The Packers' injury list has grown over the last week on defense. But with Whitney Mercilus on board and other players, they have options.
GREEN BAY - Facing a short turnaround due to a Thursday night game at Arizona next week, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur may be making some tough decisions this weekend.
Three players — safety Darnell Savage (concussion), outside linebacker Preston Smith (oblique) and cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) — have been listed as questionable for the Washington game Sunday.
LaFleur said he wanted to give the three as much time as possible to prove that they are ready to play.
It’s possible LaFleur has already decided he won’t play any of the three so that they have a few more days to prepare for a showdown with the undefeated Cardinals. The Packers were able to handle the Chicago Bears with all three of those players out for a good portion of the game.
If Savage, who is still in the concussion protocol, can’t play, Henry Black would replace him. Black played 37 of 61 defensive snaps against the Bears and acquitted himself nicely with four solo tackles. If King doesn’t play, Rasul Douglas would likely get the call after playing solidly in his 52 snaps.
Recently signed outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus would be able to take some of Smith’s snaps along with Jonathan Garvin and La’Darius Hamilton if the Packers hold him out. Smith has never missed a game in his six-plus years in the NFL and teammate Rashan Gary said Smith was doing everything he could to play against his former teammates.
Red zone remains a trouble spot for the Packers defense
Until the Packers' defense stops someone in the red zone, their high rankings in other categories are going to be dismissed.
Joe Barry’s unit has allowed 15 touchdowns on 15 attempts inside the 20-yard line this season and a number of the plays have featured broken coverages or miscommunications. The Packers rank fifth in yards allowed per game (315) and are 12th in rushing yards allowed per game (108.5), but it’s hard to get over those red-zone numbers.
LaFleur said recently they have made changes to the approach inside the 20, but they still blew a coverage against Chicago on Darnell Mooney’s 11-yard touchdown.
Barry isn’t focused on those mistakes as much as he is the penalties that keep giving teams additional chances to score.
“I'm almost positive we're in the top five in not giving up penalties defensively, but a huge number of the penalties (six) we have had defensively have happened in the red zone,” Barry said. “When you shoot yourself in the foot down there and you give NFL offenses a new set of downs, you're really behind the eight ball.
“So, we're going to stay after it and keep working it.”
Lucas Patrick ready wherever he's needed
Every week, offensive lineman Lucas Patrick prepares to back up three different positions on the offensive line — center and right and left guard.
Last week against Chicago, he was thrust into the game at center when Josh Myers suffered a knee injury and wound up grading the highest of any lineman, according to LaFleur. He earned that grade despite not seeing any time with the first team in practice.
However, he does get snaps at center with the scout team and that pits him against nose tackle Kenny Clark.
“I'm very blessed to have a nose tackle like Kenny Clark on our team because there's no better way to learn than going against him,” Patrick said. “Working through him, working with him Wednesdays and Thursdays, that I feel prepares me because in my opinion, Kenny's in the top echelon of nose tackles in this league.
“So, that's definitely an added benefit."
Rasul Douglas describes Justin Fields dilemma
As Justin Fields ran directly at him one minute before halftime Sunday, Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas found himself in an almost impossible situation.
It was first-and-10 from the Packers’ 35-yard line, and already there was a penalty flag on the ground for a Bears holding call. Douglas did not see the penalty flag. He did see Fields, one of the NFL’s most athletic quarterbacks, sprinting for him in the open field.
Douglas admitted he didn’t know what to do.
“He’s running at me,” Douglas said. “So I’m like, ‘He’s a running quarterback. Does he try to make me miss or get the rest of the yards and slide?’ So I don’t know. I didn’t know how to attack it.”
Douglas guessed wrong, hitting Fields as he slid to give himself up on the play. The collision warranted a 15-yard penalty.
“I kind of felt like he gave me a little shoulder (fake),” Douglas said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, he’s about to try to make a move.’ As soon as I kind of went, he slid.”
As Fields got up from the field, Douglas said he pulled the quarterback aside. He explained his perspective, that he didn’t know if Fields would slide or not, ensuring he did not intend a dirty hit.
He said Fields understood.
“He was like, ‘Nah, I kind of (slid) a little late,’” Douglas said. “So we kind of chopped it up and just talked about it, because I was like, ‘I wouldn’t want to do that on a quarterback slide.’ But I’m like, ‘You’re a running quarterback. So I didn’t know how you was going to do it.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I tried to get another yard and then slide.’ So we talked it out.”
Douglas said he was not fined for the hit. Defensive lineman Dean Lowry sacked Fields before halftime, knocking the Bears out of field-goal range to prevent any points. Still, Douglas said, the play served as an important lesson.
In the fourth quarter, Fields took off again toward Douglas. Douglas stood on the sideline while Fields, near the end of a 16-yard scramble, approached. Instead of loading up to hit, Douglas angled Fields toward the sideline, allowing him to run out of bounds.
“I’m like, ‘Should I hit him now? Or should I (not)?’” Douglas said. “So because of the first call, I kind of eased up, and I just kind of pushed him out of bounds instead of giving him a hit. Because I didn’t want to get back into the same call that was happening last time. So it kind of messes you up, because certain quarterbacks you know are going to slide. So you know when you get close, ‘All right, he’s going to slide. He’s going to slide.’ And then you’ve got some quarterbacks who are like, ‘Depends.’
“You’ve got Lamar (Jackson), he might give you a move and go. You’ve got Justin Fields, he might give you a move and go. I wouldn’t know how to do it to judge it. You’ve just got to keep going until you can’t, and then if you can kind of hold yourself up ... Because what if I go up there, and then I go to tense up, and he gives me a move to keep going? Then it’s like, ‘You should’ve hit him.’”