The injury bomb fell on Green Bay, Wisconsin this Sunday, and the fallout will surely hit Charles Woodson the hardest. Just as many Packer fans were marveling at the relative good health of this team, Aaron Kampman and Al Harris, two Packer stalwarts that have had few injuries throughout their careers, were hit hard by misfortune.
The first question that comes to mind is, " Will these injuries have the same devastating effect on the Packers defense as Nick Barnett's and Cullen Jenkins' injuries did last season? With the improvement this year in personnel and scheme, I wouldn't expect that drastic a drop-off.
What hurts as much as anything is that the two players whose seasons have just ended might have been the Packer's two least-injured players.
When Kampman missed the Packers' Nov. 15 win over Dallas because of a concussion, it was the first game since 2003 Aaron had missed. Harris has only missed 4 games in his entire career, all last season when he suffered a ruptured spleen. For his part, an adamant Al Harris says he'll be back in six months.
The fallout from these injuries will affect the Packers in many ways: For one, the inexperienced Brad Jones and much-maligned Jarret Bush suddenly will see a lot more playing time and another cornerback will probably be brought in. As I am writing this, I see that it's already happened. On Monday, they worked out and signed Josh Bell, a former Denver Broncos backup who started five games last year.
With Dom Capers' propensity for playing nickel, Jarret Bush will now see significant playing time as the nickel back, as Tramon Williams moves into Harris' spot. That also means Brandon Underwood will see action when the Packers go to the dime package.
Jeremy Thompson, the OTA marvel that looked so impressive in shorts and helmets, but disappeared once the pads came on, will now be active on game day for the Packers. The Packers are unlikely to look at free agent linebackers, as they feel that is a position of depth and they also have Cyril Obiozor waiting on the practice squad.
The leadership quotient on the Packers has also taken a big hit. The veterans Kampman and Harris were fixtures on defense and in the locker room. As Nick Collins said, "Guys were ready to step up, but not hearing their voices out there, it was tough, because they’re so vocal out there and they’re leaders and everybody feeds off their passion for the game."
This also ratchets up the pressure on the offense to score more points and be more efficient in the red zone. Few people doubt the Packers ability to chew up yardage (they are currently seventh in the league in total yardage), but they currently have scored a touchdown only 52% of the time from the Red Zone (18 of 34). That's a lot of points left on the table that has kept some games unnecessarily close. The margin for error will now just get considerably smaller.
But the biggest impact, I fear, will be on Charles Woodson (AKA Superman). Can Dom Capers afford to let Woodson loose as he did in the Dallas game, where Woodson single-handedly ruined any plans Tony Romo had for a Cowboys victory?
For your answer, watch the replay of the 49er game. Two plays after Harris went out, Capers blitzed Underwood and Woodson. The result; touchdown to Vernon Davis over the top on a vertical route, covered man-to-man by Clay Mathews with too-late help from Jarret Bush.
After the game, Capers said he decided to stop calling for pressure packages at that point to keep Woodson exclusively on Vernon Davis. So for everyone clamoring to know why the Packers stopped blitzing, there's your answer. Of course, with a straight four man rush and no blitz pressure, Alex Smith had the time to quickly march the 49ers down the field for a touchdown to bring the game to a one score differential. Fortunately, the offense was able to move the chains and kill the clock on their final possession.
So the question I'll be asking myself every week is WWCD? What Would Capers Do?
Regardless of WWCD, there can be no question about one thing: the Packers defense has been at its best when they have been aggressively attacking opposing quarterbacks. A huge part of that was due to Charles Woodson. I hope this doesn't mean we've lost that.
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