(Eds: Updates with details, quotes. Stands for story listed on some digests as BC-FBN–Packers-Protecting Rodgers. With AP Photos.)By NANCY ARMOURAP National Writer
The Green Bay Packers might have the worst timing in the NFL.
Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings roll into town Sunday, and the Packers expect they’ll be without defensive end C.J. Wilson, a cornerstone of their run defense. That’s on top of the absences of Charles Woodson and, most likely, Clay Matthews.
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”I feel better from Sunday … but it’s a longshot,” Wilson, who injured his knee in last weekend’s blowout loss to the New York Giants, said Wednesday. ”It’s a horrible feeling knowing I won’t be able to play Sunday and help the team with my defense, to stop this beast.”
Few teams have been hit harder by injuries this year than the Packers (7-4), who have lost more than a dozen starters or projected starters for at least one game, and their timing has only made the pain worse.
With No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings already out, Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers’ second-favorite target, missed one game and most of another. James Starks, Green Bay’s leading rusher last season, was still nursing a toe injury when Cedric Benson went down with a foot injury. Starks got healthy just in time for fullback John Kuhn to suffer a hamstring injury.
The Packers had to take on Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions without both Woodson and cornerback Sam Shields. The last time Green Bay faced a bulldozer of a running back, Houston’s Arian Foster? Nose tackle B.J. Raji was in sweats.
Now comes Peterson, and Wilson will be on the sidelines.
”Without C.J., it’s definitely going to be tougher,” fellow defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. ”C.J. is a real good player, especially against the run.”
The Packers have been tough to run on lately. After giving up a total of 407 yards rushing in the first three weeks of the season, they’ve held opponents to an average of 91.9 yards over the last eight games, fourth-best in the league.
They were particularly stingy with Foster. Though he scored two touchdowns, Foster was held to just 29 yards, his fewest in two seasons, and his 1.7 yards per carry was a career low.
But Wilson played a big part in that. And, no offense to Foster or any of the other running backs the Packers have faced, but Peterson is a much, much bigger challenge.
”This is a different animal,” Pickett said. ”I mean, he’s a once-a-decade kind of runner.”
Peterson leads the NFL with 1,236 yards rushing, almost 200 more than Foster. He’s averaging a whopping 5.8 yards per carry, about a yard better than almost every other top running back. He’s run for 100 yards in five straight games, matching Robert Smith’s franchise record.
And this from a guy who blew out his ACL not even 12 months ago.
”I think he’s better, scary to say,” Pickett said. ”I already thought he was the best back, hands down, in the league, and now he’s looking better on tape. I was shocked when we started watching tape on him. He’s running the ball real hard and he’s breaking a lot of tackles.
”You just don’t expect to see him do the things he’s doing,” Pickett added. ”This is probably one of his better years he’s ever had. He’s running the ball great. We were watching the run cut-ups and it’s like a highlight reel. I’m like, `Wow, what is this?’ He’s averaging almost 6 yards a carry. That’s unheard of.”
If Wilson doesn’t play, the Packers will lean on rookies Mike Daniels and Jerel Worthy, who filled in after Wilson got hurt against the Giants.
Welcome to the big time, kids!
”We’ll have to have the young guys step up,” Pickett said. ”They’ve been stepping up all year, they’ll have to again.”
When it comes to stopping Peterson, though, it really is a job for the entire defense.
He’s savvy and slick enough to find even the smallest of holes, and he’ll make anyone who leaves his assignment look silly. He’s also guaranteed to make at least one guy miss every play, so there’d better be a second wave ready to stop him. Third and fourth wave, too, and probably a fifth just for good measure.
It sounds like a defensive lineman’s nightmare – and Pickett can’t wait for it.
”I like playing against this, this is a challenge. A big challenge,” he said. ”He’s the leading rusher in the league right now and it’s the Vikings. And we don’t like the Vikings. It’s an extra push to get ready for this game.”
Notes: Matthews did not practice Wednesday and coach Mike McCarthy said he thinks it’s ”a stretch” the linebacker would be ready for Sunday’s game. But ”he’s getting close,” McCarthy said. ”He wants the opportunity to talk again on Friday.” … McCarthy said RB Cedric Benson was being re-evaluated Wednesday. Benson has been on the injured reserve, eligible to return list since Oct. 10, but is reportedly still considering surgery on his injured foot. … The Packers have won nine straight games against NFC North opponents. Asked to explain their divisional success, McCarthy joked, ”Coaching.”
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