Matt LaFleur determined to start Aaron Rodgers vs. Lions; David Bakhtiari could make season debut
GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur is not backing down from his vow to play all his starters against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Not only that, rookie center Josh Myers will come off the injured reserve list and play and tackle David Bakhtiari will join him if LaFleur and the medical staff feel good about the way he handled two days of practice this week.
LaFleur said it’s unlikely he would change his mind about starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, even though the Packers have nothing to gain in the standings against the 2-13-1 Lions. They have already clinched home-field advantage and a bye in the playoffs.
Asked about the risk of playing a quarterback who is still feeling the effects of a broken left pinky toe and probably doesn’t need to do anything to enhance his chances of winning a fourth most valuable player award, LaFleur said it was not something he took lightly.
If Rodgers were to get hurt and miss the playoffs, it would go down as one of the worst decisions in NFL history.
“I mean, that's all we've been kind of thinking about and talking about is just making sure that we protect him to the best of our ability and call plays, hopefully, that don't put him in jeopardy,” LaFleur said. “Obviously, there's risk every time you step out on the field, whether it's a game field or whether it's the practice field, and everything you do.
“So, we just want to make sure we're smart. But I can’t think of anything that would take him off the field right now – unless he came to me with some concerns.”
The list of players who won’t play includes cornerback Jaire Alexander, receiver Randall Cobb, returner David Moore and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith.
Cobb, who is on injured reserve following core muscle surgery, practiced all week and looked good, but LaFleur said it would be best for him to take another two weeks to continue to recover. Alexander was activated off the COVID-19 list and practiced Friday for the first time this week, but LaFleur said he didn’t feel like it was a good idea for him to make his return with just one day of practice.
“Just with the circumstances right now, I just talked to him, and I think it's in everybody's best interest to give him two more weeks to amp that up and and let him go in the playoffs,” LaFleur said.
Moore, who made his debut last week on punt returns but was added to the COVID-19 list Monday, will not be available and rookie Amari Rodgers will return to that duty, LaFleur said.
Smith remains on injured reserve because of back surgery he had three months ago and has not been classified “designated to return,” which allows the player a three-week window to practice before a roster decision must be made.
LaFleur said he was excited to get back Myers, the team’s second-round pick who started the first six games before suffering a knee injury at Chicago. Myers just returned to practice this week, but LaFleur wants to see where he’s at and whether to continue with Lucas Patrick or go back to Myers.
“The majority of jobs aren’t guaranteed,” LaFleur said. “We’re always trying to put the best combination of guys out there, especially when you’re talking the offensive line.
“I think Lucas has done more than we could ever imagine. I think he’s playing at a really high level. So, that is definitely within the conversation of just trying to get the best five out there that gives us the best chance to win.”
As for the way he has approached this week, LaFleur said his intention is to go into Detroit and win. Though he acknowledged some starters would be subbed for as the game goes on, he said it won’t be as many as people think because there are limitations with a 48-man game day roster.
“Just from our standpoint, it's important to keep the momentum going,” he said. “Every time we step out on that field, whether it is a preseason game or in your eyes, a non- meaningful game, our guys go out there with that mentality that we want to win.
“And we're going to do everything in our power to win. And we're going to compete at the highest level. And I think that's just kind of the standards and expectations that we have for everybody on our football team and our coaches included.”
Opponents for 2022 almost set
The Packers know 13 of the 14 opponents they will face and where they will play them during the 2022 season.
Aside from home-and-away games with their three division foes – Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago – the Packers are matched up with the NFC East and AFC East, meaning they’ll play each team in those divisions once. Since they have clinched first place in the NFC North, they will be matched with the first-place teams in the NFC South and NFC West.
In addition, as part of the 17th-game intraconference rotation, they will play the first-place team in the AFC South (Tennessee) at home.
The only division at play in determining the Packers’ schedule is the NFC West, where either the Los Angeles Rams (12-4) or Arizona Cardinals (11-5) will finish first depending on the weekend’s outcomes.
Here is the lineup of teams the Packers will play in ’22:
Home: New England, New York Jets, Dallas, New York Giants, Tennessee, Los Angeles Rams/Arizona Cardinals, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota.
Away: Buffalo, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota.
The Packers listed running back Aaron Jones (knee) and inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (elbow) as questionable after both were limited in practice.
Bakhtiari, who was a full participant, was also listed as questionable.
Defensive end Kingsley Keke (illness) was declared out.
The Lions listed quarterback Jared Goff (knee) as questionable, but he is expected to start after missing two games.