Packers coach Mike McCarthy made it clear this past week he has no qualms about taking only four defensive linemen into today’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
From the looks of it, however, that won’t be necessary as defensive lineman Mike Neal is probable to play after spraining his ankle during last Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.
While Neal’s presence ensures the Packers won’t be shorthanded, they will be without rookie Jerel Worthy, who’s been ruled out for today’s game after sustaining a concussion against the Jaguars.
The Packers still have five defensive linemen to throw at a battered Cardinals’ offensive line, but Worthy’s injury leaves a void. A 6-foot-2, 308-pound rookie out of Michigan State, Worthy has eaten more defensive snaps (333) than any other Packers’ defensive lineman this season.
Prior to his concussion, Worthy had played at least 46 snaps on defense in each of the previous three games. With defensive tackle B.J. Raji and Neal both working their way back from ankle injuries that means rookie Mike Daniels should see a heavier workload against the Cardinals.
A 6-foot, 294-pound defensive tackle out of Iowa, Daniels has been inactive on two occasions this year and played more than 20 snaps on only once, but the Packers are confident he can help ease the load without Worthy.
“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt,” said defensive line coach Mike Trgovac on if Daniels is ready to assume a bigger role. “There’s been about three or four times where even on the limited snaps he’s had where he’s beat his guy and the ball’s just out. It’s the kind of things don’t show up on stats or TV. He’s done a good job of beating some guys.”
Neal, who’s exited the two games with injuries, didn’t practice on Wednesday before returning in limited capacity on both Thursday and Friday as planned.
McCarthy said Friday Neal responded well to treatment and believes he should be ready to contribute, especially in the defensive sub-packages where Worthy saw most of his action.
“I applaud him for – he got pretty bent up on that play,” said Trgovac of Neal. “The guy cut back and the whole pile kind of fell on him. He’s really fought back this week. He actually came back in the game and you could see he was hurting and he was trying to fight through it, but sometimes bad luck happens to a guy.”
The Packers are also being mindful of defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who played 54 snaps in last week’s win over Jacksonville despite missing the better part of three games with his own ankle sprain.
It was more than defensive coordinator Dom Capers and the coaching staff would’ve liked, but they felt Raji responded well to the snaps, which were three short of his season-high against New Orleans.
Arizona and Green Bay rank first and second, respectively, in sacks allowed this season, but the Cardinals’ makeshift line has still afforded 11 more sacks than the Packers.
Although the Packers’ defensive line isn’t 100 percent, the unit will be asked help generate opportunities for outside linebacker Clay Matthews and the rest of a pass-rush defense that’s currently tied with Arizona for the league lead in sacks (26).
“When you think about not having Mike Neal for the first four games (due to suspension), then all of a sudden B.J. was out with his ankle, now it’s Jerel with the concussion,” said Capers of the defensive group.
“Mike Neal’s had to come out of a couple games with an ankle and has been limited this week. You can get short in a hurry. You just have to factor that in in terms of what you’re going to do and how much four-down-linemen you’re going to play.”
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