Packers catch a break with injuries; Matt LaFleur displeased with offense

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers appear to have caught a break with two injuries they suffered in their 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.

Inside linebacker Krys Barnes, who was knocked out of the game with an eye injury and did not return, was doing much better Sunday, coach Matt LaFleur said, and shouldn’t miss any time.

In addition, a source said that the thigh injury running back Jamaal Williams suffered in the first half wasn’t serious and there’s a chance he will be available when the Packers play the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night.

The Barnes injury would have presented a problem were it to sideline him this week because he has been playing as well as anyone on the unit since his return from COVID-19. He made the play of the game against the Panthers when he swatted the ball out of Teddy Bridgewater’s hands as the Panthers quarterback attempted to dive into the end zone on a sneak.

According to LaFleur, Barnes apparently got poked in the eye and was suffering vision problems in the third quarter. He came out of the locker room in the fourth quarter with his helmet, but he was not allowed to return to the game.

Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Krys Barnes (51) against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, December 19, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

“There was a little bit of vision problems,” LaFleur said. “But yeah, he's fine. So, I don't know if it was from getting poked in the eye or what, but yeah, it was a bad deal because he was playing some really good football for us.”

The rookie had six tackles, including one for loss, and a forced fumble in just 31 snaps playing in both base and sub packages.

“I just think his instincts and intelligence, he does such a great job of communicating and everything that needs to go on out there,” LaFleur said. “I think he sees plays very, very quickly, is able to process and diagnose, and there's no hesitation in his game.

“Once he sees it, he goes, and I think that's what was evident on the QB sneak. You know, he heard the quarterback's audible and he played the play and was able to make a hell of a play, the play of the game.”

The Packers will need Barnes against the Titans and their powerful running back, Derrick Henry, who maintained his NFL rushing lead Sunday with 147 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in a 46-25 victory over the Detroit Lions. Henry, an MVP candidate, has 1,532 yards and 14 touchdowns heading into the final two weeks of the season.

LaFleur did not address Williams’ injury, but both he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he would have been a part of the offense had he not gotten hurt in the second quarter. LaFleur lamented that he didn’t run it more in the second half after Aaron Jones rushed 12 times for 114 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

“I thought Aaron Jones was running really, really hard, but, Jamal, when he was in there, ran really hard,” he said. “AJ Dillon on his (18-yard) carry, if we get a block in the secondary, that's a touchdown.

“So, there was a lot of good that came out of that (the running game).”

Impatient run game

Aaron Jones' massive first half Saturday night against the Panthers was no fluke.

With Packers receiver Davante Adams on the hottest streak in the NFL, scoring a touchdown in eight straight games with five 100-yard games in that stretch, the Panthers routinely dropped eight defenders into coverage. It opened massive running lanes for Jones, who responded with more than 100 rushing yards in the first half.

"If you're dropping eight," LaFleur said, "and you're trying to throw the football, it's going to be tough."

The Panthers continued to drop into coverage during the second half, but the Packers couldn't take advantage with their run game. Of the 22 plays in the second half not including the victory formation, 10 were passes and 12 were runs. Considering the coverage and scoreboard, it's not quite the ratio LaFleur wanted.

"Some of those," LaFleur said, "we weren't necessarily having to throw those run alerts. But if I'm looking at it critically, there's so many more opportunities to continue to run the football. We've just got to be disciplined and be patient and take what the defense was giving us. Our ground game was very, very, very effective. I thought Aaron Jones was running really, really hard."

"Sometimes you've got to lean on the ground game. I wish we would've gone to it a little bit more. We didn't. We've got to learn from it, move on and it's onto the Tennessee Titans."

Praise for defense, special teams

LaFleur didn't hide his displeasure after the Packers' offense was sluggish on its way to a win Saturday night. After scoring three touchdowns on their first three drives, the Packers didn't reach the end zone again.

As the offense's play caller, it left a bitter taste in LaFleur's mouth. But the head coach changed his tune after taking a step back Saturday night, including watching the full replay after the game, and recognizing how his team won despite a lackluster showing from the offense.

"The one thing that I always have to be mindful of," LaFleur said, "is being excited for every win. And sometimes it might take special teams and a defensive effort, and other times it might take a great offensive effort. At the end of the day, it's about finding ways to win football games. And you can never let one area kind of overshadow the other.

"The fact that we were able to come away with a win in that game, you've got to celebrate all wins."