The Green Bay Packers' season isn't over. Sure, their chances of making the playoffs just got exponentially more difficult, but they face a very manageable schedule the next month or so as they try to stay afloat.
Even without Rodgers, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to compete with the likes of the Eagles, Giants and Vikings in the upcoming weeks.
No win is going to come easy over this span, so the Packers need do everything in their power to become a better team at every position in hopes it gives them that edge to win games in the absence of the face of the franchise.
Here's three simple changes the Packers can make now to make them a better team:
1. Casey Hayward (nickel) and Micah Hyde (dime) Defending the Slot Full-Time
The Packers appear to be easing Hayward back into action after missing the first seven weeks of the season due to a hamstring injury, having him play only part-time the past two games.
Hayward certainly didn't help the Packers' cause against the Bears, missing a critical tackle on Bears tight end Martellus Bennett that went for a long game and giving up multiple receptions as well. But the further he becomes removed from his injury, the better Hayward figures to get.
Tramon Williams did an admirable job defending the slot while Hayward was gone and could play there in a pinch if injury strikes again, but as long as Hayward and Micah Hyde are around, there's no reason for Williams to line up in the slot any more.
It's clear that Hayward's and Hyde's strengths and skill set are amplified the closer they are to the spot of the football, while the opposite is true of Williams.
Hayward should play in the nickel package full-time. Hyde should be in the dime package full-time, and Sam Shields should be on the football full-time no matter what down, distance or package the Packers are in.
That leaves only Williams and Davon House in a time-share at the perimeter cornerback position on the left side of the field.
It's an unenviable position defensive coordinator Dom Capers and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt to choose between Williams and House, but there's no reason to continue the heavy rotation they used the past few weeks.
Perhaps they'll want to keep House off the field for plays immediately following special teams duty, but main point is that they can't continue to keep Hayward off the field any longer.
2. Find Out Where Derek Sherrod Is At ASAP
Now that Sherrod has been activated off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, the Packers must feel comfortable in him returning to action, and they should waste no time in doing so.
Sherrod has been taking part in practice for the past three weeks and this week's of preparation will be four, roughly the equivalent of training camp, giving him enough time to knock off the rust and get back in game-shape.
The return of right guard T.J. Lang complicates matters, not knowing if he'll be available to return in time for Sunday's game against the Eagles or not. But either way, the Packers should give Sherrod an opportunity to start at right tackle.
Marshall Newhouse looked inept in pass protection this past Monday against the Bears and should serve in a backup role the rest of this season.
If Lang is out, Barclay will fill his shoes at right guard and Sherrod should start at right tackle. But even if Lang is back, Sherrod should still get an opportunity to show what he's got.
There's little to lose in giving Sherrod a chance. If he's too slow or still not strong or stout enough, they can always fall back on Barclay or Newhouse.
But there's no need in confining Sherrod to the sidelines as long as he's healthy and capable of shouldering the workload.
3. Don't Rotate Brad Jones with Jamari Lattimore
Much like Casey Hayward, the Packers eased Brad Jones back into action on Monday as he came back from a hamstring injury that kept him out for several weeks.
But the Packers should give back Jones his old gig at inside linebacker full-time, and the decision has more to do with special teams than defense.
While Jones was out and Jamari Lattimore was starting, the Packers special teams underachieved. Lattimore wasn't playing on the coverage and blocking units, and not having Jarrett Bush and Ryan Taylor due to injury didn't help either.
But since Lattimore, Bush and Taylor were all healthy and available for special teams duty this past Monday against the Bears, the job of containing dangerous returner Devin Hester became much easier.
Lattimore's contribution spoke for itself when he blocked a punt and recovered an onside kick on special teams, and freeing him up from defensive duties will allow him to continue to make an impact outside of defense.
Jones and A.J. Hawk are more than capable of holding down the fort at inside linebacker.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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