The Lass Word: Stay With What's Working?

Bringing back injured starters may change the fragile chemistry.

The Packers figure to get healthier during this mini bye following their Thanksgiving Day victory over the Lions.  That means some of the injured players who have missed the past few games will soon be ready to come back.  Normally, that would be a very good thing.  Normally.  But this weird season of transition has been anything but normal. 

After an impressive opener against the Bears and a 2-1 start, Green Bay plummeted into a four game losing streak, during which several of their starting players got hurt.  The coaching staff had to insert a parade of raw young prospects with little or no experience.  As a result, Packer fans started speculating as to whom the team would select with their likely top five draft pick in the spring. 

Then a strange thing happened.  These raw, young prospects started to gel together with their quarterback.  Combined with the good fortune of playing teams that were either devastated by injury, or prone to backbreaking mistakes, Green Bay actually started to win games and gain confidence.  The improvement took a major step forward in a dominating win over the favored Lions. 

Suddenly, Matt LaFleur finds his team back on the cusp of the playoff picture, having won three of their last four.  These former back-up players are now red hot, and getting perceptibly better every week.   The head coach now has to make a tricky decision:  Do you stay with what’s working and continue to allow these former back-up players to develop and play? Or do you commit to getting your higher drafted and, supposedly, more talented players back in the line up now that they are healthy again? 

Nowhere is this decision more pertinent than in the secondary, where veterans Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes are fast approaching readiness.  Both are first round draft picks and Jaire is a former first team all pro.  Putting both back on the field as soon as possible is a no brainer, right?  Well, probably, but the unlikely cornerback tandem of Carrington Valentine and Corey Ballentine has held up pretty well in these recent Green Bay victories.  You can see them getting a little more savvy almost every play.  LaFleur indicated to the beat writers earlier this week that a decision to sit them down in favor of two first round veterans seems obvious, but carries some risk. “I think that’s always something you have to take into consideration” he said. “I think we have a very competitive situation and obviously you want to put the people out there that give you the best chance at winning. What’s great about this whole deal is we’ve had to play some younger guys, or guys who haven’t gotten as much opportunity, and they’ve done a nice job. So that always makes it more of a challenge when it comes to those decisions.” 

At safety, the Packers have welcomed back Darnell Savage, another first round selection, to the active roster.  But should he play right away?  Jonathan Owens and Anthony Johnson have made some key plays from that position in recent games.  Owens returned a fumble for a score against the Lions, had another tackle for loss, and led the team with twelve stops overall.  Yet LaFleur says getting Savage back should be a lift both physically and in terms of leadership. “He’s really matured both as a football player and as a man” LaFleur commented. “He is one of the main leaders, not only in the DB room, but also on our football team. It would certainly be nice to get him back.” 

LaFleur indicated that the team is hopeful of getting tight end Luke Musgrave back from injured reserve at some point.  But fellow rookie Tucker Kraft is coming on strong in his absence.  Kraft’s blocking has been solid and he has made a few impressive runs after catch as a receiver.  He caught his first touchdown pass against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.  Do you stunt his development by pushing him back into a full time blocking mode when Musgrave is ready?  Malik Heath has come out of nowhere to establish himself as a capable weapon downfield.  Should he be taking receptions away from the likes of Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed?  Dontayvion Wicks, who was also coming on strong, appears ready to come back from concussion protocol.  

Do you simply put Valentine, Ballentine, Owens, Kraft and Heath back on the bench? After all of their contributions in this recent upturn in team success? Well, If nothing else, the emergence of these former back-up players has given the coaching staff confidence they have more depth on this team than they perhaps expected.  There are still six tough games to play, and chances are all hands will be necessary if the team is to stay somewhere in range of the playoffs.   

It’s been fun watching these low draft picks and undrafted guys make their mark on this most unusual season.  But now it’s December football.  Time for the front liners to come back and shine.  Let’s just hope their return adds fuel to the fire and doesn’t damage the continuity of what the Packers suddenly have going on. 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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11 points
 

Comments (36)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Since'61's picture

November 30, 2023 at 03:21 pm

Seriously!!!??? We're questioning if we should bring back Jaire Alexander!!! That's ridiculous!! Alexander is a proven Pro Bowl level veteran player. When healthy he is one of the best CBs in the league. Plus I don't think the Packers can afford to waste the cap space leaving Alexander on the bench. If he's ready to play against the Chiefs he needs to play. Alexander is one of the Packers best defensive players. End of story. Case closed.

Also, we should not forget that the Packers lose the Chargers game if the Chargers wide open receivers don't drop what should have been 2 easy TD passes while Valentine and Ballantine were out there.

Stokes, I'm not as sure about. He's been out a long time and he wasn't playing well prior to his injury. I would ease him back into a full time role. Wicks should return to his role as the #4 receiver. He is a contributor. As for Kraft let's see how he goes until Musgrave is ready to return. No reason why the Packers can't run more TE sets with both of them on the field.

This team has made enough bad personnel decisions about who should or shouldn't be playing. The OL comes to mind going all the way back to the 2020 playoff game against Tampa. It's time to get it right and move on. Thanks, Since '61

15 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:04 pm

Jaire is an essential ingredient. See if Savage can show up and pair with Owens. Moving Douglas made zero sense. Valentine is a dime guy. Maybe the defensive genius will go five in the back end with triple safety looks to bring a slot blitzer to hurry Mahome's passing attempts? Stokes should have been moved last season.

1 points
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Since'61's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:23 pm

Correct Jannes! I would pair Savage with Owens. Johnson looks good so far but he needs work on his tackling skills at least. We need a slot blitzer who also doubles as a spy on Mahomes to contain his running ability. Thanks, Since '61

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:38 pm

Walker is more of a big safety than ILB. Can this guy figure it out? On zone drops on 3rd and whatever, he lines up behind the first down marker giving away leverage. Maybe lightening strikes twice this week? I would let Love run the entire Playbook.

0 points
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egbertsouse's picture

November 30, 2023 at 06:00 pm

Yeah, and Savage is a ferocious tackler!

-4 points
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egbertsouse's picture

November 30, 2023 at 05:58 pm

Savage is a waste of a roster spot. Only plays because Gute can’t admit he ever makes a mistake.

-3 points
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UdderApocowlipse's picture

November 30, 2023 at 10:23 pm

If JB is as bad at his job as many have claimed, I find it hard to simultaneously believe that Savage also maxed out his potentiality at the position.

0 points
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@Kumps76's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:47 pm

100% in line with your thoughts, ‘61. If Alexander is ready to go, there’s zero debate if he should be on the field. With regards to your comment about the offensive line…let’s hope that MLF continues to put the ‘best 5’ out there which would start with plugging in Ryan as the starter over Runyan for rest of the year.

4 points
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egbertsouse's picture

November 30, 2023 at 05:56 pm

You’re talking about the Jaire of 2 years ago. He is not a top ten cornerback, maybe not even a top 20. He is not pro bowl level at this point . He is a small corner who can’t run like he used to and doesn’t want to tackle. Stick with the young guys.

-2 points
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Tundraboy's picture

November 30, 2023 at 11:32 pm

I can see your point but lets see if he is really heathy by playing him this week. He usually shows against the marquee teams and if he is back to his old form we could use him.

2 points
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Minniman's picture

December 01, 2023 at 12:42 am

agree, he's played hurt a lot (clearly) and also not to his strength (man coverage).

Joe Barry finally got it earlier this year to allow him to play man and he looked better and better (injuries permitting).

3 points
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Minniman's picture

December 01, 2023 at 12:39 am

Riddle me this:

If the Packers win on Sunday, do they make a pitch for TE Zack Ertz?

If the win then they are clearly in the hunt and can use all the experience that they can get.

If they lose closely - they are still somewhere there

If they lose badly, then they are in "free play" mode, so why not play the rookies

-2 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 01, 2023 at 11:33 am

I don't know why the downvotes.

At any rate, getting players back from injury is ALWAYS a good thing. Even better if they don't have to play every down in their first game back, because there's competent depth.

I'd think DB should be the easiest part of the team to rotate, and fresh legs help.

0 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

December 01, 2023 at 01:36 pm

He likely wants to go to a contender. He is a free agent.

0 points
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splitpea1's picture

November 30, 2023 at 03:34 pm

The secondary has been hanging in there the past couple of games, and Owens had a fine performance against the Lions. But Ballentine did not, giving up 9 catches for 171 yards. Ballantine and Johnson also missed a combined 7 tackles.

I think you put your best defensive backfield out there for the Chiefs because experience probably carries a little more weight here. If a couple of veterans appear rusty, then substitute as needed.

The most difficult stretch of the schedule is finished with after this game. Not to be swept away by playoff fever, but the remaining teams are either non-contenders or marginal at best. So if we continue our upward trajectory, we should be able to handle most of them with either the young players or returning veterans. Also remember the extraordinary sum of money we are paying Alexander, so we really don't want to see him standing idly on the sidelines unless he can't play.

5 points
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Coldworld's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:46 pm

Owens had a fine performance in run support as an up safety. He’s a total liability in coverage. Far more so than Ford.

Play your best players. What is this brilliant chemistry anyway. It’s good when young players can help, but if there’s one better, use them. Simple. If this team was actually good at rewarding merit (positive and negative), then we’d be a lot better now and over recent years too. It’s not April 1st, but this premise made me want to double check that.

6 points
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midnight_hot_tubber's picture

November 30, 2023 at 03:38 pm

Bottom 5 defenders rated by PFF:
1. DL Karl Brooks: 41.2
2. CB Rasul Douglas: 47.4
3. OLB Rashan Gary: 50.4
4. S Jonathan Owens: 54.2
5. CB Jaire Alexander: 55.0
Andy Herman has Jaire rated in his lowest group also. Why not start those who have been winning and use the former starters as needed. Nothing against Jaire but he is making business decisions in the run defense. You can sub any time you need to.

-3 points
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Since'61's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:29 pm

The problem with PFF is that if we extrapolate your logic we wouldn't start Rashan Gary either and he absolutely wrecked the Lions offense on Thanksgiving. Brooks and Owens both had strong games against the Lions as well.

Bottom line play the players who give the team the best chance to win. I'd rather lose with my best players on the field than lose because they weren't on the field due to a decision that inferior players need a chance to play or because I decided to follow the arbitrary ratings of PFF. Thanks, Since '61

12 points
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Coldworld's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:52 pm

What are these ratings? One game? If you watch this team that list, Douglas, Gary, is ludicrous over a season and obviously not recent. You do know that Douglas was traded and Jaire not playing? Did you not notice Gary last game? I think we would have had he not been playing. I could go on, but why?

7 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 01, 2023 at 11:36 am

Rashan Gary is NOT "bottom five" by any sane estimation. PFF keeps making themselves more irrelevant.

3 points
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Dan Collins's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:01 pm

I don't know why you wouldn't want Kraft and Musgrave out there. Musgrave was setting Packers records before the laceration. Jaire's a no-brainer against the Chiefs. Wicks is worth playing, even if Heath is doing well, because he brings something different to the field, though Heath may be the better Goon (this ought to be a designated role on the squad). I guess it depends on how well they are and how careful you think you need to be. We all know that the Packers are pretty conservative about health.

4 points
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Coldworld's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:54 pm

Musgrave and Kraft at this point are very similar. I’m fine with having both out there, but who do you take away to do so? Reed, Doubs, Watson, Wicks, even Heath in the last game. It’s a nice problem to have, but they can’t all be out there together.

2 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 01, 2023 at 11:39 am

I don't think Musgrave and Kraft are at all similar. Musgrave is faster, Kraft doesn't trip over his shoelaces.

Using both simultaneously could be very effective. Hopefully Musgrave comes back 100%

1 points
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egbertsouse's picture

November 30, 2023 at 06:02 pm

Are you talking about the Musgrave who stumbles and falls down after three steps?

-3 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 01, 2023 at 11:40 am

The one who's currently peeing blood. I don't know how you lacerate a kidney other than with your own rib. He must've gotten folded up pretty severely.

0 points
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Bitternotsour's picture

December 01, 2023 at 01:01 pm

a truly violent game. i saw one report that it was his spleen, but regardless, that's blood where blood doesn't belong.

1 points
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PackEyedOptimist's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:53 pm

They still have practices. Start whoever is best in the practices.

3 points
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stockholder's picture

November 30, 2023 at 04:53 pm

Did Gute trade the wrong CB?
Jaire Alexander's Injury Guide
Date League Injury Details
Sep 2, 2017 Non-NFL Knee Strain Grade 1 Alexander missed 4 games with a sprained knee.
Oct 14, 2017 Non-NFL Knee Strain Grade 1 Alexander aggravated his knee injury and missed 1 more game.
Oct 25, 2017 Non-NFL Hand Metacarpal Fracture Alexander broke a bone in his hand during practice and missed 1 game.
Sep 30, 2018 NFL Inguinal Groin Pull Grade 1 Alexander missed 2 games with a groin injury.
Dec 23, 2018 NFL Inguinal Groin Pull Grade 1 Alexander missed Week 17 with a groin injury. It's unclear if it was related to the groin issue that cost him time earlier in the season.
Jan 19, 2020 NFL Hand Thumb Torn Ligament Alexander broke his right thumb during the NFC Championship Game loss to the 49ers
Nov 5, 2020 NFL Head Cranial Concussion Grade 1 Alexander suffered a concussion during the matchup against the 49ers. He missed one game
Oct 3, 2021 NFL Shoulder A/C Joint Sprain Alexander suffered an AC joint injury in his right shoulder during Week 4's win over the Steelers. He was placed on IR and missed 13 games.
Sep 25, 2022 NFL Inguinal Groin Pull Grade 1 Alexander went down in the 1st quarter of Week 3. He returned in Week 5.
2023 - ?????????

-1 points
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stockholder's picture

November 30, 2023 at 05:07 pm

Current Contract
Contract: 4 yr(s) / $84,000,000
Signing Bonus $30,000,000
Average Salary $21,000,000
Total Guarantees $30,000,000
Guaranteed at Signing $30,000,000
Free Agent: 2027 / UFA

Douglass-
Contract: 3 yr(s) / $21,000,000
Signing Bonus $5,300,000
Average Salary $7,000,000
Total Guarantees $5,300,000
Guaranteed at Signing $5,300,000
Free Agent: 2025 / UFA

0 points
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TXCHEESE's picture

December 01, 2023 at 08:56 am

As TT always said, it take two to tango. You can only trade a player if someone else wants that player. Buffalo probably determined that based on value, Douglas was the better option to pursue. You may not realize this, but NFL teams have this thing called a salary cap. Pretty sure after all is said and done, Alexander will probably have the better career. Nothing against Douglass, I loved how he played, but JA is simply more talented.

0 points
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pantz_bURp's picture

November 30, 2023 at 05:03 pm

Never underestimate chemistry when it comes to everlasting Love.

Sultry kisses,

Pantz

*"Love is the first Packer quarterback to have three three-touchdown, zero-interception games within their first 12 starts of the season." Congrats #10 (and team).

**I say, start whomever is playing better at the time. Forget about what round they were drafted. Play the one who is hungry to prove himself and understands his role the best.

Grow Pack Grow!

3 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

November 30, 2023 at 06:35 pm

Ken the problem you are posing...if it is truly a problem is an awful nice problem to have. It sure beats a situation where you are going through your roster looking for players who can contribute.

3 points
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Mark King's picture

November 30, 2023 at 06:42 pm

Thank You for this Great Article !!!
I have been in awe of my Green Bay Packers since 1977. Super Bowls were GREAT but now I think that I enjoy seeing these young players develop at this stage even a little more. This is going to be good ! The Journey is the Reward !!!

2 points
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canadapacker's picture

November 30, 2023 at 11:54 pm

Take a deep breath folks - on the cusp of the playoffs??? Easy schedule ? YES - but that is why they play the games. The only thing that I believe is in our favour is that Lafleur has finally got some motion into the game plan offensively. Now it takes luck to win some games - whether it be a drop at a critical time - or a bad call at a critical time - or whatever - but we need to play each and every game - as if it ( like last year) was a do or die game. And I am not sure that after we lose to KC - and we will - that we have the goods to beat all the other teams on the schedule.

3 points
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Minniman's picture

December 01, 2023 at 02:57 am

Remember - outside of the first Lions game they were never blown off the field.

Last week was redemption for that.

Sure, strength of schedule is a consideration - but so are injuries and inexperience.

Everything this season above proving that Jordan Love is a serviceable starter is a bonus.

To your point, winning or losing to KC isn't necessarily the point - it's how well the whole team competes (coaches included)....... but that doesn't mean that they can dare to aspire. why not set the table and expectations..... standards are important too, they keep the mind on the task, not the hype.

0 points
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Packerpasty's picture

December 01, 2023 at 10:26 am

I agree CP...pump the brakes a bit...it took a whole lot of luck to beat the Chargers and Saints, just continue to grow and play hard wins will come...the penalties are what worries me the most...

1 points
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