EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Facing the Cleveland Browns last week, the Green Bay Packers were without their left tackle, two wide receivers, and three of the team’s linebackers from the starting lineup Green Bay hoped to field when training camp began.
Of course, Green Bay still beat Cleveland, 31-13. It’s just what the Packers have seemed to do over the years.
No team, perhaps, has been hit by as many key injuries as Green Bay over the years. But few teams have had sustained success like the Packers, who have posted double-digit wins five of the past six seasons.
“I think you have to say good scouting,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the team’s ability to overcome injuries. “Good personnel department and then (coach Mike McCarthy) does a good job implementing his system when guys come in. And we’ve had a good mix of hungry, veteran guys who’ve filled roles and hungry, young guys who’ve stepped up and played well.
“There’s expectations when you step on the field that you’re going to play well. There’s an accountability that goes along with that and I think that leadership from the top down has done a lot for our young guys who have had to step in and play.”
This season is shaping up the same way for Green Bay, which has played parts of games this season without Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, Nick Perry, Casey Hayward on defense and Randall Cobb, James Jones, Bryan Bulaga, James Starks and DuJuan Harris on offense.
All of those players missed last week’s game against Cleveland and then the Packers lost tight end Jermichael Finley to a dangerous neck injury. Green Bay held the Browns to 216 yards on offense. Jarrett Boykin, a second-year receiver, stepped in and caught eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
“I think you have to give a lot of credit to the players, in particular the veteran players,” McCarthy said. “They continue to mentor our young guys and secondly, you’ve got to give credit to this coaching staff. There’s a lot of extra time that goes in to the planning, the instruction and then everybody believes in our path and our approach. In the end, this game comes down to performing between the white lines and our veteran leadership has done a great job of setting a standard and keeping everybody accountable to that standard.”
The Minnesota Vikings also have their own injury woes, and have dealt with issues in the past. But the depth has been exposed, particularly in the secondary, over the years.
Both teams are hurting in advance of Sunday night’s game when Minnesota hosts Green Bay. Wednesday’s injury report featured a reigning MVP and a former runner-up in the defensive player of the year balloting. There is a combined 24 Pro Bowl appearances for the 20 players listed for each team, with 11 usual starters among the group.
And those numbers don’t include the injured-reserve lists for either team, with four typical starters, perhaps the best offensive playmaker for Green Bay in Cobb and undisputedly the most important member of Minnesota’s secondary in Harrison Smith.
Starters Adrian Peterson and Josh Freeman didn’t practice for Minnesota Wednesday. Out for Green Bay was Finley, Matthews, Jones and Perry. Chad Greenway, Matt Kalil and kicker Blair Walsh were limited for the Vikings.
Meanwhile, the Packers keep chugging along and now lead the NFC North at 4-2.
“It’s a lot of work that you put in in practice,” Rodgers said of meshing with new receivers in light of the injuries to Finley, Cobb and Jones. “It’s the conversations in the meeting room afterwards. It’s the time that they put in on their own and then the questions that we talk about in the locker room, the meeting room and on the field, and its guys who really care about it, put the time in who you’re seeing making the jumps. Jarrett’s definitely one of those guys.”
Green Bay is also hoping to get better this week before facing Minnesota.
Finley and Matthews have already been declared out for Sunday. The Packers are hopeful to get Jones, who had 14 receiving touchdowns last year including two against the Vikings, back for Sunday’s game.
Hayward, who had six interceptions as a rookie last year, returned to practice full-time on Wednesday after missing the entire season with a hamstring injury.
“Casey looks good,” McCarthy said. “Yeah, it would be great to have him back. Casey’s clearly a playmaker in our defense and had an outstanding rookie season last year. When he’s in there, he’s going to have his hands on the ball, so we’ll see how the week goes. But it was great to have him out there in full participation today.”
And if not, Green Bay seems to know how to play without key players.