Will Bye Week Cure All That Ails Green Bay Packers?
Rarely is having a bye in Week 4 beneficial in the National Football League. But for the bruised and battered Green Bay Packers, there's no better time than now for a week off.
Most of what currently ails Green Bay—notably a vast injury situation—can be alleviated to some degree over the break. The Packers don't play again until Oct. 6, when the Detroit Lions travel to Green Bay in Week 5.
Getting healthy on both sides of the ball would represent a good start.
The 1-2 Packers have a number of key injuries to nurse back to health over the next 14 days, including a few dings that occurred during Sunday's gut-wrenching loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Green Bay lost tight end Jermichael Finley in the first quarter to a concussion, and James Starks didn't play after halftime because of a knee injury. Clay Matthews, the most important member of the defense, also sat out in the second half due to a hamstring problem.
Undermanned and uncharacteristically sloppy on offense, the Packers coughed up a 16-point lead over the final 19 minutes and fell to 1-2 for the second time in as many seasons.
By the second half of Sunday's loss, Green Bay was playing without its starting left tackle (Bryan Bulaga), tight end (Finley), running back (DuJuan Harris), fullback (John Kuhn), safety (Morgan Burnett), cornerback (Casey Hayward), two backup running backs (Eddie Lacy, Starks), top pass-rusher (Matthews) and best special teams player (Jarrett Bush).
Bulaga (torn ACL) and Harris (knee surgery) are on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season. But the bye week should allow the rest of the walking wounded to heal up and prepare for a grueling 13-game stretch to end the year.
Few teams would be able to function with so much talent on the sidelines, and the Packers were no different at times Sunday.
Finley, who came into Week 3 with 11 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, exited the contest early after taking a hit to the helmet. The Packers offense then sputtered for long stretches afterwards, as a game plan tilted heavily toward the talented tight end was suddenly thrown in the garbage.
Adjustments eventually came, but Green Bay played without much direction on offense for most of the first half. Four first-half turnovers from the Bengals resulted in just 13 points, with seven coming off a fumble return for a touchdown. The offense was able to tally three field goals despite being set up with advantageous field position.
In contrast, the Bengals scored 21 points off four Green Bay turnovers.
Injuries also played a small part in a late-game miscue. With Lacy sitting out and Starks only able to make it through one half, the Packers were forced to scramble at running back. Green Bay was also without Kuhn, who has taken on some ball-carrying responsibilities in the past.
Who did the Packers miss the most during Sunday's 34-30 loss to the Bengals?
Johnathan Franklin, a fourth-round pick, filled in admirably for the three injured backs. He became the second straight Packers rusher to eclipse 100 rushing yards. But his fourth-quarter fumble was a back-breaker.
Facing 4th-and-inches inside Cincinnati territory, the Packers gave Franklin an inside run. But the Bengals bottled up the attempt and forced a fumble that was returned 58 yards for the game-winning score. Lacy, Starks and Kuhn would have certainly been better options on the short-yardage situation.
Green Bay should get Lacy and Kuhn back following the bye. The severity of Starks' knee injury isn't yet known.
Missing players on defense was eventually too much for Dom Capers' unit to bear.
Burnett, the leader of the defensive secondary, and Hayward, who led the team with six interceptions in 2012, have missed all three games to start the season. The two are both indispensable members to what Green Bay wants to accomplish on defense, especially against the pass.
Counting Andy Dalton's 235 Sunday, the Packers have now allowed 933 passing yards—or 311 a contest—through three games in 2013.
While Dalton struggled mightily at times against Green Bay, he eventually found a rhythm in the second half. He led scoring drives of 65 and 95 yards after the Packers took a 30-16 lead in the third quarter. A.J. Green caught a 20-yard score behind the coverage of Sam Shields, and later, Marvin Jones caught an 11-yard touchdown against a trailing Tramon Williams.
It's possible that Burnett or Hayward wouldn't have stopped either score, but it's also been blatantly clear over three weeks how much the Packers pass defense is missing each playmaker.
Losing Matthews might have been the straw that broke the camel's back.
The Packers rattled Dalton for much of the first 30 minutes, but the pressure mostly dried up without Matthews in the game. A more comfortable Bengals quarterback then went to work. Overall, 168 of Dalton's 235 passing yards came after Matthews exited.
The Packers have a first-round pick in Nick Perry at outside linebacker, and Mike Neal's transition from defensive end to stand-up rusher has gone better than anyone could have predicted. Still, Matthews' impact on every snap can't be understated, and Sunday's game was just another example of how limited the Packers can be on defense without him.
Green Bay needs Matthews healthy, and the bye should allow ample time for him to get a chronically ill hamstring back into playing shape. He told Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette that he doesn't envision missing any games:
Take w/ grain of salt but Clay Matthews said sitting was preventative, plans on playing vs DET. "I don’t see myself missing any time"— Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod) September 22, 2013
In fact, the bye should give a majority of the currently injured Packers a legitimate chance to play in Week 5 against Detroit.
Burnett has been close to returning, and Hayward has always recovered from his hamstring injury within three to four weeks. They could be expected to make their 2013 debuts versus the Lions.
Lacy and Kuhn were long shots to play Sunday, and eventually, both were deemed inactive. But neither should miss time moving forward.
The timeline for Finley's recovery will be hard to nail down until more details are known, and Starks' knee issue is still mostly a mystery. Finley would seem to have a good chance to get ready for a game 14 days down the road.
Just as importantly, the Packers will be allowed two weeks to heal mentally.
The early scheduled pitted Green Bay against three 2012 playoff teams, and the scar from Sunday's loss should permeate through the much-needed break. This should be a fresh and motivated football team after the bye.
The Packers certainly didn't bank on opening 2013 with one win and two losses. But this team still hung tough with two heavyweights on the road (49ers, Bengals) and obliterated the Washington Redskins at home.
Maybe a healthy Packers team beats San Francisco and Cincinnati. Maybe not.
Regardless, the laundry list of injuries—which has had a major factor in each game—will finally be given a chance to heal up over the bye. After another disheartening start, the Packers will need to be at full strength to once again qualify for the postseason.
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