GREEN BAY - The Detroit Lions were supposed to be the ones hurting the most on defense Sunday at Lambeau Field, but it appears the Green Bay Packers will be much worse off.
They will be without outside linebacker Clay Matthews (ankle/hamstring) and safety Morgan Burnett (groin), both of whom were declared out after the Packers completed their final practice of the week Saturday morning.
In addition, nose tackle Letroy Guion (knee) and outside linebacker Datone Jones (knee) have been downgraded from questionable to doubtful, meaning their chance of playing against the Lions is slim.
That means the Packers will be without five starters on defense — including cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) — all of whom have big roles in all aspects of coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme. Each one plays both in the base defense and in the sub packages.
Matthews will be missing his first game since 2013, when he missed five games due to a broken thumb. Burnett missed five games last year with a calf injury and a good portion of training camp with a back injury.
Micah Hyde will play in place of Burnett, and Chris Banjo will be added in the dime.
Capers doesn’t have many options for replacing Matthews. Normally he would be able to slide Jones into Matthews’ spot and rotate Julius Peppers and rookie Kyler Fackrell in. But with Jones likely out, Peppers, who mostly has been playing on third downs, probably will have to start and Fackrell will have to log a considerable amount of snaps both in relief of Peppers and in sub packages when Peppers often moves to defensive tackle.
One variable is the return of outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott from a hamstring injury. How much the Packers will be willing to play him there given his importance to special teams isn’t known. Elliott may have to save his energy for special teams until he’s back in football shape.
First-round pick Kenny Clark probably will start for Guion, who was off to a fast start with three tackles for loss before injuring his MCL in the first quarter of the Vikings game last Sunday. Guion was hoping to be able to play with a brace on his left knee, but it appears that won’t be possible.
Jones was starting at defensive end in the base defense, but now Capers will either have to go with Peppers there or play Christian Ringo at nose tackle and move Clark to defensive end. Also, rookie Brian Price, added to the 53-man roster this week, will have to play significant snaps.
In the meantime, the Lions are going to be shorthanded on defense as well. In addition to defensive end Ziggy Ansah being ruled out on Friday, the Lions downgraded cornerback Adairius Barnes (ankle), linebacker DeAndre Levy (quad) and linebacker Antwoine Williams (hamstring) to out.