Packers: Answering 5 Bye Week Questions on the Defense, Schedule

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The Green Bay Packers are undefeated at 7-0, but they still have question marks as they finish up their bye in Week 8. Let’s breakdown some of the most-asked questions I’ve seen about the Packers during the bye. You know you need your fix on this Packers-less Sunday, anyway.

Is there reason to think the defense can improve during the last 9 games?

One thing we know is that any improvement from the Packers defense will have to come from within. Guys like Chris Harris have been released in recent weeks, but Ted Thompson doesn’t typically bite on those kind of re-treads from other teams. So, the question becomes: Can this defense, as it looks now, improve over the next couple of months?

There’s definitely reason to think so. Tramon Williams is finally getting healthy, and we finally saw him bumping at the line against the Vikings and being more physical. That’s a big part of his game that was lost when he hurt his shoulder. A week off can only help that injury. Same goes for Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett, each of which have dealt with dings early on. Frank Zombo should return. Mike Neal, who we’ll address next, could be back. Healthy ammunition is always dangerous for a defensive gunner like Dom Capers.

But to reach their 2010 level, the Packers are going to need a player or two to step up that isn’t one of the stars. Last season, it was Shields. Someone along the defensive line, like Jarius Wynn or C.J. Wilson might be a candidate. Possibly Neal if he returns soon. Vic So’oto could potentially provide something in the pass rush. Either way, someone needs to emerge as a standout playing next to the established stars.

What’s the deal with DE Mike Neal? Will he play in 2011?

The first week after the bye was always the target date for Neal, but that looks highly unlikely now. His rehab is behind schedule, and you get the feeling that Neal might not make a big contribution this season. Regardless of when he can start practicing again, the Packers are going to take his comeback slow. It’s going to take him awhile to work his way back into the rotation.

I also wouldn’t look too far into Mike McCarthy’s comments last Monday when he said Neal was “progressing.” That’s about as vague as you can get. Counting on Neal to save the day along the defensive line is probably wishful thinking this season.

Is the Packers 7-0 start a product of an easy schedule? And what’s ahead?

The Packers didn’t pick their first seven games. All you can do is beat the team on the schedule each week, and that’s exactly what the Packers have done. But despite an opponent win-loss record of 18-23, I’d hesitate to call the road to 7-0 “easy.” New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta are each NFC playoff contenders. Cam Newton presented a unique defensive challenge in Week 2. Beating the Vikings in the Metrdome has always been a chore, regardless of records. Those who say the schedule has been easy isn’t looking at the complete picture.

What’s ahead? A tough road. As of Sunday morning, only one team (Vikings) on the Packers remaining schedule is under .500. A trip out west to face the Chargers after the bye precedes a 10-day stretch with three games. There’s no telling how the Packers will respond to that challenge. It doesn’t help that the final game of that gauntlet comes on Thanksgiving against the Lions with only four days to prepare. Kansas City isn’t an easy play to place, and the Giants, in theory, have a defensive line that could give the Packers problems. The Raiders and Buccaneers aren’t pushovers, and Chicago on Christmas won’t be an easy W. Week 17 against the Lions might not matter. So while I won’t call the Packers first seven games “easy,” it is safe to say that the final nine games should be a significantly tougher challenge. If this team gets to 16-0, they’ll have earned it. I’m convinced they won’t.

Every team wants home-field advantage in the playoffs. But would it beneficial for the Packers and their offense?

I’ve heard this question pop up quite a bit. The argument does something like this: “The Packers have relied on their high-powered offense to cover some of the defensive mistakes, and playing at Lambeau Field in the January weather conditions could eliminate that obvious advantage.”

I disagree. Just think of the top teams in the NFC right now. The Saints are built much like the Packers. They’re a dome team that plays in cozy southern temperatures. Same goes for the Falcons. As well as the Packers have played in domes recently, I want both Drew Brees and Matt Ryan playing outside at Lambeau in the cold. I wouldn’t be worried about the Packers offense, either. If you asked McCarthy, I’m positive that he’d express confidence in his offense playing outdoors in any and all conditions. Aaron Rodgers has the arm strength to play through the worst Mother Nature has to offer.

And don’t forget, the Packers have won their last eight games at Lambeau Field and 14 of their last 15. I understand the theory behind the question, but you want the Packers playing at home this January. Making the road to the Super Bowl go through Green Bay gives the Packers the best chance at playing a cozy game indoors in Indianapolis.

Rookie RB Alex Green (torn ACL) is out for the season. Who replaces him?

Common sense says that a running back would replace Green. The Packers do have John Kuhn, who filled in as an emergency ball-carrier last season when injuries struck. But that also came when the Packers had three other fullbacks on the roster. He’s the only in 2011. That leads me to believe that there’s a need to bring in a third back. Who could it be? Undrafted rookie Brandon Saine could be elevated from the practice squad, but I’m not sure he could give the Packers anything on offense or special teams. He’d be just another body and belongs on the practice squad for now. Dimitri Nance remains an option, as he’s still without a team. The Packers really liked him and there’s a comfort level there with Nance. He’d be my pick to return if the Packers go the running back route. Dallas also released Tashard Choice on Saturday, but there’s very little chance the Packers get in on acquiring him. In the end, I think the Packers go with Nance to replace Alex Green.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • BubbaOne

    “no team on the Packers remaining schedule is under .500.”

    I know it’s easy to think the ViQueens aren’t a professional team but they are on the schedule.

    • Zach Kruse

      Hopefully the Packers don’t overlook the Vikings on the schedule like I so clearly did. Thanks BubbaOne.

  • Ian

    I know it is unlikely, but I would like the Packers to take a look at Jordan Todman to replace Alex Green. The 6th round pick is currenly on the Chargers practice squad, so it would make sense to look at him seeing the Chargers are the Packers next opponent.

    • Zach Kruse

      That’s an interesting take, Ian. Not sure the Packers would sign him to the 53 just because he’s been with San Diego, but I thought he was a late-round option for the Packers last April. Definitely something to chew on there.

      • Steve Cheez

        I think you are not allowed to take someone from another’s practice squad the week before you play that team.

        • Zach Kruse

          You’re right Steve.

  • Steve Cheez

    Back when we sucked, every game was tough. Now that we are the best, it is tempting to look at every game as easy.

    • Zach Kruse

      It’s an understandable viewpoint, for sure. Expectations change.

  • Mojo

    Can the defense improve for the next 9 games? I think so since the first 7 haven’t been the greatest. In a sense there’s no where to go but up. They have to find someone to help with the pass rush, whether that’s a rejuvenated Neal or the Zombo/Walden/So’oto combo.

    Losing Collins might have hurt them more than we know but if Williams gets back into form (I think he’s our best secondary player) and if Wood gets his mind off of the pick sixes the secondary might mold into shape. We also need another playmaker at ILB to compliment Bishop.

    It seems strange that the D seems to be more of a work-in-progress considering they have most of the same players and are a year further in Capers schemes. Could be with an offseason, other teams are max protecting against Capers blitzes. Anyway I can’t put my finger on why the D isn’t having more success. At least they still are getting the turnovers.

    The D is going to have to improve if the Pack expect to win the SB again.

    • Bubbaloo

      Mojo, I’d wager a bet that the coaches and the other defensive players would argue with you about Hawk not doing his job. A.J. Hawk has played some of his best football since Barnett hit the dirt last season, never flashy, always solid. If you’d have said OLB to compliment Mathews you’d have been a lot closer to being right!

  • Ron LC

    Vander Mouse of the GB Press Gazzette says, Neal won’t be back this year. If not it’s time to fill in with a warm body. He is rapidly becoming an albitross rapidly. This years injury was self-inflicted.

    Modest improvement in the D will help the Packers on the road to the SB.

    • Ron LC

      only one rapiedly – insert the one you like.

      • Steve Cheez

        Department of Redundancy Department

  • Ron LC

    On the other hand we could be NO. NO 21 – St L 31. That’ll teach them to run up the score.

  • Normthe1

    Do you think they might do something with Neal like what they did with Starks last year? Start giving him game time in December in the hopes that he can bring something to the playoffs???