Packers center Corey Linsley hopes bye week helps ease back problem

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GREEN BAY - As he watched kicker Mason Crosby knock home the game-winning field goal Sunday, Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley knew he had caught a big break.

Because of the 23-20 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, the Packers earned a first-round bye in the playoffs, giving Linsley some extra time to come back from a back injury that has plagued him since the end of October and knocked him out early Sunday.

“It’s kind of a chronic thing,” Linsley said. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s kind of the cup overflow-eth. Everybody in this locker room has something. If you’re not, you’re frickin’ blessed. It’s just something I’ve got to take care of, and I’m working my butt off to get back.

“I’m thankful for the bye.”

Linsley was a limited participant in two practices last week but practiced in full Friday and appeared ready to go against the Lions. But before long his back started flaring up and then got to a place where he had to pull himself out of the game.

“It just kind of went from bad to worse and locked up,” Linsley said.

The good news, he said, is that there is no sign of any structural damage such as a herniated disk. The bad news is that the doctors and physical therapists haven’t figured out exactly how to treat it and are working through a plan to get him back on the field.

Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley (63) doesn't seem to be a fan of the rain before the game against Washington Sunday, September 23, 2018 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

Given his veteran status, he wouldn’t need a lot of practice time to get ready for the divisional playoff game Jan. 12, so he could take all of this week and most of next week to just do rehab.

“It’s something just kind of weird,” he said. “Our training staff, I’ve been working on it for a while. It’s kind of some problems that have presented themselves and I just have to work hard. (We) have had some great talks and we’ve got a plan set up and now it’s about following that plan and getting back.”

Linsley wasn’t the only offensive lineman to sustain an injury against the Lions. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga left after suffering a head injury and right guard Billy Turner played hobbled after injuring an ankle.

Recently acquired veteran Jared Veldheer took over for Bulaga and backup Lucas Patrick filled in for Linsley, but if Turner had gone out there were no more linemen active. Coach Matt LaFleur might have had to use tight end Marcedes Lewis at tackle.

“They’re true pros,” LaFleur said of Veldheer and Patrick. “They stepped in. I didn’t think we missed a beat.

“Billy Turner was battling through an ankle issue in that game and, shoot, when you’re already down your two subs on the offensive line, for him to stay in there and be available when he wasn’t 100%, I thought that was big-time.”

Backs set to return

The bye will come in handy for running back Jamaal Williams (shoulder) and fullback Danny Vitale (knee), both of whom sat out Sunday.

“We get another week, (it) gives me enough time to make sure I’m fully healed and ready to go,” Williams said, “If we had to play this week, I would have played.”

Vitale has played through some knee pain since the beginning of November and sitting out the finale plus having two weeks to get ready for the playoffs should allow him to be in much better shape.

Rodgers, receivers lacking chemistry

A sleepy first half and overall pedestrian aerial performance by the Packers in Detroit capped a final four-game stretch of the regular season in which Aaron Rodgers completed just 55.8% of his throws (87-for-156) with four touchdowns and two interceptions for a 76.8 rating. He also averaged just 6.01 yards per attempt.

After the Packers’ 37-8 loss at San Francisco, Rodgers primed himself for a December run by saying Nov. 27 that “I’ve got to take the lead and get hot in December here and we’ve got to start finding ways to get the ball to our guys all the time. And then the defense has to do their part and special teams has to play well. If we do those things, I like the talent of our football team, I like the spirit and chemistry, and I think we’ve got a chance to be in the mix.”

December started that way for Rodgers, as he went 21-for-33 for 243 yards and four touchdowns in a victory at the New York Giants. But over the ensuing four victories, the defense, special teams and rushing attack have been solid while the air has come out of the passing game.

When asked Monday if Rodgers’ season-ending numbers were concerning, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said, “We’ve just been off on a lot of plays. Whether it’s the guy dropping the ball or maybe the ball is just a tad off. But … he can’t do it himself. He’s got to have ... the play around him has gotta be better. The guys that have opportunities, they’ve got to make plays."

In terms of dropped passes specifically – which is a subjective counting stat – STATS, Inc. counted the Packers as having finished the regular season tied for 20th in the NFL in team drops with 15.

Individually, STATS counted Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison as tied for the team lead in drops with three each. counted 24 drops for the team, which is 22nd in the NFL.

Per, the team was led by Adams with seven drops and then Allison with five, followed by Marquez Valdes-Scantling (3) and then Allen Lazard, Aaron Jones and Jimmy Graham (each with 2).

Drops are just a part of the struggles, however, as over the weeks LaFleur has cited miscommunications on routes by pass catchers that have led to incompletions. And on Sunday Rodgers couldn’t put a finger on why he was overthrowing receivers, other than to say some timing was off.

But, the head coach felt that if any one particular pass play syncs up, it could create a snowball effect for others down the line.

“Yeah, absolutely,” LaFleur said. “I think there is a lot to that. We wanted to come out aggressively (against Detroit) and we stayed pretty aggressive throughout the course of the game. And unfortunately, in talking from an offensive perspective, we were just a hair off on a lot of plays. You make a couple of those plays, you don’t have some of those drops and it kind of gets you going. And we never really got into a rhythm.”

Happy New Year

After playing two physical division games six days apart, LaFleur decided he would give the players a couple of days off early in the bye week.

However, he is having them come in Thursday and Friday for practices. He said he could have given the players a four-day weekend, but he did want them off their feet and felt it made sense to let them have the New Year's holiday off.

When they come back, he said the focus this week will be on improving themselves and not preparing for one of the three opponents they might face in the divisional round. He said the coaches would be doing a self-scout to see what needed to be worked on most.

“It’s going to be quick,” LaFleur said. “It’s not going to be too long. I just think it’s important we get some work in this week and then we’ll have another bonus day on Monday as well.”

Roster addition coming

LaFleur said general manager Brian Gutekunst would fill the open spot on the roster created when cornerback Tony Brown was released Saturday.

He did not say who would be added, however.

Safety Raven Greene, who is on injured reserve, is a candidate. However, he hasn’t practiced since injuring his ankle Week 2 and it’s possible someone could be signed from the practice squad. One candidate is outside linebacker Greg Roberts, who has been on the physically unable to perform list but began practicing two weeks ago.

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