Losing a Pro Bowl player at any position is going to have an impact on your squad. Lose two, and you could be in serious trouble. Not so if you're the Green Bay Packers.
Al Harris and Aaron Kampman are elite players, and neither will suit up for the Packers this season barring some minor medical miracle. But the impact may not be as bad you would think.
Bearwith me. I mentioned last week that I believed this defense might actually be better off with Brad Jones starting at outside linebacker instead of Kampman. Against Dallas, without big number 74, the Packers had their best defensive game of the season and Mr. Jones was a big part of that effort.
He is fluid, athletic, and is getting to be assignment-sure. He can make the plays in coverage Kampman couldn't, and even if he's allowing completions, Jones is in position to make a tackle to limit the damage.
Kampman has had his hand in the dirt more, and even got a sack this last week, but he's not the same player he had been, and there's no reason to believe that was going to change.
Cullen Jenkins is playing like a Pro Bowler, and the defensive front has been stout. Between Jenkins and the improved pass-rush from the linebackers, the Packers don't lose much with Kampman off the field. They proved that against the Cowboys.
Losing Al Harris is a bigger issue. When Harris went down with that ruptured spleen last season, Tramon Williams made his presence known to the fans in Green Bay, and to some degree the NFL. Williams is an elite nickel back and will be a more than competent starter someday in this system, particularly if he continues to improve.
Williams is more fluid in coverage and has better speed. Not the physical player Harris is, Williams does have some deficiencies in the run game, but his ball skills and playmaking ability may actually be greater than Harris'. Expect him to be tested early and often by opposing offenses.
There's the next big reason this won't kill the Pack's D: There just aren't that many explosive passing offenses left on the schedule.
The Packers still have to play Detroit, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Chicago, and Arizona. Detroit has one banged up, if ultra-talented, receiver and either a banged up rookie, or a washed-out has been at quarterback.
Baltimore has a tremendously talented quarterback, but no receivers who really scare you. Pittsburgh has a talented receiving group and a dangerous tight end, but no one one you can point to and say, "This is a guy we have to look out for."
Seattle is just terrible offensively and defensively, although Hasselbeck HAS been a Pro Bowler and he has a more than competent group of wide-outs. We know what Chicago has in JaMarcus Cutler, and that the group of receivers is one of the most anemic in the league.
The only group with more than one game breaker is Arizona with Boldin, Breaston and Fitzgerald. The weird thing is they've been terrible at home and Kurt Warner has been both horrific and unstoppable this season.
By the time the Packers play 'Zona, they'll have long locked up the division and won't have much to play for, particularly if there is the potential for Packers, Cards first round match-up (Very possible).
Certainly, in the playoffs both of these injuries could be costly. Every division leader in the NFC has a Pro Bowl quarterback and a potentially explosive passing attack. The Packers have almost no chance of stopping the Saints or Vikings without two of their best defensive players, but just getting to the playoffs will be an important step for this football team.
In terms of age in the NFL, both Harris and Kampman are well passed their supposed prime, even if they are still top-tier players. But if Ted Thompson's desire to stay young has any chance of winning football games, then his young and talented roster will have to fill the holes. Four wins in the last six does not seem out of reach, and five or six wins is certainly not out of the question.
Tramon Williams and Brad Jones have potential to be impact players. But "potential" is a dangeruos word. We all have the potential to be great, but we are defined by our response to the opportunities we have to be great.
For Williams, Jones, and this young Packers team, that opportunity is now.
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