliminate from our play."
While logic would dictate that McCarthy would have to provide more help with Colledge at left tackle and Allen Barbre struggling at right tackle, McCarthy said the opposite might be true.
"If we have a tendency as an offensive staff," McCarthy said, "we may try to help these guys too much. At some point, you have to win the one-on-one battle with the help being the secondary instead of the primary focus."
Meanwhile, Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins left in the first half on Sunday with a sprained clavicle and fellow safety Aaron Rouse, who was replacing injured Atari Bigby, suffered a neck stinger. Rouse likely will be able to practice on Wednesday but McCarthy wasn't so sure about Collins. If Collins can't play, Jarrett Bush or newcomer Derrick Martin would replace him in the lineup.
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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.