It's no secret the Green Bay Packers have been hit hard by injuries. More specifically the defense has lost the lion share of the players having four players already on season-ending injured reserve, soon to be six as rookie DE Mike Neal and veteran OLB Brady Poppinga are expected to be placed on injured reserve.
That alone would be enough to test even the most well stocked roster of depth in the league.
Add to that starting defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins (hand, calf) and Ryan Pickett (ankle) have been battling injuries of their own.
Jenkins was injured during the pregame and may not return until after the bye week missing contests against the Jets and Cowboys. Pickett was unable to go against the Vikings as well and it seems they are hopeful he can play against the Jets.
This would lead one to think the Packers 4-3 start must largely be due to defensive woes but thats hardly the case. The depth on the defense has stepped up and against the Vikings there were some lesser-known heroes worth discussing.
Charlie Peprah is the third safety to start opposite Nick Collins already this season for the Pack. Rookie Morgan Burnett and backup Derrick Martin have both been lost to season ending injuries.
Against the Vikings Peprah really was only exposed one time against the vertical passing game. In the second half, biting hard on a play fake allowed Percy Harvin to get open in the deep middle for a big play.
Otherwise Peprah was solid in run support and did not have any glaring weaknesses in the passing game. Peprah finished with six tackles and one pass defensed following a solid performance against Miami the previous week with 11 total tackles.
In a previous article (Green Bay Packers: Are They Still Contenders for the NFC?), I suggested Desmond Bishop would be an adequate replacement for Nick Barnett and he has done nothing to disappoint.
Bishop has translated his annual preseason hype into production during the 2010 regular season. He's averaged 11 total tackles per game since becoming the starter three weeks ago. He's also added a sack, three passes defensed and of course the huge interception return for a TD against Favre and the Vikings.
The argument could be made that Bishop has been an upgrade in terms of play making ability at the inside linebacker position.
Lastly, the defensive line was paper thin in terms of depth against the Vikings but a couple players made plays when it was needed.
Rookie seventh round pick DE C.J. Wilson played more snaps than anyone would have expected and delivered some key tackles in the second half when it mattered most. Wilson finished with eight total tackles after having four tackles in fewer snaps against Miami the previous week.
The only sack in three contests versus the Vikings in the past two years was finally delivered by unheralded second year player DE Jarius Wynn.
Wynn was recently resigned by the Packers after originally being cut prior to the regular season. He showed good effort sacking Favre on the final drive Sunday night and will likely see more action in the next two weeks leading into the bye week.
Ultimately the Packer defense has played solid throughout the up and down start to the season. If they can somehow avoid any further serious injuries, I am gaining confidence this defense can hold up against the better teams as they showed against the Vikings.
While the statistics haven't been too impressive, this unit didn't allow Adrian Peterson to hit a huge run to swing the momentum of the game. Peterson ran hard and looked good on his way to a solid performance, but again, he was unable to hit the game changing run thanks to good tackling by the Packer defense.
This week should tell us plenty about the Green Bay Packer defense. Emotion and home field advantage helped carry the day against the rival Vikings.
But will they be able to back that up with a tough challenge on the road versus one of the AFC leaders in the New York Jets? The Jets will certainly be tough coming off a bye week and the Packer defense will need to rise again and keep the Packers in the game.
This group that also includes undrafted rookie free agents OLB Frank Zombo and CB Sam Shields, will be expected to gut it out for two more weeks before the bye week offers a chance to catch their breath a bit.
Will Peprah continue to be the starter if he continues his solid play? A decision on veteran safety Atari Bigby will have to be made in the coming weeks following his return from the PUP list? At the very least they may not have to rush Bigby back.
Keep an eye on the status of veteran CB Al Harris this week. It seems he is the most ready to be activated to the roster from the PUP list.
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