Sam Shields has been out since the Packers’ opener with a concussion. Their first- and second-round cornerbacks from the 2015 draft, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, have groin injuries (Randall’s being suffered in the second quarter Sunday with Rollins in street clothes). That left Dom Capers with undrafted free agents Ladarius Gunter and Josh Hawkins exposed, even without Dez Bryant on the field.
That’s the main concern for Green Bay’s 10th-ranked defense (21st against the pass) heading towards Thursday night. Alshon? You want some targets?
Morgan Burnett slid over to help from his safety position, too, while Micah Hyde replaced him alongside HaHa Clinton-Dix. When the regulars are together, it’s one of the league’s top safety tandems, while paining Bears fans for passing up Clinton-Dix at a still-unstable position in favor of Kyle Fuller.
One area that’s widely paid off the last two years (again) in Green Bay are fourth-round investments in inside linebackers. Clay Matthews (three sacks thus far) needed to be freed up to return to the outside to wreak havoc with 36-year-old ex-Bear Julius Peppers (2.5 sacks). And wouldn’t you know it, Jake Ryan leads this defense in tackles and tackles-for-loss, while rookie Blake Martinez is second in that category, “just” producing, like he did at Stanford despite the “too slow” rap. Peppers actually rotates in because the light finally seems to be going on for 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry. He had 3.5 sacks in the Pack’s two playoff games last January, and leads them so far this season with 4.5. In a contract year. Third-round rookie Kyler Fackrell is also getting on the field regularly.
Yes, Bears. Depth is good.
Speaking of getting paid, lineman Mike Daniels was rewarded $42 million over four years last December, thanks to ever-increasing production as opponents have underestimated him based on his unique frame (6-foot, 291 pounds). But he wreaks havoc with leverage and bull-rushing, joining forces in the trenches with 6-4, 322 Letroy Guion. Mike Pennel returned from his four-game PED suspension against the Cowboys, but look who’s holding down a starting job at defensive end – Dean Lowry. The Pack plucked the 6-6 Northwestern product in the fifth round, and relegated first-rounder Kenny Clark to backup duty. Clark’s just 20 years old, but was thought to fill a need after the surprising retirement of B.J. Raji.
The Packers were leading the NFL in rush defense by a huge margin (42.9 per game, 1.99 per attempt). They met their match Sunday in both the Cowboys’ elite offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott shredding them even more (28 carries, 157 yards) than he shred the Bears in Week 3 (30-140). As a result, the Pack dropped to third in that category (72.4 yards per game).
The Packers have turned to a couple of backup wideout burners from the past two drafts in their return game, Ty Montgomery (24.5-yard average on kickoffs) and Trevor Davis (9.7 on punts). Green Bay’s kickoff coverage team ranks 31st (allowing 27.9 per return). Kicker Mason Crosby’s struggles from a few years ago are now dep in the past. He’s gone 10-of-10 on field goals this season and 94-of-108 dating to the start of 2013. Veteran punter Tim Masthay was replaced by Jacob Schum, who ranks 32nd (40.8), three spots ahead of Pat O’Donnell.
Programming note: Because of a 7:25 p.m. kickoff Thursday, “Bears Pregame Live” with Jim Miller, Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Chris will air from 6-7 p.m. on CSN.