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Undermanned defense hinders Packers to an extreme

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Oct. 18, 2010 @ 5:29 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Despite the fact the Packers have been stung severely by one of the all-time injury bugs, it's amazing how close this team is to actually being 6-0 instead of 3-3. Consider the fact that all three of their losses so far this season — to the Bears, Redskins and Dolphins — have each been by a total of three points. In the most recent losses to the Redskins and Dolphins in overtime, the Packers had decent shots at squeaking out victories in regulation despite being significantly undermanned.

But it really has gotten to the point where the team's injury situation has become a serious drawback, especially on defense. The absences of Clay Matthews, Ryan Pickett, Brandon Chillar, Al Harris, Atari Bigby and two defenders who are out for the year — Nick Barnett and Morgan Burnett — were indeed a major factor in the loss to Miami. Without them, Miami's extremely capable offensive linemen were able to gang up on Cullen Jenkins and B.J. Raji up front and completely choke off any semblance of pressure by the Green Bay defense.

The PFW Spin

To their credit, Jenkins and especially Raji, who has been greatly overshadowed by the team's "other" 2009 first-round draft pick (Matthews), have played extremely well for the most part. But against the Dolphins, the fact they weren't playing with anything close to a full deck made their jobs extremely difficult.

The Packers were also hurt by having to depend on such unproven defenders as Robert Francois with their defensive ranks becoming so depleted. At one point, things got so bad that offensive lineman T.J. Lang had to pitch in on the other side of the ball.

The good news is that there is legitimate hope on the horizon, with both CB Al Harris and SS Atari Bigby possibly being able to return to action as soon as this weekend from the knee and ankle injuries, respectively, that forced them to spend the season's first six weeks on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

Sources on the scene have indicated that Harris is apparently more ready to contribute than Bigby, which is why the Packers reportedly traded an unconditional seventh-round pick to the Jaguars for S Anthony Smith, who was released by the Packers in their final roster cutdown before the 2009 opener. The previous release of Smith was questioned by many of the Packers' players, most notably veteran CB Charles Woodson. Now, Smith's return figures to provide key reinforcements at the safety position, although you have to wonder just a little why the Jaguars were willing to cut the cord with a starter for a mere seventh-round draft pick.

You also have to wonder what's going on with Woodson, who like Aaron Rodgers on offense, has been a shell of the MVP-caliber performer he was last season.

Frankly, Woodson was terrible against the Dolphins. He allowed a two-yard TD to Dolphins slot WR Davone Bess, had a costly holding penalty that led to a 41-yard field goal and was fooled by Bess on a key reception in overtime that led to Miami's game-winning field goal.

If he doesn't start playing better, the Packers are toast, even with the defense's injury situation slowly but surely improving.

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