After sitting out the previous two games with an ankle injury, the Green Bay Packers got a boost from the return of B.J. Raji this past week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Packers, however, didn’t want to push their luck. They didn’t want to risk exposing Raji to injury simply due to fatigue. The plan was to put him on a snap count.
But Plan B went into effect when fellow defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Neal exited the game in the second half of the Jaguars game.
“Coach stressed to me… he didn’t want me to have 50 reps on Sunday,” Raji told the local media on Wednesday. “The way everything… everybody got hurt, I really didn’t have a choice in that matter.”
Worthy suffered a concussion, and Neal sustained an ankle injury of his own. Neither returned to action.
Raji played 54 snaps on Sunday, according to ProFootballFocus.com (premium content) but incurred no further harm.
When the Packers returned to practice this week in preparation of facing the Arizona Cardinals, neither Worthy nor Neal practiced on Wednesday but Neal did give it a go on Thursday, even though his status for Sunday’s game still remains uncertain.
“Our injury situation obviously is stressed there with the defensive line,” head coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday. “I had an opportunity to watch Mike Neal in individual drills. I did not have a chance to watch him in the team drills, so I’ll have to see how that went. But if we have to go with four, we’ll go with four.”
In response to McCarthy’s comments, it’s reasonable to ask, why would the defensive line need to be unnecessarily stressed when the Packers are currently only using 52 of their 53 allowed roster spots?
The Packers have played short a man on their roster for the past two weeks. It hasn’t really been a big deal because NFL rules require only 46 players can be active on game days anyhow.
Presumably, the Packers have been waiting on that roster spot until they determine a course of action for PUP list players Andrew Quarless and Frank Zombo who are currently in the midst of a three-week window in which the Packers have to make a decision on their future.
The options are to either activate them, release them or place them on season-ending injured reserve, the deadline of which is next Wednesday. The most likely scenario is that at least one of them will be activated.
In the meantime, the Packers are thin on the defensive line and are considering their options.
According to Adam Caplan of SiriusXM Radio via Twitter, the Packers have worked out Jarius Wynn this week, but no decision has been made to add him to the roster, at least not yet. Former players Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling are also currently free agents.
With our without any reinforcements on the defensive line, the Packers are preparing to face the Cardinals this upcoming weekend.
“I think it will challenge us a little bit, because obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday,” said Raji. “Hopefully nothing more severe happens on this line. We’ve overcome it, overcome obstacles in the past and this is just another one we have to overcome.”
The only healthy options the Packers have on the defensive line at the moment are Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson and rookie Mike Daniels.
If they happen to go into a game with only those four, it would be a good indication the Packers plan to play a lot in their nickel or dime subpackage when only two defensive linemen are on the field at any one time.
Perhaps working in the Packers’ favor is that they’re facing a Cardinals team that doesn’t have a reputation as having a strong running game, thus not necessitating as many defensive linemen needed to help stop the run. The Cardinals are ranked 31st in the NFL averaging only 79.0 rushing yards per game, behind even the Packers’ modest average of 90.1.
Raji said such statistics can be deceiving.
“It’s funny because when you look at a lot of the stats that are being shown… if you’re abandoning the run early, that’s not a real good indicator of what type of running team you are,” said Raji. “I think this team is a lot better than the numbers show on offense.”