Preview: Packers formidable despite injuries

The Packers aren't as dominant as they have been in recent years, but there is a good reason for it. Their lineup on both sides of the ball hasn't been consistent because of injuries. We survey the damage, position by position.

Perhaps the biggest statement to how impressive the Green Bay Packers have been this season isn't tied into their top-end talent, it's that they're a playoff contender at all. Given the injuries the Packers have endured this season, their 7-4 record is nothing short of amazing.

Offensively, the Packers are always centered around quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He's having another big season. Through 11 games, he has thrown for 2,838 yards and 28 touchdowns and has a passer rating of 105.6. Those are MVP-type numbers – even more so when you consider what his team has faced due to injury.

The Packers haven't had a strong running game since Ahman Green got old, but they felt they had a short-term answer in Cedric Benson. A between-the-tackles banger, Benson's job wasn't to be a game-breaker but a pounder that helps eat time off the clock and keep the offense balanced. But when Benson went down Oct. 7 against the Colts and was lost for the season, the Packers were forced to cobble together a running game. Alex Green got the first chance, but, after averaging just three yards a carry in three starts, the starting job was turned over the James Starks. He's been the primary back the last three weeks but isn't faring much better. He's averaging just 3.4 yards a carry and placed most of the offensive onus on Rodgers. But even those targets have been question marks.

Greg Jennings was supposed to be the top wide receiver on the roster, but he has played just three games due to injury. Without Jennings, the Packers have had to spread the ball around more and their other three wide receivers – Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb – have combined to catch 145 passes and each has had dominant games along the way.

Up front, the Packers O-line has been shuffled as the result of injury. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down for the season Nov. 4 against Atlanta and the Packers were forced to juggle the line to make up for the loss. Left guard T.J. Lang was moved to right tackle and backup Evan Dietrich-Smith took over at left guard. The line struggled badly against the New York Giants last week in large part because the offensive line was still in flux and struggled to hold off pressure. If that continues, the Packers will struggle to get into the playoffs and won't be favored to go very far if they do.

As bad as things have been on the offense due to injuries, the defense is even more ravaged with players being sidelined. On the defensive line, B.J. Raji has missed two games due to injury and backup pass rush specialist Mike Neal has missed four games, testing the depth on the D-line, but nothing like they've had to endure at linebacker.

The only linebacker to start all 11 games this year is A.J. Hawk. Clay Matthews has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, being replaced by undrafted free rookie Dezman Moses, and won't play Sunday. The other starting outside linebacker was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago and has been replaced by Erik Walden, a third-year man who was an undrafted free agent rookie in 2010. Middle linebacker D.J. Smith was placed on injured reserve in October and has been replaced by Brad Jones, a fourth-year player who was a seventh-round draft pick in 2009. With Matthews unable to play Sunday, the only Week 1 starter at linebacker that will play Sunday against the Vikings is Hawk, forcing the backups to step up and make plays.

The same story is true in the secondary. Cornerback Tramon Williams is the only member of the secondary that has started every game at the same position this season. Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson has missed the last four games, forcing strong safety Morgan Burnett to switch to free safety and second-year pro M.D. Jennings (another undrafted free agent) has taken over at Burnett's strong safety position. At the other cornerback spot, Sam Shields has missed the last five games and has been replaced by rookie Casey Hayward and second-year man Davon House.

The Packers head into their game with the Vikings having won five of their last six games and have put themselves in position to repeat as NFC North champions and get to the playoffs. The remarkable part of their current run, while a far cry from their dominant 2011 season, is that they're in this position at all. Most teams would have crumbled under the weight of so many injuries, but Green Bay has found ways to stop the bleeding from the unlikeliest of sources and will give the Vikings all the can handle – even without stars like Matthews, Woodson, Shields, Bulaga, Perry and Benson.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" Perhaps the biggest statement to how impressive the Green Bay Packers have been this season isn't tied into their top-end talent, it's that they're a playoff contender at all. Given the injuries the Packers have endured this season, their 7-4 record is nothing short of amazing. Offensively, the Packers are always centered around quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He's having another big season. Through 11 games, he has thrown for 2,838 yards and 28 touchdowns and has a passer rating of 105.6. Those are MVP-type numbers – even more so when you consider what his team has faced due to injury. The Packers haven't had a strong running game since Ahman Green got old, but they felt they had a short-term answer in Cedric Benson. A between-the-tackles banger, Benson's job wasn't to be a game-breaker but a pounder that helps eat time off the clock and keep the offense balanced. But when Benson went down Oct. 7 against the Colts and was lost for the season, the Packers were forced to cobble together a running game. Alex Green got the first chance, but, after averaging just three yards a carry in three starts, the starting job was turned over the James Starks. He's been the primary back the last three weeks but isn't faring much better. He's averaging just 3.4 yards a carry and placed most of the offensive onus on Rodgers. But even those targets have been question marks. Greg Jennings was supposed to be the top wide receiver on the roster, but he has played just three games due to injury. Without Jennings, the Packers have had to spread the ball around more and their other three wide receivers – Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb – have combined to catch 145 passes and each has had dominant games along the way. Up front, the Packers O-line has been shuffled as the result of injury. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down for the season Nov. 4 against Atlanta and the Packers were forced to juggle the line to make up for the loss. Left guard T.J. Lang was moved to right tackle and backup Evan Dietrich-Smith took over at left guard. The line struggled badly against the New York Giants last week in large part because the offensive line was still in flux and struggled to hold off pressure. If that continues, the Packers will struggle to get into the playoffs and won't be favored to go very far if they do. As bad as things have been on the offense due to injuries, the defense is even more ravaged with players being sidelined. On the defensive line, B.J. Raji has missed two games due to injury and backup pass rush specialist Mike Neal has missed four games, testing the depth on the D-line, but nothing like they've had to endure at linebacker. The only linebacker to start all 11 games this year is A.J. Hawk. Clay Matthews has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, being replaced by undrafted free rookie Dezman Moses, and won't play Sunday. The other starting outside linebacker was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago and has been replaced by Erik Walden, a third-year man who was an undrafted free agent rookie in 2010. Middle linebacker D.J. Smith was placed on injured reserve in October and has been replaced by Brad Jones, a fourth-year player who was a seventh-round draft pick in 2009. With Matthews unable to play Sunday, the only Week 1 starter at linebacker that will play Sunday against the Vikings is Hawk, forcing the backups to step up and make plays. The same story is true in the secondary. Cornerback Tramon Williams is the only member of the secondary that has started every game at the same position this season. Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson has missed the last four games, forcing strong safety Morgan Burnett to switch to free safety and second-year pro M.D. Jennings (another undrafted free agent) has taken over at Burnett's strong safety position. At the other cornerback spot, Sam Shields has missed the last five games and has been replaced by rookie Casey Hayward and second-year man Davon House. The Packers head into their game with the Vikings having won five of their last six games and have put themselves in position to repeat as NFC North champions and get to the playoffs. The remarkable part of their current run, while a far cry from their dominant 2011 season, is that they're in this position at all. Most teams would have crumbled under the weight of so many injuries, but Green Bay has found ways to stop the bleeding from the unlikeliest of sources and will give the Vikings all the can handle – even without stars like Matthews, Woodson, Shields, Bulaga, Perry and Benson. 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