Dougherty: Patchwork Packers can feel good about 3-1 start

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Glennon (8) forcing him to fumble the ball in the first quarter Thursday, September 28, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Green Bay recovered the ball. Matthews set the franchise record for sacks on this play.

All things considered, the Green Bay Packers have to feel fine about the first quarter of their 2017 season.

The injuries are piling up at an alarming rate, but if you’d asked them before the opener whether they'd take a 3-1 record heading into their mini-bye, the answer would have been yes.

That’s exactly where they are after pounding the Chicago Bears 35-14 Thursday night in their lightning-delayed 195th match-up with their arch-rival.

As bad as the injuries have been recently — it’s starting to seem like another Packers player is being helped off the field or trudging to the locker room about every three plays — coach Mike McCarthy’s team is beating teams it has to beat at home (Cincinnati last week, Chicago on Thursday), regardless of circumstance. And circumstances included playing Thursday night without their top four tackles (David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga with shorter-term injuries, Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy on injured reserve).

The biggest thing is that as battered as the Packers are right now, they haven’t lost any key players to season-ending or long-term injuries. That’s how teams can get derailed. They also now get an extra weekend of R&R to get Bakhtiari (hamstring), Bulaga (ankle) and their best defensive player, Mike Daniels (hip), close to full health.

That’s three important starters who have played a collective four games so far (really, barely more than three because Daniels was hurt in the first quarter at Atlanta). I’d put Bakhtiari and Daniels in the team’s top five most important players, and Bulaga possibly in the top 10.

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Going 3-1 under those circumstances against an early schedule that included Seattle and Atlanta is what the Packers had to do if they want to be in the running for the best record in the NFC come December. And getting Bakhtiari, Bulaga and Daniels back for the Packers’ game next week at Dallas would be big heading into the season’s second quarter. Their return might not be a given, but you have to think that was part of the plan for sitting those guys Thursday night.

The Packers couldn’t have scripted Thursday night much better than it turned out. They got up early, stopped the run and let Bears quarterback Mike Glennon self-destruct (two interceptions, two lost fumbles) while playing from behind. It can’t be long now until first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky is the Bears’ quarterback, can it?

The difference between Glennon and Aaron Rodgers was staggering, even greater than their ratings Thursday night (Rodgers 128, Glennon 67.2) suggest.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers dropped his nitro defense for most of this game and instead sold out to stop the Bears’ run with his standard base 3-4, which he hardly uses anymore. It worked.

Last week, this Bears team beat the Pittsburgh Steelers because running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for 218 yards rushing. The two had only 77 yards Thursday night, and you can’t blame that solely on falling behind early. Their 3.2-yard average per carry pretty well reflected the trouble they had running even while this was a competitive game.

Yet, Glennon couldn’t make Capers pay for daring him to throw. Hard to see how Bears coach John Fox can abide this much longer, no matter how much he prefers Trubisky to learn while holding a clipboard.

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Meanwhile, the Packers’ jerry-rigged offensive line held up well enough with the help of a lot of quick throws in the game plan to keep Rodgers from getting battered with all the team’s tackles injured. Lane Taylor, bumped out from left guard, isn’t a left tackle, but he played one Thursday night and didn’t stand out as a problem. That’s no back-handed compliment. Playing without their top four tackles had disaster potential.

And finally, with Ty Montgomery (ribs) and Jamaal Williams (knee) knocked out of this game, the Packers got a look at fifth-round pick Aaron Jones at running back. He showed some wiggle (16 carries, 49 yards) that might add a change-of-pace to the running game that this team had lacked the first three games.

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So now the Packers can recuperate over the weekend knowing that at worst they’ll be tied for the lead in the NFC North with either Minnesota or Detroit, assuming those teams don’t tie in their head-to-head match at U.S. Bank Stadium.

That’s a first quarter of the season they can live with, especially with some time off to get some key guys back.


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