Packers Facing Tough Choices: Must Wait For Finley, Place Barnett On IR
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Now that Packers star tight end Jermichael Finley has undergone knee surgery, we know that he won't be back in three weeks after all; instead, he could return in eight weeks at the earliest.
This is more bad news for the immediate future of the Packers' 2010 season.
Although this is apparently good news for the long term, as the reason Finley will miss extra time is that the injury wasn't as bad as initially feared. The doctors thought they would have to remove the meniscus; however, upon opening the knee up, they discovered they would be able to repair the tissue, resulting in additional recovery time but better future health for Finley's knee.
Back to 2010, this now means the Packers have decisions to make about two of their top 10 players, one on offense (Finley) and one on defense (linebacker Nick Barnett).
Barnett is likely in the same predicament as Finley, although we won't know for sure until tomorrow. He underwent surgery on his wrist today; the Packers brass obviously already knows. But if, as expected, Barnett's recovery time will be eight weeks, the Packers face the dilemma of whether to hold open spots on the roster for the two players while they recover despite a rash of injuries that has greatly affected the team's depth and ability to fill out the 45-man game-day roster.
Finley and Barnett will miss seven games because the Packers have a bye in Week 10. Can the Packers afford to hold two roster spots open for what amounts to roughly half the season?
If the team simply can't afford the space, they face the tough task of explaining to Barnett that he will be placed on injured reserve because they can't hold a roster spot open for him for eight weeks with all the other injuries piling up.
At the same time, the Packers must hold a spot open for Finley as he is simply too important to the team's chances of winning the Super Bowl, which still has to be their goal for the season as one of only four NFC teams with 3 or more victories.
Although he is the heart of the defense, the fiery Barnett can be replaced.
Desmond Bishop will fill in for Barnett, as he did Sunday against Washington, and Brandon Chillar can also help when he returns from a shoulder injury in the next few weeks. Bishop proved his worth against the Redskins, finishing with 13 tackles, a sack and one pass defensed. Although Bishop made a few mistakes in coverage, Chillar can relieve him of those responsibilities when he returns from injury. Together, they will allow the defense to function as it did before the loss of Barnett.
Before Finley went down on the second play from scrimmage in Week 5, he was the Packers' leading receiver with 21 catches for 301 yards and a touchdown. He is Aaron Rodgers' favorite target and is a security blanket for the Packers signal caller, consistently making big plays at key moments.
Although rookie Andrew Quarless filled in admirably, catching four passes for 51 yards after Finley went down, his inexperience was evident on the underthrown ball in the end zone on 4th-and-1 against the Redskins. He could have pulled up and fought back to the ball and would likely have drawn a pass interference penalty as the defender's back was turned.
With No. 2 TE Donald Lee also out a couple weeks, Quarless will be the starter and gain some valuable experience. When Finley returns, the possibility of a two-tight end set with Quarless will present multiple matchup problems for any defense, as both can play in-line or split out wide.
If Charles Woodson is the Aaron Rodgers of the defense, Finley is the offense's Clay Matthews III.
He cannot be replaced, he is simply too good, that good, the defense must account for him on every play. General Manager Ted Thompson must have the patience to wait. Because getting Finley back in eight weeks could be just what the Packers need to have them peaking as they enter the playoffs for a run towards a Super Bowl title.
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