GREEN BAY - Perhaps the most often-used cliché in NFL locker rooms is “control what you can control.”
There is truth to it, of course. A player cannot control his play time, so why worry about it? He cannot control how long his body takes to recover from an injury, so why forecast a timeline? A coach — try as he might — cannot control which players are available to him and when, so why get bogged down in such a detail?
“That’s never an excuse and it’s just more or less, we’ve got to be ready to adjust if who we think is going to be out there is not out there and reformation some things and make some slight adjustments,” Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “But that’s life in the National Football League. That happens every week when you go out on the field, if somebody goes down and somebody has to go in. So, that’s our job.”
And as the Packers tighten the screws on their game plan for the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, there are plenty of “uncontrollable” variables LaFleur must work around. His top three wide receivers are injured and have not practiced. Nor has one of his top three tight ends. Another tight end practiced once on an injured ankle. A new receiver was added to the team midweek and Jake Kumerow, Allen Lazard and Darrius Shepherd have a combined 18 career receptions.
“That is a challenge when you’re not quite sure if a guy is going to be available, because, again, we always talk about it in here, you’re trying to get guys in the right spot to accentuate your strengths,” LaFleur said. “When you’re unsure, it does present a little bit of a problem. It is what it is, and you’ve got to just make the best — your best guess — as to if a guy is going to be available.”
So, LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are controlling what they can, which is attitude and their knowledge of these players to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers some aerial options Sunday.
“I feel great,” Hackett said. “It's kind of like the stuff that we talked about last week (when Davante Adams was out). It gives people an opportunity to step up and compete. You get to find how guys operate out on the field. It's great for guys to get practice. You always want competition, so the better other guys can get around people, the better others will get. There's always something good you can find in any situation.
“I like to feel that way. There's so many things we can't control in this game. You just gotta keep your head down and keep working and find a way and treat it as a challenge. When you grow through this business, you can't get too excited, you can't get too low.”
That last thought was repeated almost verbatim by Lazard at one point earlier in the week and it’s a constant mental challenge for the players in the locker room.
“It’s football. Football is a violent sport. You expect injuries,” Packers safety Adrian Amos said. “The other day I was like, ‘I wish you could turn injuries off like on Madden.’ But you can’t. It’s a part of football. Just like you personally, you can’t go out playing scared you’ll get hurt, or you’ll get hurt. When things happen, it just happens. You gotta go with it.”
Another thing the Packers can’t control is what happens to others across the league that will, invariably, affect them in some fashion.
On Thursday night, the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player dislocated his kneecap 10 days before the Packers travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. Yes, head coach Andy Reid will have some extra time to get backup Matt Moore and the offense ready for the Packers, but not having Patrick Mahomes on the field changes the calculus of that game considerably.
Then in two weeks, the Packers travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers, a team that was 12-4 last year behind a top-10 ranked defense and the league’s No. 8 scoring offense. This year, the Chargers have slid to 2-4. While the defense remains a top-10 unit, the offense has dropped to No. 14 overall and No. 21 in scoring. And in Carolina, former league MVP Cam Newton remains out with a foot injury — and though the quarterback could return by the Panthers’ Nov. 10 trip to Lambeau Field, it’s hard to project what that group may look like.
“That’s just like college football when they have preseason strength of schedule but when you get down to the end of the year and that team that was ranked No. 2 preseason is No. 50 by the end of the year,” Amos said. “I think it’s even more so in the NFL because everybody’s good. It’s a matter of how that team comes together that year. Then with injuries, who’s going down and is that team built to sustain with that one person going down and stuff like that.
“It’s a cliché, but it’s literally that — you only can control what you can control and you’ve got to take each week with the same mindset but be able to adjust to whoever you’re playing."