Senior writer jclombardi highlights Packers headlines.
Bye week comes at an opportune time for Packers: The week off comes at an opportune time for the Green Bay Packers, who have won three consecutive games to move to the top of the NFC North despite an outlandish rash of injuries that has impacted everything from roster decisions to practice structure to game preparation. “My hope is the injury report goes from two pages to one,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “I am being sarcastic in a way, but I think this will really help us.” The time off presumably will give injured players such as receiver Donald Driver (thigh), cornerback Pat Lee (ankle), tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) and tight end Andrew Quarless (shoulder) sufficient time to heal. “Hopefully, this week will help those guys get back and contribute,” said Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. “We’re certainly going to need contributions from everybody.” Nines games into the season and two weeks from a rematch with the Minnesota Vikings that could go a long way toward determining the division title, the resilient Packers control their own destiny.
Packers’ offensive line keeping Rodgers upright: But there was no question the Packers – Rodgers, the offensive line, the coaches – wanted to improve this year. And they have. Through nine games, Rodgers has been sacked 17 times, an average of less than two a game. It’s still a bit high – there are only nine quarterbacks who have been sacked as many or more times than Rodgers, with Chicago’s Jay Cutler leading the league at 28. But the Packers have played one more game than other teams. And the decline in sacks is obvious this year. Rodgers seems to be getting rid of the ball in a pinch. Against Dallas on Sunday, he bolted upfield if a hole appeared in the Cowboys’ man-to-man coverage. He also hasn’t been holding onto the ball too long, forcing his line to fend off the defense longer than reasonable. “My movement and the line’s pass protection was very good, hand in hand,” Rodgers said. Aside from what Rodgers is doing, it is clear the offensive line has improved. “We’ve been doing a much, much better job protecting the quarterback,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.
Starks activated, Francois released: The team activated rookie running back James Starks from the physically unable to perform list Tuesday, releasing linebacker Robert Francois to make room for Starks on the 53-man roster. The Packers now have three true halfbacks, Brandon Jackson, Dimitri Nance and Starks, on the roster, along with fullback-turned-halfback John Kuhn and fullbacks Korey Hall and Quinn Johnson. The Packers also announced they have released safety Michael Greco from the practice squad.
Packers–Harris didn’t fit team’s youth movement: Just as they did with Brett Favre 28 months ago, the Green Bay Packers have told another veteran who was once considered one of the team’s core players that they’re moving on without him. The Packers released cornerback Al Harris on Monday, three weeks after he came off the physically unable to perform list and began practicing for what he hoped would be a triumphant return from a career-threatening knee injury. “It was very difficult,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said of the decision to cut Harris, who started 102 games in the regular season and four in the playoffs since the Packers acquired him in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003. “Al’s a great guy, a really good teammate and he’s done a really good job here. It’s not a reflection against Al, it’s more of a reflection of the job that our young guys have done. And from a roster standpoint, that’s just something we felt like we needed to do.” Harris and strong safety Atari Bigby spent the first six weeks of the season on the PUP list and finally began practicing Oct. 18. Bigby was activated to the 53-man roster and played on defense and special teams during the Packers’ 45-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. “This is not a physical decision,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “This is a big-picture roster decision.”