And Vikings week, chapter one (technically, chapter three) has officially begun.
That being the case, there’s quite a bit of news surrounding the Green Bay Packers, a team that’s lost three of four and desperately needs to right the ship.
What better time than now to make a trip back to the question department, right? After all, it’s been awhile since we’ve been here.
- Question: Are we witnessing the decline of Charles Woodson?
Answer: Sadly, maybe. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year just has not been anywhere near as much of a factor as he’s been in previous seasons thus far. Woodson has recorded just one interception, against Detroit, and five passes defended through six games. As always, those numbers only tell part of the story. Woodson, always a physical corner, has been drawing penalties left and right this season, mostly of the “illegal contact” variety. Can’t remember where I read this, but one of the Packers’ beat writers proposed the theory awhile back that Woodson – pushed around by Larry Fitzgerald in the wild card loss – is hellbent on making sure that never happens again. Thus, he’s taken his physicality to another level. If that’s true – and even if it isn’t – he needs to dial things back a notch or twelve. He’s really hurting the defense. More than that, teams are simply not afraid to throw at him this season, something that isn’t going to change until he turns in a clean game and starts making some big plays. He’s been rather good in run support, so he’s still bringing value. But for the defense, wrecked by injuries, to get back to where it was last season, he has to be better. Period.
- Question: Should we be firing up the “Fire McCarthy” bandwagon yet?
Answer: We haven’t quite reached that point yet. It’s mid-season and the Packers are once again underwhelming, so it’s natural that some fans would be calling for Mike Mac’s dismissal. I can’t lie – I’ve thought about it a time or two myself already. He’s certainly given us plenty of reason to think such thoughts, hasn’t he? Unbalanced, arrogant playcalling; a complete inability to win close games; a team that continues to take bad penalties at crucial times (if not for the entire game). The 3-3 record is bad enough, but what’s really damning is that the same problems exist with this team five years into McCarthy’s time at the helm. You can’t help but wonder if a new direction is needed. That said, it’s far too early to be calling for his firing. This was a playoff team last year and, as bad as things have been, a win Sunday night changes everything. Now, with an extremely tough schedule the rest of the way (and injuries mounting), there’s always a chance this team bottoms out. If that happens – say, they finish 7-9 or 8-8 and miss the playoffs – then it would be time to discuss firing him. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Famous last words, probably.
- Question: What can we honestly expect from Al Harris, Atari Bigby, and James Starks?
Answer: To hear McCarthy tell it in his Monday presser, it sounds like all three have rehabbed their injuries as much as possible and are ready to begin practicing. What happens after Wednesday is anyone’s guess. I have a feeling Harris is closer to returning than the other two and will see the field in some capacity Sunday night. He won’t start, but could see considerable time as the nickel back. But for a player of Harris’ age, coming off of that type of injury, it seems unlikely he’ll be able to go every snap in that role. Sam Shields has been decent in that role this season, when healthy, so I’d expect that he and Harris will rotate. Bigby seems further away – they wouldn’t have traded for Anthony Smith, otherwise. Still, it wouldn’t shock me if he played a portion of the game Sunday night. His biggest strength is playing the run, after all, and that Peterson guy is pretty good. It’s important for the Packers to not overuse these two right away. It’s a big game, no question, but it’s more important to get these two ready for the second half. Don’t expect much from Starks. The guy hasn’t played a meaningful snap since early in 2009. It’s going to take at least a couple of weeks for him to shake off the considerable rust he’s accumulated. If he makes any impact, it likely won’t happen until after the bye early next month.
- Question: What should we expect from the newly acquired Smith?
Answer: Don’t expect him to be a savior, but he is an upgrade. Smith – yes, that Smith, the one signed by the Packers before being released late in camp last year – knows this scheme inside and out from his time in Pittsburgh/brief time in Green Bay. If you don’t remember the story of why he was cut, well, it seemed to come down to this: While certainly capable of making big plays, Smith also allegedly freelanced too much for the coaches’ liking. There was also some issue with his apparent reluctance to play special teams. All along, though, it seemed like Ted Thompson sort of new he made a mistake in cutting Smith, so it’s not a shock that he’s back in the fold. I’m guessing he’ll start Sunday night, so here’s to hoping he can be better than Charlie Peprah. It’s hard to imagine he won’t be.
- Question: Where is this team at, health-wise?
Answer: The two key injuries to watch, obviously, are those of Ryan Pickett (ankle) and Clay Matthews (hamstring). McCarthy told reporters Monday that the two may be ready to practice later in the week. The key day, as always, to focus on is Friday. If a player practices Friday, he usually goes Sunday. Matthews’ injury seems less serious than Pickett’s, so my guess is that he’s more likely to go. Good, because this team can not win without him. Doesn’t sound like any update was provided on Mike Neal (shoulder). Neal and Pickett hopefully can go – you need all the big bodies you can get against Peterson. No word on the status of Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Mark Tauscher (shoulder) doesn’t sound likely to play. Donald Driver (thigh) and A.J. Hawk (groin) could miss practice time, but should be fine. Brady Poppinga (knee) is going to have surgery, so he’ll be out awhile, if not the rest of the season. Finally, Jermichael Finley (knee) is officially done for the year. He’ll be placed on injured reserve to make room for Smith. Whew.
- Question: How does Shawn Slocum continue to have a job with this team?
Answer: Your guess is as good as mine. Incriminating photos of Thompson and/or McCarthy, perhaps?