Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mounting Packers Injuries Show Importance of Depth, Other Things

Thursday was an ugly night for the Green Bay Packers, in more ways than one. A 21-13 loss is relatively inconsequential at this stage in the game. Doesn't matter. The way Green Bay got there, though, wasn't good, and neither has been the start of camp in terms of the team's health.

The Packers turned the ball over like crazy in San Diego, with reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers fumbling and throwing an interception in his short turn under center. If that wasn't enough, they lost starting middle linebacker Desmond Bishop in the first quarter, and it could be a season-ender.

Bishop, the Green Bay Packers’ leading tackler last season and one of its heart-and-soul players from his inside linebacker position, had had his right leg bent awkwardly beneath him while trying to tackle Chargers running back Ronnie Brown, and while it appeared the initial concern should be for Bishop’s knee, it was actually his hamstring that worried McKenzie.

And when McKenzie examined Bishop’s hamstring upon returning to Green Bay, his worst fears were realized: A tear that could very well end Bishop’s 2012 season before it starts.

“Unfortunately, the hamstring injury was what we feared,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said matter-of-factly after practice Saturday night. “Surgery is imminent, and Desmond’s season is in jeopardy. Once we have the surgery, we’ll have a better idea on his status for this season.”

Bishop also suffered a knee sprain on the play, “but the hamstring is what’s going to keep him out,” McCarthy said.

The Bishop loss would be a tough one, as it could be argued he's the Packers' best linebacker, even ahead of that Clay Matthews chap. Bishop is a run-stuffer who can also get things done in pass coverage, and he's developed into a leader on the defensive side of the ball.

The Packers don't have a ton of depth at the position, with DJ Smith likely taking over for Bishop. The dropoff in ability is cavernous, and it makes me wonder if Ted Thompson isn't done signing veterans during camp.

Wait. Isn't done? Thompson signed a veteran during training camp?

After taking heat a couple different times over his team not being blessed with much depth at running back, Thompson reacted quickly to news that James Starks would be "week to week" with turf toe. Sunday, the Packers announced a one-year, no-risk deal with running back Cedric Benson.

Benson, who turns 30 in December, spent the last four seasons in Cincinnati, registering 1,000-yard seasons each of the past three years. His best season for the Bengals was in 2009, when in 13 games he rushed for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns on 301 carries (4.2-yard average). 

That should solve the problem at running back. Once Starks returns, the Packers will be no worse off than they were when they had Starks with Ryan Grant. In fact, they might be better off, depending on what kind of shape Benson is in, and how motivated he is after three straight 1,000-yard seasons left him with no suitors once his Bengals deal was up last spring.

The offensive line is banged up, with journeyman turnstile Herb Taylor starting at left tackle in Thursday's loss. The position hasn't been addressed yet, but still might be before camp is over.

This early on, having so many guys banged up is not a good thing. It challenges a team's depth in ways that it really shouldn't be challenged this early in the season.

More than that, this should make abundantly clear the need for some good fortune -- ol' fashioned luck -- in the journey toward an NFL championship.

No one can predict when an injury is going to happen. Something like what felled Bishop on Thursday could happen to any defensive player at any time. Hell, it could happen to an offensive player, too. There is nothing that could be done to prevent it, outside of throwing the player in a bubble until the games count.

Sure, the Packers won Super Bowl XLV in a season where they seemed to have enough guys hurt to fill a separate starting lineup (it was only 15 guys on IR, with two more serious injuries suffered during the Super Bowl). But it's not a recipe for success.

If the Packers of 2012 are to have a shot at a second title in three years, they'd better hope for improved fortune in the injury department. Otherwise, the door might be more open in the NFC North than anyone thinks it is right now.

That would be good news for the Bears, Lions, and even Vikings, but not so much for the Cheeseheads.

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