Packers hoping to restore linebacker depth, run defense
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers will have two players line up at inside linebacker Sunday against the Houston Texans.
Who they'll be is anyone's guess.
The good news at least for Green Bay is that two starters are getting closer to returning at a position where injuries have sapped depth and weakened the run defense.
Second-year starter Jake Ryan hasn't played a snap on defense the last three weeks after injuring an ankle on a first-series punt at Tennessee on Nov. 13. Rookie starter Blake Martinez sustained a knee sprain late in the game at Washington on Nov. 20 and didn't play on Monday night at Philadelphia.
With both players inactive against the Eagles, Clay Matthews was moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker and started alongside Joe Thomas. Matthews, however, sustained an injured shoulder on the opening series when he was leveled by Eagles right tackle Allen Barbre on an end-around. Matthews played most of the game after going to the locker room for a painkilling injection.
All three players were listed as limited participation on Thursday.
"You prepare for the worst and, if you get good news, then you're happy about that," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said after practice Thursday evening about the uncertainty.
Even while essentially missing the last three games, Ryan is the team's leading tackler. Without him, a run defense that led the league just a few weeks ago gave up a 75-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray to open the game at Tennessee, a 66-yard run by Rob Kelley that sealed the Packers' fate at Washington and 4.5 yards per carry against the Eagles.
When Martinez was injured, he said he immediately feared the worst. He sat out practice last week and felt his return on Thursday was a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was listed as limited participation as he recovers from a hamstring injury sustained during the third quarter on Monday night. He is coming off what quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt called his best performance of the season in the 27-13 victory.
Rodgers was 30 of 39 for 313 yards and two touchdowns.
"I thought he was locked in," Van Pelt said. "Even had some throwaways and a couple potential drops, so he was almost perfect with the ball."